This year Cambridgeshire County Council are going to great lengths to ensure that the public can express their views on its budget for 2012-3. This is probably partly due to the threat of legal action which the Council faced as a result of its summary policy of axing all subsidies to conventional buses (see Newsletter 109).
The law says that local authorities are not allowed to undertake "sham" consultations, in other words they have to be able to show that their decisions were open to influence by the result of the consultation. So it is important that bus users, and other people who want a sustainable transport system, take the trouble to respond and make it clear that our wellbeing depends on whether the County Council gives public transport the priority we think it deserves.
We have reproduced the whole of the online questionnaire below (though with some paraphrasing which we hope doesn't distort the meaning of the questions) so that:
So please answer the questionnaire yourself, but also ask any relatives, friends and acquaintances who care for the future of our transport system to answer. The questionnaire can be seen on the web page, or paper copies (with the Council's own wording) are obtainable by contacting the council using contact details on the web page. The same contact details can be used for commenting on the questionnaire.
Q1: Are you aware of the decision to withdraw funding for subsidised buses?
A1: Yes, No.
Q2: Do you support this?
A2: Yes, No, Too early to tell (Explain why).
Q3: Do you agree with the following?
3a: This is the right time to change the way local buses are provided.
3b: It is important that any services withdrawn are replaced with something similar.
3c: In the current economic climate it is inevitable that some services will have to go.
3d: You are concerned at the effect of withdrawals on you and/or your family.
3e: You are concerned at the effect of withdrawals generally.
A3 (for each of the above): Strong yes, Slight yes, No opinion, Slight no, Strong no.
Q4: Which are the 3 most important aspects of bus services?
A4: Regular services, Cost, Reliability, Bus passes, Suitable timings, No need to change, Bus stop close to home, Journey time, Bus stop close to destination, Good quality buses, Other (state).
Q5: How would the following affect your bus usage?
5a: More convenient to catch a bus from where you live.
5b: Flexible routes.
5c: Lower cost.
5d: Better located bus stops.
5e: Better quality buses.
5f: Feel safer on buses.
A5 (for each of the above): Much more, Somewhat more, No change, Somewhat less, Much less.
Q6: Would anything else encourage you to use buses in your area?
Q7: Which subsidised service do you use most frequently?
None of the below; Charter Travel: 127, 128; Dew: 106; Ely & Soham Dial a Ride: 115, 116, 117, 125, 129 Freedom Travel: 12 (not Stagecoach 12 journeys), 46, 47, 110, 203, 204, 901, 902, 903, 904 Freedom/Whippet: 114; Meridian Line: 31, 199; Myall: C2, 15, 101 Nene & Ouse Community Transport: 150 Norfolk Green: 46 (March-Wisbech, some), 50 (Wisbech-Tydd St Mary, most), 56 (March-Wisbech, some), 56 (March-Benwick/Manea, most) Orton Community Transport: 415 Stagecoach: Citi 7 (Sawston-Duxford), Citi 7 (Sawston-S Walden), 9 (Ely-March, some), 14 (morning journey west of Toft), 16, 16A, 17, 18/A (Gamlingay-Comberton), 19, 21 (not Whippet 21 journeys except as below, but note Whippet don't run on Sats), 30, 31 (Ramsey-Whittlesey), 33 (March local), 45, 65 (Buckden-St Neots via Offords) Stagecoach/Whippet: 61 (most); W&M: 390 Whippet: 1 (07.40 Cambourne-Papworth schooldays), 1B (RAF Wyton-St Ives), 3 (Graveley journeys), 8, 9, 12, 19, 21 (Holywell), 22, 28, 75, 196, 400, 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 407, 408, 409, 475, 476
Note: We have listed these services by operator (in alphabetical order) rather than service number. However the Council is counting services with different route numbers as distinct even if they are run by the same operator and interworked. For those routes where not all journeys are supported by the Council, where we haven't give full details see the Council website (except that it isn't entirely clear for route 61).
Q8: How often do you use it?
A8: 3+/week, 1-2/week, 1-2/month, 1-2/year.
