History. In the early 1980's Cambridgeshire County Council introduced an innovative bus service for West Hunts under the brand name ``Stagecoach 400''. The basis of the scheme was to combine school, commuter and shopping facilities in a single group of services covering villages in West Hunts. To save costs a telephone booking system was introduced, allowing some villages to be served only on request. The service was operated by Keystone Coaches, whose depot is now in Thrapston.
The service ran with only minor changes until Easter 1998, when it was replaced by a new group of services operated by Whippet Coaches, based on the south side of the A14 east of Galley Hill junction. These services were based on proposals put out by the Council for consultation in summer 1997, and which involved major cuts in the level of service together with the loss of the ``demand responsive'' system which alone could justify the former level of service to the smaller villages.
We strongly objected to the proposals, and put forward our own counter-proposals, based on developing the network as it was but with efforts to attract visitors and offer more choice to local residents. Unfortunately we were unable to get enough information to present our proposals in a form which could be easily understood, and we were also denied the opportunity to put our ideas direct to local people.
On top of this, at the beginning of 1998 the County Council announced plans for large scale cuts in the level of support for bus services. And the Council were unwilling to give serious consideration to efficiency savings, such as the amalgamation of tenders; instead it opted to withdraw support altogether for many services (with only minimal consultation) and to implement its planned cuts for the West Hunts network.
More recently Cambridge Coach Services has withdrawn its route 71 between Cambridge and Worcester, which ran non-stop through the area but provided many useful inter-urban links. By providing a replacement -- surely badly needed in view of A14 traffic levels -- the Council could considerably enhance the facilities available to villagers.
The Council gave several reasons for cutting the 400. Here are some of them together with our answers.
1. Off-peak patronage is stated to have been falling. We believe this is because the Council's promotional initiatives were largely confined to a series of leaflets which only advertise ``village to town'' journeys and neglected the potential for other types of journey, including visitors from urban areas such as Cambridge. Furthermore, we also believe that there was untapped potential for improving the choice available to villagers. Our November 1997 proposals were designed to do this, and the same is also true of our new proposals.
2. The Council believed that the demand responsive idea has caused confusion. We agree to the extent that if a village can justify a compulsory stop then this should be provided, but surely a pre-bookable stop is better than none at all?
3. The school day at Spaldwick Primary School now starts at 08.50 instead of 09.05. This means that the bus taking non-primary pupils (and adult commuters) to Huntingdon cannot also take primary pupils from Grafham to Spaldwick. This made the whole operation less economic. Our former proposals suggested that pressure should be brought on the governors of the school to restore the old school times. However our new proposals are based on the new school times.
Even before the cuts were implemented, the Government had, in its spring 1998 budget, announced new help for rural transport. It has since been announced that Cambridgeshire's share of the cake is likely to be around GBP 800,000, or nearly four times the amount saved. There is, therefore, no excuse for not considering substantial improvements to services in this area.
How to increase patronage? Our proposals are designed to make the route more user friendly, with better connections, more choice of shopping venues, and a new initiative to attract visitors to the area. The last would include the production of a leaflet analogous to the ``Great days out in the countryside by bus'' leaflet produced by Cambridgeshire County Council (with Countryside Commission support) for the area bounded by Cambridge, Ely and Newmarket.
We believe that West Hunts' own visitor attractions deserve to be marketed to non-motorists: Grafham Water, Brampton Wood Nature Reserve, Hamerton Wildlife Park, the historic attractions of Kimbolton village and Steeple Gidding church -- and, I dare say, lots of others. (We would welcome details thereof and ideas for walks which might be put in such a leaflet.)
However, there was never any attempt to encourage visitors. One hurdle was particularly relevant to what is likely to be the biggest potential visitor market -- Cambridge, with its relatively low car ownership and large numbers of tourists: the first bus from Cambridge got into Huntingdon at 08.37 (now 08.34), whereas the 400 used to leave at 08.30. This anomaly has now been dealt with in the sense that the relevant bus now leaves at 09.00, but this is of little use when the new route network only rarely serves any of the places of interest mentioned above.
