Cambridgeshire Campaign for Better Transport

Newsletter 113, October 2012


A month ago the Campaign against Climate Change arranged a public meeting about the Arctic crisis. The following summarises what was said at that meeting, which was also reported on its website.

The meeting was addressed by Cambridge scientist Prof Peter Wadhams who has studied the Arctic icesheet from below (by submarine) and therefore knows as much as anybody about how it's been affected by climate change.

This summer it plummeted to unprecedently low levels, both in area and in depth, and it is likely to disappear altogether within the next few years (yes, it will regenerate in winter, but to a much lower volume than in the past). This seems to have been associated with the unusual weather in many parts of the northern hemisphere. If the area of ice starts to shrink much further then the action of waves may make it disappear altogether. A melting Arctic will give a further fillip to climate change, because water will absorb some of the solar radiation which would have been reflected by ice, and also the warmer water may unlock some of the methane in the Arctic permafrost (and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas).

One effect of the unusual weather was a significant decline in US food production, which has led to higher world prices. If this gets any worse, we are likely to end up with famines. As a country highly dependent on imported food we are not in a good position to cope with world shortages.

A warmer Arctic can also affect our air and water circulation systems. We are all familiar with the Gulf Stream that brings warm water to our coasts and makes our winters much warmer than those in places on the same latitude such as Labrador and Siberia. Well changes in circulation gave us an unusually cool summer, and maybe they'll be giving us big freezes regularly in future.

In the past there have been arguments between those who say that we should deal with climate change by reducing world emissions and those who put their faith in geoengineering -- large scale projects to cool the earth. The former tend to accuse the latter of condoning ever increasing emissions by suggesting that we will be able to deal with the problem when the time comes.

Well, the feeling of the meeting is that the time has come; but that it is unlikely that geoengineering will be able to do more than buy us a bit of time, and that it is more urgent than ever that we should still press ahead with emissions reductions.

When asked for his views, Prof Wadhams suggested that an effective way of cooling the Arctic -- and it's there that the problem is at its most acute -- would be to pump water into the atmosphere there in such a way that it would condense into clouds. These clouds would then reflect sunlight and reduce the amount of solar radiation reaching the sea.

In his book ``Too little too late'' former MP Colin Challen likened the threat of climate change to the threat of fascism which Europe faced in 1939. It took this country some time to gear up to face the threat (and even longer for the US). The theme of the book was that now (that's 3 years ago) was the time to gear up to combat climate change. In the early 1940s people who were seen as not doing their bit were considered as traitors -- we need to take a similar attitude to politicians who belittle the threat of climate change now. Why not write to your MP?

Note that the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee has recently published a report. This is good on its assessment of the current situation, less so on its prognosis for the future. It rather pours cold water on the prospects for geoengineering but offers no other solution to the crisis and its main recommendation -- to suspend oil and gas exploration -- while not unworthy per se seems almost irrelevant to the scale of the problems we may face.

Is all this depressing? Well it should be. But remember that, as Al Gore said in "An Inconvenient Truth", losing hope is one of the very worst things we can do. One gets the impression that some people flip from "there's nothing that needs to be done" to "there's nothing that can be done" in one go, and have come to take a fatalistic attitude to the idea that the very future of our civilisation might be at stake. Make no mistake, if things go badly wrong the people who have been downplaying the climate change issue from their positions of responsibility will be megacriminals on a scale which dwarfs Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot -- with us as the victims.

There are three main strands to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: the development of renewable energy, improvements in energy efficiency through means such as home insulation, and remodelling our transport system. It is, of course, the last which is of most concern to our group. We need to drive less, fly less and reduce the use of lorries -- and, worse, airfreight -- to transport goods. For passenger movements we need to substitute walking, cycling, buses and trains; for freight movements trains. (For long distance movements ships, though not cruise liners, are more energy efficient than planes, but we should also try to reduce the amount of goods being transported very long distances.)

Don't forget the Climate March in London on Sat 1 Dec -- the Campaign against Climate Change has full details. Note that this does not appear to be the date when Oxford Street and Regent Street will be pedestrianised leading to the diversion of bus routes.

Branch news

Members, including those who have not yet paid up for 2012-3, will receive a copy of the official notice for our 2012 AGM. For the benefit of any other recipients of this newsletter who wish to come, it will start at 11.00 at the flat of our Secretary in 1 Fitzroy Lane, Cambridge. The easiest description of how to get there is to face the western entrance of the Grafton Centre, turn left, then left again, then press the button for admission to the flat. Access is by several short flights of stairs -- we hope that this doesn't cause anyone any problems. Non-members, and those whose subscriptions are in arrears, will be able to join or renew on the spot and vote at the meeting.

With our notices we will be enclosing a copy of our constitution. Note that this is purely for information as we have no plans to amend it at this year's meeting. The constitution is overleaf from the AGM notice, so if you come across the former first just turn it over to see the latter!

We will be sending (probably final) reminders to all members who haven't yet paid up for 2012-3. If you don't receive a form, either you are not on our list of members (in which case you won't be getting an AGM notice either), or you have already paid up.