A9: Education, Work, Medical, Visiting friends & relatives, Essential shopping, Non-essential shopping, Leisure, Community/day centres, Other (state).
Q10: If bus was no longer available, what would the impact be?
A10: 1 (high) to 5 (low) for each of the above.
Note: One is expected to answer in every category (except the last) even if one only answers the previous question in one category.
Q11: What alternative would you use?
A11: Walk, Cycle, Own car, Taxi, Train, Motorcycle/moped, Lift, Carshare, Community transport, No alternative, Other (state).
Q12: Which of the following services, withdrawn earlier this year, did you use most frequently before withdrawal?
A12: None of the below; 1A (Huntingdon-Peterborough), 1A (Huntingdon-Cambridge, Sun eve), 9 (Cambridge-Littleport, eve), 15 (Cambridge-Fenstanton), 18/A (Longstowe-Cambridge, eve), 30 (Ramsey-Huntingdon, Sun), 32 (Chatteris-Whittlesey), 33 (March-Whittlesey, Sun), 45 (St Ives-Huntingdon, eve), 67 (St Neots-Southoe/Buckden circular), 139 (Foxton-Royston), 414 (Graveley-St Neots), 431 (Gt Raveley-St Ives), Citi 7 (Sawston-Duxford, eve), Cambridge City Circle, X9 (Ely-March, Sun).
Note: Stagecoach made lots of other cuts, including the extension of Citi 2 to Milton, the village that sparked the threat of legal action; these may have been commercial decisions, but they would probably have been sparked by either a reduction in concessionary support or the loss of interworking supported services (both issues raised by Stagecoach at the County Council's "Bus Summit" in February) -- in other words, the County Council is responsible and those who have suffered should remind them of that.
Q13: How often did you use it? (Answers as Q8.)
Q14: Why? (Answers as Q9.)
Q15: What was the impact of the withdrawal? (Answers as Q10.)
Q16: What alternative are you now using? (Answers as Q11.)
Q17: Expand on your answers, including the impact of cuts and the importance of buses to you.
Q18: Where in the county budget would you make savings?
A18: Libraries/learning/culture, Adult services (including care for elderly), Children's services (including schools), Environment/waste disposal/regulation, Growth & infrastructure, Bus subsidies, Highways/road maintenance, Community engagement (including support for local groups), Other.
Q19: What are you looking for in travel links?
A19: Between villages, Villages to stations, Connections to main bus routes, Good vehicles, Timings in line with your needs, On demand service, Fully accessible vehicles, Costs in line with existing bus fares, Travel links only in a small area, Other.
Q20: If existing buses were not available, how likely would you be to use alternative travel links if available in local area?
A20: Very likely, Quite likely, Neither, Quite unlikely, Very unlikely, Don't know.
Note: The last answer is surely the only possible one in the absence of any indication as to what these alternative travel links might be.
Q21: Is there a journey currently unavailable by public transport that you'd like to see?
A22: Male, Female, Won't say.
A23: 15-, 16-24, 25-44, 45-64, 65+.
Q25: Work status
A25: Full time, Part time, Self employed, Training, Jobseeking, Retired, Full time education, Looking after home or family, Permanently sick or disabled, Other (state).
Q26: Does anyone in household own a car?
A26: Yes, No.
Q27: Do you have a longstanding illness or disability?
A27: Yes but doesn't affect mobility, Yes and does affect mobility, No, Won't say.
Q28: Do you have a concessionary pass?
A28: Senior pass, Disabled pass, No.
A29: We won't give the list but "other" and "won't say" options are included.
The consultation questionnaire concludes with details of how to comment on the consultation; we gave the relevant contact details above. Here are some further comments we think are important.
Q3a: This is rather a loaded statement -- if one says yes, will the Council consider it as a green light to dismantle the system, while if one says no, will the Council dismiss one as a reactionary?
Q5b: Before answering this, remember that flexible routes may require one to prebook, possibly days in advance (especially if one's travelling on a Monday).
