Before we explain the above Dan Brown-like title, we would like to draw attention to the meeting we've arranged for Sat 16 Feb to deal with issues held over from the AGM. See "Branch News" below for details.
Conspiracy theories are very popular, both in fiction and in fact. The plot of "The Da Vinci Code" is based on an interplay between two conspiracies, one many centures ago, which may well have happened if not quite as described by the author, and for which the title "The Magdalene Conspiracy" would be very apt, and the other in the present day, which is wholly fictional; it's set in very real places, but the author has taken some artistic licence in his description of them.
Turning now to fact, 50 years ago the Beeching Report was published. This is often presented as a conspiracy (see for example "The Great Railway Conspiracy" by David Henshaw -- for details of this book search the Internet for this title). But it is just one of many scandals, from the very local to the national level, which together have led to the domination of our country by cars. These scandals could be the result of conspiracy, cockup or corruption -- indeed there is no hard and fast line between these categories. One can argue endlessly over which of these categories covers a given scandal, but we suggest that it would be more fruitful to argue whether it really matters. The common factor in all of them is that governments have betrayed the interests of their electorate in favour of those of a lobby group. It is, however, convenient to use the language of conspiracy even when the other explanations are more credible.
So what is our Magdalene Conspiracy? This is on the "very local" level and may seem to be of minor importance in the greater scheme of things -- until one remembers that an accumulation of minor problems can topple a system. And, as implied above, even though we are referring to it as a conspiracy we are not alleging that the relevant protagonists have actually conspired. But we do say that they have betrayed our interests.
In Newsletter 111 we referred to plans by the County Council to remove Citi buses 1 and 2 from Magdalene Bridge, as part of the so-called "Better Buses" scheme. There have been campaigns against other aspects of the scheme, such as its effects on taxis, but the threat of bus diversion seems to have been neglected. It looks like a vicious circle: our elected representatives aren't highlighting the issue (or at least haven't done so yet) because they aren't getting complaints from bus users, but bus users aren't complaining because they haven't been told of the threat by our elected representatives!
Meanwhile a sewer collapse in Jesus Lane has led to extensive diversions of bus routes, including some that don't normally serve the relevant section of Jesus Lane anyway. And, lo and behold, the bus stops in Bridge St have been suspended. Is there a risk that this will become permanent?
If so, it's not without precedent. For many years evening buses in Cambridge used to use Sidney St, part of which is closed to all traffic during the main daytime period. Then they were diverted to King St and Manor St during roadworks in Sidney St, and have continued to use this route ever since, resulting in significant increases to journey times. Ironically, this is the very increase in journey time which the proposed diversion of the Citi 1 and 2 is aimed at avoiding.
The diverted buses can be divided into three categories:
(a) Westbound guided buses and Whippet services from Drummer St and Emmanuel Road. These normally enter Jesus Lane at Four Lamps roundabout and pick up in Jesus Lane or Bridge St. This is impossible at present, nor is there any entry to King St at its eastern end, so these buses have to go via Victoria Bridge and Chesterton Road for the duration of the roadworks.
(b) Both urban and rural buses which normally cross Magdalene Bridge and go along Jesus Lane to Four Lamps roundabout before re-entering the central area via Emmanuel Rd. As well as guided buses and Whippet services, these include Citi routes 1, 2, 5 and 6, and park & ride buses from Madingley Rd. All these routes are currently diverted via Victoria Bridge missing out stops in Bridge St and Round Church St, and, in the case of routes 1 and 2, Chesterton Rd (west of Mitcham's Corner) too. However they could, alternatively, use the signposted diversion route via Manor St and the east end of King St to avoid the roadworks.
(c) Citi routes 1, 2, 5 and 6 which normally go via Hobson St, King St, Manor Road, Jesus Lane and Bridge St. Though this route is well away from the roadworks, buses are still being diverted to continue to the end of King St and over Victoria Bridge, thus missing out the Bridge St stop and, in the case of routes 1 and 2, the Chesterton Road stops (west of Mitcham's Corner) too. Incidentally, park & ride buses towards Madingley Rd are continuing to use Bridge St. Are the powers that be giving greater weight to the convenience of motorists than to that of bus users?
Among those who will have been particularly inconvenienced are elderly people who may have to walk further on iced up pavements, and students returning to their accommodation after the vacation laden with Christmas goodies. Why are buses making seemingly unnecessary diversions away from a vibrant area of the city? Stagecoach say they want to maintain reliability. Presumably this means they're worried about buses getting delayed in Bridge St and Magdalene St by cars, which are now allowed to use these roads because with Jesus Lane closed at Four Lamps roundabout there is no other access to this part of the city.
In other words, the powers that be are allowing cars to drive buses away from an area of the city which just happen to include some routes which it is their aspiration to remove permanently. This is what we mean when we refer to the Magdalene Conspiracy.
We have two alternative strategies. The first, which is our preferred option, would be to close Park St multi-storey car park temporarily. This would mean that only vehicles needing access to the area would be taking advantage of the temporary exemptions on Magdalene Bridge. So buses would still be able to run reliably via this route. Therefore all services in (b) and (c) above could continue to use their normal route except for diversion of the former via King St. Only the services in (a) above would have to be diverted.
