I was disappointed that in the summer the Government announced that the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (CGB) would be funded by the DfT to the tune of GBP 92.5m, with developer contributions taking it up to approx GBP 118m, more than double the estimated cost when it was first proposed nearly a decade ago.
I think that most people would agree that, with hindsight, a reopened railway line, with through ticketing to/from existing bus services at Cambridge Station, would have been a far more cost effective and environmentally friendly option than CGB and would get far more traffic off the A14 than the busway ever would. However, now that construction is under way, Cambridge will now have to make the best of it.
However, I am really worried that yet more guided busways are planned to serve the East Cambridge development on the Marshall's Airport site, which might mean the closure of the Cambridge-Newmarket railway line and the loss of yet more scarce open space. As I stated at the CGB Public Inquiry in 2004, there is no more capacity for any more buses in the City Centre and the service frequency planned between there and East Cambridge simply cannot be accommodated. I think that it is time that less resource hungry (I am referring here in terms of energy i.e. oil) alternatives to buses are explored, such as rail and light rail. They might not be needed now, but given the size that the greater Cambridge area is projected to become in the future it is the only viable solution.
To support this view, following some work by myself and some members of the Council of the Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA), the Labour opposition on Cambridge City Council on 27 Nov 2006 adopted the following motion:
Cambridge Labour Group opposes the CGB for the following reasons:
* The CGB is appalling value for money for its GBP 116m cost (GBP 92.5m in public funding, plus GBP 23.7m of developer funding).
* The CGB carries major risks of being a white elephant due to poor ridership and underuse by bus operators.
* The guided bus will have minimal impact in cutting traffic volume along the A14 corridor due to capacity constraints (e.g. 4 buses/hour are envisaged from Huntingdon).
* The CGB gets buses to the edges of Cambridge but then fails totally to shift buses around Cambridge particularly at peak times, including failing to develop badly needed proper bus interchanges at both the station and Drummer Street/Emmanuel Street.
* The CGB will not make any real difference to the main problem, the need for a major shift from car usage to buses (and other alternatives) in Cambridge and the surrounding area in the next decade.
* Bus solutions suffer in public perception in comparison to light rail alternatives such as tram systems (footfall figures continue to be greater for other public transport options over buses).
* Cambridge Labour Group is alarmed at Lib Dem support for CGB extensions from North Cambridge to the station and Newmarket Road. Of particular concern is that there is no viable CGB route from north Cambridge to the station.
* The contribution to tailpipe emissions from the CGB will have a negative impact on air quality in Cambridge (especially particulates, causants of respiratory illness), whilst its reliance on the internal combustion engine contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (alternative solutions in other UK cities such as trams can use green & renewable electricity).
The County Council must get back on the right track and urgently:
* Develop and consult on an effective sub-region transport strategy so that all housing locations are effectively linked by quality public transport, or improved locations are identified and submitted.
* Develop an effective public transport and bus strategy for Cambridge ahead of any decisions on congestion charging, including bus and tram options.
In short, the group feels light rail is needed as an integral part of the public transport solution for Cambridge, regardless of the completion of the Guided Bus link from Huntingdon to the edge of Cambridge. The LRTA will now concentrate on promotion and working on the details.
Susan Jourdain mentioned to me once that the design of CGB makes it possible to insert a pair of rails between the guideways. This raises the possibility that, if CGB is not the success that Cambridgeshire County Council is hoping for, then it should theoretically be possible to have trams and guided buses sharing the same alignment. My letter in the Cambridge Evening News (4 Dec 2006) should give some food for thought in this area.