Q7-16: These questions won't give proper weight to those who use a variety of supported routes, perhaps each infrequently but quite frequently when put together.
Q12: Here's a list of Stagecoach cuts (and we may have forgotten some). Only severe frequency cuts are included. Whole of service: Citi 2 (Milton); Weekday frequency cut: X9 Ely-March, 33 March-Whittlesey; Eve: 30, 46; Eve/Sun, 12A.
Q18: Here one may need to expand on one's answers. For example one could save on road maintenance by degrading country lanes (when not important through routes or required by buses) to byways, using weight limits to reduce damage to local roads, or letting potholes go unrepaired -- and one may not want the Council to think that one's after the last rather than the other two. Or one may believe that savings should be made by increasing parking charges -- some councils have used this to minimise cuts to buses.
Q19: This seems to be aimed at moving towards a system of demand responsive services. If you don't want to have to prebook days in advance (or at all), and if you want to ensure that there's access to as well as from the countryside, now's the time to say so. And don't forget to highlight the possibility of opening up non-service workings (mainly positioning workings and school buses) for public use.
Q20: We've already said that this question is impossible to answer, but this bears repeating.
Q21: Probably quite a lot!
Q22-29: These questions are normally used to assess whether surveys have reached a representative cross section of the population, but one of them merits particular comment (see below):
Q24: We hope that the Council won't neglect the views of people who live outside the county but still use the services it supports -- perhaps for activities that help support local employment and public services other than transport.
Our AGM will be held on Sat 26 Nov starting 10.30 for 11.00 at the Secretary's flat (1 Fitzroy Lane; if you're facing the western entrance to the Grafton Centre then turn left and left again and the entrance is on your left -- press the appropriate button to be admitted). Members will receive a flyer for this meeting with this newsletter.
Some members have still not paid up for this year (2011-2). If you receive a renewal slip with this newsletter, you are one of them. This is likely to be your final reminder. Subscription rates are shown on page 1 of this newsletter. If you are not a member, you may wish to consider subscribing: our subscription rates are also shown on our website.
We commend county councillor Nichola Harrison who has set up a campaign for congestion charging in Cambridge. We're not convinced she's got it right -- though her ideas are much better than those previously put forward by the County Council -- but she has grasped the most essential point, which is that if we want a decent transport system for Cambridgeshire we have to find a way of paying for it. She comes up with a ballpark figure of 50m pounds for annual revenue support for public transport in Cambs; when the Coordinator came up with a figure of just under half this (78p per person per week, see Newsletter 109), using figures in the Paul Mees book (see Newsletter 108) and assuming that Cambridgeshire was analogous to Zurich canton minus the city, she was gratified that we were within the same order of magnitude. What is certain is that the present spending -- or even the pre-cuts spending, still less than 10p per person per week -- isn't enough, let alone whatever scraps survive the County Council blitz.
We are less enamoured of the proposal announced at the Conservative Party conference this year to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. This will result in more collisions, which will lead to more deaths and injuries -- and more delays; more fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions; more noise; and more abstraction of revenue from the rail network. We don't believe the figures for the economic benefits of higher speed, because if motorists plan for driving at 80mph they'll often arrive late because traffic levels won't permit such speeds (remember that safe stopping distance increases roughly as the square of the speed). Incidentally don't expect the proposal to be dropped just because Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport who announced it, has been reshuffled to another post.
Nor are we enamoured of the plan to suspend some bus lanes and pedestrian crossings in London during the Olympics so that officials can drive at high speed from their Mayfair hotels to the Olympic venues in East London. Well maybe that's an exaggeration, but the point should be clear.
There has been quite a bit of news recently on this topic. Campaigner John Stewart, who once chaired our parent organisation (then called Transport 2000), had been invited by US campaign group Aviation Justice for a speaking tour of the US. Though qualifying for visa-free admission, he was turned back at the airport. Also invited was fellow activist Dan Glass, who'd had to apply for a visa because of convictions for non-violent direct action, and whose visa application had been delayed.