Also, there were and are deficiencies in Cambridgeshire County Council publicity: the 400 timetable in the West Hunts booklet dated September 1997 was inconsistent regarding the timings of the school buses to Spaldwick. The booklet omitted the Monday and Friday shopping journeys to Huntingdon and St Ives (which were in previous issues and are also in the new issue) and an area map (which has not been reinstated). There is also an independently run school bus which has never been shown in this particular booklet -- the 807, operated commercially by Reliance Coaches and running to Hinchingbrooke and St Peters schools, but not advertised to stop in the town centre.
For some facilities one could deduce their existence from the timetable, but they were not properly advertised and may not even have existed ``officially''. For example, on a Friday, one could take the 08.30 from Huntingdon for a visit to Steeple Gidding Church, walking to Hamerton to visit the Wildlife Park and picking up the bus there on its return journey. The bus still goes to Steeple Gidding and Hamerton on Fridays but this is the one day when it does not run through from Huntingdon. There is a bus link from Huntingdon to Alconbury Weston getting in at 09.23 -- but the Friday service is shown as leaving this village at 09.22!
The replacement we are seeking for Cambridge Coach Services 71 would link Fenstanton and Rugby, connecting respectively for Cambridge and Birmingham, with through journey times highly competitive with other public transport, but still serving the intermediate villages. We are also proposing an extension by through bus or connection to Fen Drayton, Boxworth End, Swavesey and Over.
The present West Hunts network requires three buses on schooldays and one in school holidays (and on Saturdays). At present all these services are operated by Whippet. Under our proposals the 71 replacement would cover one of the school buses, while everything else would return to the Keystone Coaches base at Thrapston.
The following are the main changes we propose to the 400 group network:
(a) Most positioning workings, including workings to/from the depot at Thrapston, are now run in service, offering new facilities and connections, as detailed below.
(b) Connection from Cambridge to the 71 replacement provides facilities on certain days of the week to places like Grafham Water and Hamerton Wildlife Park.
(c) On schooldays, further connections are available from various places in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, including Cambridge, via St Neots and Buckden Roundabout.
(d) There are a wide variety of new connections at Spaldwick and Thrapston, and on some days of the week at Brington Turn, Great Gidding, Thurning and Winwick. These include new links 5 days a week to Kettering, Rugby and beyond, and market services to Northampton and Peterborough (Wednesdays), Oundle (Thursdays), and Raunds and Thrapston (Fridays).
(e) The same route is used on Mondays and Fridays providing through services via the Hamerton area to St Ives, plus connections from Grafham, Ellington, Easton, Spaldwick and Upton to Peterborough via Alconbury Weston.
(f) On Tuesdays an additional shopping bus is run to Thrapston by a different route.
(g) More shopping centres are accessible on Wednesdays: in addition to those mentioned in (d) above, the buses themselves go alternately to Bedford and Wellingborough, the latter also serving Rushden.
(h) On Thursdays, the route is diverted to replace part of former service 416, one of those axed in the Easter cuts.
(i) On Saturdays an additional round trip is provided by absorbing tendered service 399 -- which should also reduce costs.
(j) Several villages in Beds and Northants receive new facilities. If these counties are willing to contribute, the cost to Cambs CC will be reduced.
Publicity and marketing. We recommend the following:
A: All publicity should include dates of school terms, and to minimise confusion there should be a commitment to run schoolday services throughout ignoring any Staff Training Days.
B: All publicity should mention both the telephone number for bookings (which should be the same for each operator) and the hours during which bookings can be taken.
C: The buses should carry mobile phones or other communication devices enabling bookings to be taken at short notice (even if this facility cannot be guaranteed).
D: All ``on request'' diversions would be available both for pick-up and set-down.
E: The timetables should show all the connections available clearly, and through tickets should be available for journeys involving the use of such connections. (Most requirements would be satisfied by the following two proposals.)