Relating not to our branch but to our parent organisation, Lush cosmetics have an interest in environmental campaigns and a fund for charitable donations and the Campaign for Better Transport are applying for funding from them. They are asking for support from those who regard their work as important. Send a nomination to <>, with a couple of lines about the Campaign for Better Transport (e.g. that they are the leading group campaigning for transport sustainability on a national basis and across all modes) and a link to their website

Rail news

Our newsletter doesn't normally deal with the technical issues of franchising, but in view of recent news we think this one should be an exception. We hope that we are reporting the issue correctly!

In his book "Transport for Suburbia", which we reviewed in Newsletter 108, Paul Mees distinguishes between seven options for running a public transport system: a government or municipal department, a publicly owned corporation, a public transport federation, a public agency with subcontracted services, a franchise system, private operation with discretionary regulation, and private operation with deregulation. It is important to distinguish franchising from subcontracting. In the latter, which is how (for example) buses and the Overground work in London, the transport authority pays an operator a fixed sum to provide a given level of service, and collects the revenue; in the former, operators bid for the right to provide a service on a given set of routes, and collect the revenue from passengers using these routes. There will normally be a requirement for operators to provide a minimum level of service.

The problem arises with a franchise system arises when one wants to decide how long a franchise should last. Too short, and the operator will have no incentive to invest, while the costs of refranchising every few years will rocket; too long, and the public may find it hard to campaign for service improvements outside the original franchise specifications, while the operator will face a risk because it can't foresee the future.

Why is the last a problem? Because when private investors face a risk they will seek to offset it with higher profit margins, which for a public franchise will be at the expense of the taxpayer; and, furthermore, an operator can walk away from a franchise that is turning out to be less profitable than expected, while being able to pocket the surplus profit if it turns out to be more profitable, so that in either case the taxpayer can only lose.

Because of this, franchise agreements include a clause requiring the operator to deposit a bond against the possibility that it might jettison a franchise, but the Department for Transport appears to have used criteria that are not consistent between operators in determining the amount of the bond. And there are legal requirements for fairness in allocating franchises and contracts, so that it seems that the franchising process will have to be run again at considerable expense to the taxpayer.

The Coordinator submitted responses to the consultations on both the Thameslink and East Coast franchises, as an individual so as to allow comment on routes outside our area, but as a result of the mishandling of the West Coast franchise the whole process has been put on hold. Note that for the Thameslink franchise we put forward a suggestion, which we would like to see applied everywhere, that the rail operator should be responsible for procuring rail/bus links, in recognition of the fact that it would be the primary beneficiary from any traffic thereby generated.

On another issue, it was announced at the Conservative Party Conference that the Government was reducing the annual rise in rail fares from 3% above the Retail Price Index to 1%. Curiously, only a month earlier (on 5 Sept) the Opposition had proposed a motion calling for the 1% cap, and this had been defeated by the Government. We wonder why? Of course, even 1% is too much if we really want to persuade people out of their cars onto rail, given the constant postponement of intended increases in fuel tax (that is, if one ignores the effective doubling of fuel tax on buses consequent on the cuts to Bus Service Operator Grant). Remember that the increase in rail fares is on top of the general increase in the prices of other items.

A public inquiry has given the final go ahead for the upgrade of the Oxford to Bicester route (part of the future east-west link) as part of the planned rail link to London via High Wycombe.

Roads News

There are signs that government, at both national and local levels, is restarting the roads programme. Organisations such as the Campaign for Better Transport have long been arguing that extra road capacity will not reduce congestion significantly in the longer term because it will encourage traffic growth, but this argument is not likely to cut much ice when central government and local councils have economic growth as their first priority and see more traffic as a sign of more economic activity. In a world where greenhouse gas emissions are a major problem (see headline article), and where supply constraints on fossil fuels may intensify, we need to look for types of economic growth that don't involve traffic growth (or growth in energy usage generally).

On Sat 29 Sept the Campaign for Better Transport organised a rally at Twyford Down, where 20 years ago the despoliation of a local beauty spot by a motorway extension aroused massive opposition. Participants were invited to wear sashes each labelled with a road scheme (the Coordinator naturally chose the A14) and assembled for a photograph, which however doesn't yet seem to be on the Campaign for Better Transport website.

The official response to the A14 consultation in which we participated (see Newsletter 111) seems to be to combine road upgrades with public transport improvements, but the latter are nowhere near what we consider necessary. Apparently the guided bus is supposed to be the last word even though it involves a journey time of over an hour for the 16 miles (by the direct route) between Cambridge and Huntingdon, while nothing is proposed to address the complete lack of public transport west of Huntingdon.

Other schemes in our area include the County Council's Ely bypass (for which also see Newsletter 111) and various upgrades to the A47.

The list of schemes to which the Campaign for Better Transport is currently prioritising opposition is as follows: the Hastings link road (which had a separate rally on 29 Sept), Kingskerswell Bypass (in Devon), Norwich Northern Distributor Route, South Bristol Link Road (which is associated with a Bus Rapid Transit scheme reminiscent of our own guided busway), Heysham M6 link, and Mersey Gateway bridge (which would link the outskirts of Runcorn and Widnes).