While the speaking tour has been going ahead using videoconferencing, one shouldn't pretend this is as effective as physical presence. And, as a matter of principle, it's surely wrong that people should be denied entry because of their (non-violent) views. So Aviation Justice have organised an online petition asking that John and Dan be let in. If you want to support this petition, visit www.aviationjustice.org.
Note that most aviation campaigners do regard flying as reasonable when the journey purpose is important and there is no reasonable alternative mode of transport. While John would be flying to and from the US, his travels within the country would have been by rail and bus.
The party conference season has seen renewed lobbying by the aviation industry for expansion at Heathrow. However the only reason why Heathrow is bursting at the seams is that it suits its owners to allow the number of flights to increase to full capacity. A substantial proportion of these flights are to destinations which lends themselves to alternative modes, particularly rail. Hopefully the appointment of the new Transport Minister, Justine Greening, is a signal that the Government will stand firm on this -- before the election she was prominent in the campaign against Heathrow's third runway.
An interesting proposal has been floated for a high speed rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick which is seen as allowing the two airports to operate as one. Some publicity has referred to an "airside" link -- i.e. limited to passengers who had either arrived by air or passed through border controls etc. and allowing them to board a plane at the other airport without further formalities. However, there is likely to be a greater need for a "landside" connection -- to provide a London orbital route which could extend to the Channel Tunnel, to remove traffic from the M25, and to link with proposed high speed rail developments to improve access to both airports.
But would the idea be viable? It seems highly unlikely that the suggested 15 minute journey could be achieved without putting most of the route in tunnel, which would considerably increase costs while losing the potential for links to the radial rail routes south-west of London.
We start with some bargain travel opportunities. First Group including First Capital Connect have reintroduced their Club 55 offer for people over the age of 55. This is valid for period returns for up to a month with outward journey not after 20 Nov, and covers all First Group trains with some peak restrictions (which, however, only affect journeys to/from Central London; note that although omitted from the leaflet Kings Cross is covered by the restrictions). From FCC stations in Cambridgeshire it costs 20 pounds as far as Brighton or (picking up a Hull Trains service at Stevenage) Grantham; 35 pounds as far as Pewsey, Pershore or Carlisle (the last again via Stevenage, then Doncaster and Manchester); 50 pounds as far as Penzance, Carmarthen, Glasgow or Edinburgh. Note that this does not cover Scotrail, but they have a separate offer for 19 pounds, so by using the Carlisle facility one can get to Thurso and back for just 54 pounds. No advance booking needed, just take proof of age! Arriva Trains Wales also have their own offer, as well as an add-on to the above costing a further 15 pounds thus allowing travel to anywhere in Wales for 65 pounds. On all these fares, a further 20% reduction is available with a Senior or Disabled Railcard (provided in the latter case the holder is over 55).
London Midland have reintroduced their Great Escape offer which allows unlimited travel for a day on their trains, on any day between Sat 22 Oct and Sun 6 Nov, for just 10 pounds, all day at weekends and after 09.30 during the week. Tickets should be booked online on their website. Note that only a limited number of tickets are available on any particular day, and Saturdays are likely to sell out particularly quickly. The nearest station to our area is Bedford, using the X5 bus from Cambridge or St Neots, but one may prefer to start at Milton Keynes or Northampton as this can give an earlier start. For example if one gets the 07.00 from Cambridge to Bedford and 08.10 from Bedford to Northampton one can pick up the 08.46 London to Crewe there.
London Midland now have more through trains between London/Milton Keynes and Birmingham, making it easier to take advantage of their cheap fare offers, including the Great Escape. Chiltern have also improved their service on this corridor, with journey times close to those of Virgin, but from our area a longer bus ride is needed to get to their network (at Bicester).