F: There should be a special day ticket allowing unlimited travel on all buses in West Hunts together with one return journey by bus to/from Cambridge, Peterborough, Kettering, Northampton, Bedford, Biggleswade or intermediately using any of the advertised connectional facilities and any other buses that may be necessary to complete a return trip. A supplement would enable travel to Rugby.
G: Explorer tickets, interavailable with those of Stagecoach United Counties (which are also valid on the services of Stagecoach Viscount, Cambus and Midland Red; Arriva The Shires and Fox County; and Huntingdon & District) should be valid and issued on all West Hunts services supported by the Council together with whatever others can be negotiated. United Counties ``Coach Explorers'' would be valid through to Rugby.
H: Now that ``Stagecoach'' is no longer a suitable name for the service, would it be worth running a competition for a new name under which to relaunch it?
The proposals in detail. The 71 replacement would run between Over and Rugby town centre via Swavesey, Boxworth End, Fen Drayton, Fenstanton, Godmanchester, Huntingdon (bus and rail stations), Hinchingbrooke Turn, Brampton (Thrapston Rd except school journeys which would serve the air base), Ellington, Spaldwick, Brington turn, Molesworth turn, Bythorn, Keyston turn (A14), Thrapston, Islip turn, Wicksteed Park, Kettering (station and hospital), Rothwell, Catthorpe, Newton turn, Clifton and Rugby rail station. School journeys would also serve Buckden Roundabout, Grafham and Ellington Thorpe. A single vehicle could run as follows:
Journey A: From Boxworth End (connects 07.36 arrival from Over) and Fenstanton (connects with bus from Cambridge currently due 08.02, though this may have to be advanced to avoid traffic problems in Huntingdon, also to Cambridge and St Ives) via the school route, on existing 835 times, to Rugby (10.05). Connects at Buckden Roundabout with United Counties X7 from Biggleswade and Gamlingay, and, on Wednesdays, at Thrapston with Reliance to Peterborough and Keystone 204 to Northampton. Returns from Rugby (10.30) to Huntingdon (12.00/12.05) and Boxworth End (12.25).
Journey B: From Boxworth End (12.27) to Rugby (14.15) then back to Thrapston (15.15) and by the school route on existing 835 times to Huntingdon (16.05/16.10), Fenstanton (16.20) and Over (16.38). Rugby Rail Station is served only on the return journey, so people alighting there stay on board through the town centre. The return journey makes the same connections at Thrapston and Buckden as Journey A.
Journey C: From Over (16.42) to Rugby (18.40), returning at 19.15 to Huntingdon (20.45) connecting with the 20.50 to Cambridge.
We now turn to the 400 replacement. For each working we list all villages which it should be able to serve; whether this facility requires pre-booking depends on the likely level of demand which we do not attempt to predict. We hope that there would be no problem in offering an ``as required'' service to all the villages listed without jeopardising connections or reducing shopping time to unacceptable levels; we would appreciate any advice where this is not the case. We start with the Monday to Friday peak journeys, which we number for convenience.
Journey 1: From Thrapston to Huntingdon (08.50 schooldays, 08.40 school holidays) via Keyston, Bythorn, Molesworth and Catworth, Brington, Old Weston, Leighton Bromswold, Barham, Woolley, Easton, Spaldwick, Stow Longa, Kimbolton, Stonely, Staughton, Perry, Grafham and Ellington. (Italicised villages are served during school holidays only.) The bus serves Hinchingbrooke School (08.40) and extends to Hunts Regional College (09.00) when these are open.
Journey 2: Schooldays only: this runs from Thrapston to Spaldwick Primary School (08.50) via Denford, Ringstead, Raunds, Hargrave, Covington, Kimbolton (connecting into Journey 1 for Huntingdon), Stow Longa, Barham, Woolley, Ellington and Easton. After connecting with Journey A (see above) the bus returns to Huntingdon: except on Thursdays (for which see Journey 10 below) the route is via Easton, Ellington, Grafham and Brampton Wood.
Journey 3: Schooldays only: this runs from Huntingdon to Spaldwick Primary School (15.30, connects Journey B and Postbus) by the reverse of the route of Journey 2, then to Stow Longa, Barham, Woolley, Easton, Ellington and Huntingdon.