Planning news

Since our last newsletter we have responded to the consultation on a transport strategy for Cambridge City and South Cambs, which we mentioned last time, and we are preparing to respond to the planning application for Alconbury Weald, the proposed new development on the Alconbury Airfield site. In both cases our primary concern is to avoid locking in car dependency; rather we believe that stringent minimum service levels should be specified for all major new developments whereby they should have public transport available from morning to late evening 7 days a week (which even parts of Cambridge don't have at the moment). We also seek planning gain whereby new developments include support for improvements which will benefit the surrounding area -- for example the proposed station serving Alconbury Weald should be planned with a view to becoming a railhead for Ramsey.

Several years ago, when the Sustainable Communities Act was passed, one idea that was put forward in the Cambridge City Council consultation was that the City should become an Integrated Transport Authority. This was opposed by the County Council, and dropped. However, the Sustainable Communities Act has recently been renewed, and the County Council are patently no longer interested in providing adequate public transport, so we wondered whether the City Council should renew this idea. Its viability is likely to depend on whether if the City Council did so it could get some of the money that is currently allocated by the Government to the County Council and intended (though not ringfenced) for transport. This is surely fair, isn't it? While the City Council would need to cooperate with the surrounding District Councils for best effect, even if its remit was limited to the City alone an Integrated Transport Authority could secure two major improvements: the restoration of a citywide bus network on Sunday evenings, and the development of direct services from as many parts of the City as possible to the railway station -- issues that do not appear to be on the list of concerns of either the County Council or Stagecoach.

Bus news

Not much has happened in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough recently apart from minor changes to various routes in and around both cities. To come (after the end of half term) are changes to routes 4, 7, 9, 11 and 16A in the Cambridge area.

One significant change, however, is the withdrawal of Fowler's service between Wisbech and Parson Drove. Norfolk Green are operating a replacement as far as Gorefield but Parson Drove is out on a limb, with nothing but various schoolday services, Wednesday route 390 between Wisbech and Peterborough, and a new Thursday bus to Wisbech operated by Fowlers. This is part of a new through service from Wisbech to Spalding (though there's no corresponding facility the other way), numbered 52, which leaves Wisbech at 12.45.

Following an item in Newsletter 111, we have been assured by Stagecoach that the East Dayrider Gold ticket, formerly the X5 Dayrider Gold and before that the Explorer, is still valid on all Stagecoach buses in Southern Britain except Devon and Somerset, including the South Midlands (Northants, Warwicks and Leics but not Lincs or Notts) and South Wales.

Further afield, two operators have disappeared -- Countryliner in Sussex and Suffolk, and RH Transport in Oxfordshire. While almost all their services have been taken over by other operators, as was the case with Geoff Amos in Northants (see Newsletter 109), the signs look more ominous in Somerset and Dorset, where it seems that one operator -- South West Coaches -- is seeking to stay afloat by jettisoning the very services that are its raison d'etre as from the beginning of December. For details have a look at local newspaper website This Is Dorset -- email the Coordinator if you can't find any of the relevant web pages (there are quite a few). For those visiting the area, the numbers of the affected services are 3, 7, 15, 28, 30, 32, 36, 74, 109, 117, 202, 205 and 207. At present the county councils seem to be adopting a "hands off" approach even though it was their reductions in concessionary reimbursement -- and, very likely, Somerset CC's cuts to the general revenue support budget (see Newsletter 111) -- which have led to the problem. We suspect that Somerset preened themselves when a few of the services they previously supported ran commercially, but politicians never seem to learn that one can't get something for nothing. (This applies at both national and local levels -- the doubling of fuel tax which is also partly responsible is of course a central government initiative.) In any case some of these services are now considerably reduced and at least one (the 500 serving the Exmoor National Park) has now disappeared completely.

In recent years a new form of enterprise has sprung up -- the Community Interest Company. Could it be arranged for a CIC to take over the services of a small operator on the verge of collapse? Note that CICs are not the same as volunteer operated community buses (though some community buses are run by CICs) -- there is no reasonable hope of finding enough volunteers to keep the our rural network going at anything like an acceptable level.

In Suffolk a new group of services has sprung up linking Ipswich with Martlesham by various routes -- the 192/F/H operated by Ipswich Buses, which supplements First's 67. However we are told by our Suffolk contact that their future is far from secure.

Finally, a seasonal service which you may wish to mark down to see if it runs next year. This is the Sidmouth Hopper, a free minibus extending into the countryside both sides of Sidmouth. To the east it served the >Norman Lockyer Observatory, which has considerable historic interest and has public open days, en route to a Donkey Sanctuary, with a footpath running down to the Jurassic Coast and in whose vicinity interchange could be made with routes 52A, X53 and 899; to the west it ran to the car park at Peak Hill, from which one can walk the other way along the coast towards Otterton which is served by bus route 157.

Action Line

As usual everything here has been mentioned elsewhere in the newsletter and the purpose of this section is to provide a quick reference guide to what you can do.