Finally, the DLR has opened its extension to Stratford International, taking over the former North London Line between Stratford and Canning Town. At the same time the Westfield shopping centre has opened in Stratford, with pedestrian access from both stations. If one's going from the West Anglia line to Kent, the quickest way may well be via Tottenham and Stratford (despite poor connections at the former), but instead of the bus link that used to shuttle to the International station one now has to walk or take the DLR. At the same time Stratford City Bus Station has opened, near the new back entrance to Stratford main station (which is the one that leads to the shopping centre). It's served by 4 bus routes -- the D8 and 339 which approach it from the west, and the 97 and 241 which approach it from the north through the Olympic security zone. Incidentally, we were wondering whether it might be appropriate to ask National Express to stop their coaches at the new bus station instead of Stratford Broadway, which would reduce the walking distance for passengers intending to make rail or tube connections. At present the road route would become rather convoluted but this may well improve in future.
Another rail link will bite the dust when Stena Line moves its Scotland-Northern Ireland ferry from Stranraer to Cairnryan. The last day of service at Stranraer is Sun 20 Nov, and the last day of a rail/boat connection is Sat 19 Nov because the Stranraer line is closed on the 20th (and 13th) for engineering work. However before booking on this route (for which there are cheap fares using Sail Rail; online bookings may be possible but tickets can also be obtained at station ticket offices) check out onward transport from the Belfast ferry terminal, which is only accessible by Belfast Metro route 96 and long distance coaches.
The alternative operator on the North Channel is P&O who have their own terminal in Cairnryan (though they also have some sailings from rail served Troon); their Irish terminal is the more traditional (and rail served) Larne. We hope that they will join be invited to join the Sail Rail scheme and will do so. (Incidentally, this also includes the routes from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire and Dublin, and Fishguard to Rosslare.)
And there's also the Kintyre Express mentioned in Newsletter 109. It's running twice a week through the winter between Campbeltown and Ballycastle. Neither is rail connected but both have bus links to larger towns and cities. If planning to use it make sure you have contingency arrangements for if it's cancelled due to windy weather!
A few items that were omitted from the last newsletter, plus some that have turned up since. While the last two have ceased for the winter, we hope that they will resume next year and you may wish to consult appropriate websites to see whether this happens.
National Express: Their concessionary fares for people over 60 are being withdrawn at the end of the month, though one can book now and travel later (until Aug 2012). Not that that's any use to people who will reach 60 during this period (which include the Coordinator). How about extending the validity of Senior Railcards to include those long distance coaches which don't accept bus passes (which in England is mainly National Express, though there are others)?
Charter Travel: As well as new route 28 from the Mordens to Cambridge mentioned in Newsletter 109, they have extended the 15.10 journey on their route 127 from Royston to the Mordens to provide a schoolday service from Bassingbourn Village College (which is on this route) to Gamlingay (16.00). The corresponding outward journey leaves Gamlingay at 07.50. Those using this route to Gamlingay can return to "civilisation" by using another 28 -- the Whippet service to St Neots at 16.55 (there's an earlier journey at 16.00 that one might be able to catch).
Bedford-Northampton: The route change that added Bedford Midland station to Stagecoach 41 in August meant that the bus tended to arrive at exactly the time the X7 was leaving for Leicester. However since then the X7 has changed and now leaves Northampton 10 minutes later.
South Lakes Freerider: This was a free bus service which ran on Mondays to Fridays during the summer school holidays. It was sponsored by various businesses on its route catering for tourists. The bus linked The Haven Caravan Park with the Motor Museum at Backbarrow via railway stations at Cark on the Furness line and Haverthwaite on the heritage line to Lakeside on Lake Windermere. Lakeside, which is the southern terminal for the Windermere boats, also had a connecting bus from Backbarrow. There were also connections with Stagecoach X35 to Kendal and Barrow. The service was shown on the Cumbria CC website as route X32.
Weardale Community Transport: Starting fairly late in the season, they ran a weekend service till the beginning of October between Stanhope and Alston, linking the Weardale and South Tynedale heritage railways. Due to cuts Stanhope now has no other Sunday buses, but thanks to this service one could get from Bishop Auckland by heritage train to Stanhope, bus to Alston then (after a ride on the South Tynedale Railway, if desired) bus 888 to Newcastle. On Saturdays there were more options. It was shown on the Durham CC website as route 100 but on the Cumbria CC website as route 887.