Journey 4: Schooldays only: this runs from Huntingdon to Thrapston via Hinchingbrooke School (15.50), Ellington, Easton, Spaldwick, Stow Longa, Kimbolton, Tilbrook, Covington, Hargrave, Raunds, Ringstead and Denford.
Journey 5: This is a round trip from Huntingdon (16.10 when the Regional College is open, otherwise 16.20), Hunts Regional College (when open, 16.20), Ellington, Grafham, Perry, Staughton, Stonely, Kimbolton, Stow Longa, Spaldwick, Keyston, Bythorn, Molesworth, Catworth, Brington, Old Weston, Leighton Bromswold, Barham, Woolley and Easton.
Journey 6: This runs from Huntingdon (17.40) to Thrapston by the reverse of the school holiday version of Journey 1.
We now list the off-peak journeys. They all start from Huntingdon (via Hunts Regional College when open), continuing Journey 1. Except on Thursdays the route continues to Ellington, Easton and Spaldwick, also serving Brampton Wood and Grafham when the college is closed. Similarly, except on Tuesdays during school term (under the first of our options) and Thursdays, there is an afternoon return from Spaldwick to Huntingdon via Easton, Ellington, Grafham and Brampton Wood, then working Journey 4 (schooldays) or Journey 5 (school holidays).
Journey 7: Mondays and Fridays. To St Ives via Catworth and Brington Turn (on Fridays connects with 414, extended back from Molesworth which it currently leaves at 09.30), Brington, Old Weston, Winwick, the Giddings, Hamerton, Upton, Alconbury Weston (connects Viscount 351 to Peterborough currently at 10.23), Buckworth, Barham, Woolley, Ellington and Huntingdon. Later it returns to Huntingdon via the A14 to Ellington then by the same route to Brington (414 currently arrives Molesworth 13.00) and Hamerton, then Alconbury Weston (351 currently arrives 13.40), Upton, Buckworth, Barham, Woolley, Spaldwick then as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Journey 8: Tuesdays. Two options: to Raunds via Barham, Buckworth, Hamerton, the Giddings, Winwick, Thurning, Clopton, Titchmarsh, Thrapston, Denford and Ringstead, returning to Huntingdon by the reverse of this route to Barham then Woolley, Easton, Spaldwick, Leighton Bromswold, Old Weston, Brington, Catworth, Tilbrook, Kimbolton, Stonely, Staughton, Perry, Grafham and Ellington and the A14; or to Thrapston via Stow Longa, Kimbolton, Tilbrook, Covington, the Deans, Shelton, Hargrave, Raunds, Ringstead and Denford, returning by the reverse route to Covington then Catworth, Brington, Old Weston, Leighton Bromswold, Catworth, Tilbrook, Kimbolton, Stow Longa, Spaldwick then by the usual route.
Journey 9: Wednesdays. The bus runs via Barham, Leighton Bromswold, Winwick (connecting with Reliance Coaches to Peterborough at 09.45), Hamerton, Upton, Alconbury Weston, Woolley, Ellington, Grafham, Perry and Staughton. Then on alternate weeks to Wellingborough via Stonely, Kimbolton, Tilbrook, Covington, Hargrave, Shelton, Upper Dean, Melchbourne, Yelden, Newton Bromswold and Rushden, and to Bedford via Hail Weston, Eaton Socon Health Centre (for St Neots), Staploe and Colmworth. The bus later returns by the reverse route; the connection from Peterborough at Winwick is at 14.48.
Journey 10: Thursdays. This runs to St Neots, on schooldays via Hunts Regional College, the Alconburys, Upton, Buckworth, Barham, Woolley, Easton, Ellington, Grafham, Perry, Staughton and Hail Weston. Journey 2 runs from Spaldwick to Huntingdon via Old Weston, the Giddings (connects at Great Gidding with Reliance Coaches to Oundle, currently at 09.11), Hamerton, Upton (where passengers for St Neots transfer to Journey 10) and the Alconburys. In school holidays the route of Journey 10 is via Spaldwick, Old Weston, the Giddings (making the above connection), Hamerton, Upton, Buckworth then as above. The return journey is by the same route except for diversion via Huntingdon between Grafham and Ellington (school holidays only) and via Thurning between Great Gidding and Winwick (throughout, Reliance bus currently arrives 15.16 on schooldays and 15.46 in school holidays). Journey 3 from Huntingdon to Spaldwick uses the reverse of the Journey 2 route above.
On Saturdays the following journeys operate:
Journey 11: From Thrapston to Kimbolton as Journey 2, then to Huntingdon as Journey 5 but also serving Ellington, Grafham and Brampton Wood.
Journey 12: Round trip from Huntingdon by the holiday version of Journey 5.
Journey 13: Huntingdon to Rail Station (connects 13.48 arrival from London), Buckden Roundabout, Grafham Water, Littlehey Prison, Perry, then as Journey 4 to Thrapston.
Journey 14: Thrapston to Perry by the holiday version of Journey 1, then by the reverse of Journey 13 to Huntingdon connecting with the 16.59 train to London.
Journey 15: Huntingdon to Thrapston as Journey 6.
The following other services are involved. Where changes to commercial services are required, these should be secured by Quality Partnership agreements (where the Council puts in the marketing as recommended earlier) or subsidies under the ``de minimis'' clause of the 1985 Transport Act.
Postbus 4/9: Service 4 is supported by Cambs County Council and runs from Kimbolton to Catworth, Spaldwick, Kimbolton and St Neots and return; the return journey arrives Spaldwick at 15.37. The latter should be retimed to connect with the school buses. This route should also run on Tuesdays in lieu of existing variant 9 to Covington.
United Counties X5: This service isn't mentioned above, but we are looking for connections into the X7 (see below) in the St Neots area off the 07.50 from Cambridge and 07.45 from Bedford. For independent reasons we believe that the former should be advanced 10 minutes (to connect with the 08.50 Bedford to Northampton) and the latter should divert via St Neots town centre (to provide a commuter service to Cambridge); together with an extra stop of the Cambridge bus at Croxton or Eltisley this would secure the required facility.
United Counties X7: Biggleswade to Hunts Regional College and return. No change required.
Whippet 15: from Boxworth End (12.34) to Swavesey and Over. No change required.
Cambus 156: from Over and Swavesey to Boxworth End (07.36 and 12.26). No change required.
Keystone Coaches 204: Thrapston-Northampton (Wednesdays) out 09.20 and returning by 15.10. No change required.
Viscount 351: Existing journeys are 10.23 to Peterborough and 13.40 return arrival -- no change required.
Keystone Coaches 414: Molesworth-Thrapston (Fridays) out 09.30 and return 13.00. Both journeys need to be extended to/from Brington Turn and timing changes may be needed. Also the positioning workings could provide useful facilities from Thrapston and intermediate villages to Huntingdon.
Huntingdon & District 553-555: 07.40 Cambridge to Fenstanton and 20.50 Huntingdon to Cambridge. It may be necessary to advance the former to avoid traffic problems in Huntingdon with Journey A. At other times these services are frequent enough not to have to worry about connections.
Reliance Coaches 807: Brington-Huntingdon schools. This should serve a stop on the Ring Road (morning journey) and Huntingdon Bus Station (afternoon journey).
Reliance Coaches service to Peterborough: Wednesdays leaves Thrapston 09.25, Winwick 09.45, returning Winwick 14.48, Thrapston 15.05. No change required (we believe).
Reliance Coaches service to Oundle: Thursdays leaves Great Gidding 09.11, returns to Thurning 15.16 (schooldays), 15.46 (school holidays). The return journeys may need to be advanced.
WAGN trains: Subject to engineering work, connections for the buses to/from Littlehey Prison arrive/depart Huntingdon at 13.48 and 16.59 (Sats). See Appendix B, Section 3, route 477 for our proposals for Sunday connections, which would be with the trains serving St Neots at 13.22 and 17.06.