Does this seem too radical? Motorists would still have access to this part of the city by using the park & ride services, which under these proposals would serve Bridge St in both directions. Or they could use the Grand Arcade car park, which is no further from this part of the city than bus users are now expected to walk. It seems very reasonable that we should respond to a reduction in central area road capacity by reducing parking capacity, and one must remember that the County Council spent some of our money in erecting visual displays on the approaches to the city to advise motorists where parking is available.
However we do have another option. It would keep Park St open and impose some inconvenience on bus users, but less than at present. The idea is to make Magdalene Bridge one way inbound so that vehicles do not have to be delayed at the current traffic controls for the narrowest section. Under this strategy routes of type (b) would be able to stick to their normal routes except for diversion via Manor St and the eastern end of King St, while routes of type (a) and (c) would be diverted. On the Madingley Rd (and Newmarket Rd) park & ride route, westbound buses would no longer be able to use Bridge St but eastbound buses could.
There are also intermediate options, such as making Magdalene Bridge one way till 16.00 and barring new entries to the car park after that.
We certainly do not believe that the sewer collapse is part of any conspiracy. But many conspirators are adept at using external events to further their cause -- this is one of the themes of the book "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein, one of the most insightful analyses of contemporary events. We hope that members, and other readers of this newsletter, will make enough of a fuss as soon as possible so that if there was any question of using the current roadworks as an excuse to divert the Citi 1 and 2 permanently, the powers that be will think again.
As stated above, we are planning to hold a meeting on Sat 16 Feb. This will start at the same time (10.30 for 11.00) and in the same place (1 Fitzroy Lane) as the AGM. To get to the venue from the bus station area, cross Christ's Pieces and New Square to Fitzroy St, turn left just before the Grafton Centre, and ring the bell by the first door to the left. There will be several flights of stairs to climb -- please contact us beforehand if this is likely to be a problem.
The reason for the meeting is that due to illness the Coordinator was unable to compile reports for or to attend the AGM, and as a result some items of business had to be held over. We will be circulating all who attended or were in telephone contact with the AGM with a set of reports plus outline minutes for the AGM; these reports will then be discussed at the AGM (and presented to any members attending who haven't had them) and then, after being approved, will be circulated to members with later newsletters.
There's also the Bus Users UK AGM, which this year is being held an X5's ride away in Oxford, on Sat 27 Apr. If you want to attend you may wish to contact the Coordinator.
At the AGM our new subscription rates were approved, amounting to a rise of 1 pound for each category. See page 1 of this newsletter, or our website, for full details. We are currently accepting renewals till 2015 at these rates, though we won't be sending out renewal slips till the next newsletter, and then only to members who haven't renewed to at least 2014.
The County Council has been undergoing extensive consultations in the area west of Cambridge in pursuance of the next phase of disintegrating the county bus network, and we have seen some of the feedback from these consultations. Also, Stagecoach will be making several changes to buses, mainly in Huntingdonshire, on 10 Feb, the most worrying of which is the withdrawal of the X4 which currently provides the only link between Cambourne and St Neots apart from the circuitous Whippet 28 (which is likely to be itself at risk). It therefore seems timely for us to put forward our own ideas for buses in this area, which drew on some of the feedback from the above mentioned consultations.
Our ideas are based on the idea of a Cambourne Hub outside Morrisons. 1-5 below describe the links it would have, which should combine to give hourly buses to Caxton and Eltisley, and through services on routes such as Comberton-St Neots and as many others as possible. Existing routes to be replaced are shown in brackets. We have no idea at present what the County Council are planning, but it would be interesting, if depressing, to make a comparison when information becomes available.
1. Frequent buses to Cambridge (at least every 15 minutes), via either Hardwick or the A428 (Stagecoach Citi 4, X4, Whippet 1). This would provide a link to Cambridge from all the other routes below. Buses should run to/from Cambridge rail station.
2. Hourly to St Ives via Papworth and Hilton; also hourly to Huntingdon via Papworth and Godmanchester (Whippet 1, 3). These would combine to form a half hourly service to Papworth.
3. Hourly to Cambridge via Comberton, with at least a 2 hourly service via Longstowe and Caxton (Stagecoach 18).
4. Hourly to Potton via Caxton or Eltisley, the Gransdens and Gamlingay, with buses continuing alternately to Biggleswade and Sandy (Whippet 28, Centrebus 190, Stagecoach 18). This would include existing school services to Comberton.
5. At least hourly to St Neots, with buses serving either Eltisley village or a stop on the bypass, also a stop in Croxton (Stagecoach X4, 18).
6. Several journeys per day between Cambridge and St Neots via Coton, Madingley, Dry Drayton, Bar Hill, Boxworth, Elsworth and Papworth. Buses would also serve Lolworth (westbound only), Knapwell, Conington, Papworth St Agnes, Yelling, Toseland, Graveley, the Offords and Great Paxton demand responsively (Whippet 3, 8, Nene & Ouse Community Transport 65).
7. Several journeys per day from Cambridge by one of several possible routes to Haslingfield, Barrington, double run to Foxton for train connections, Wimpole village, Arrington for Wimpole Hall, Croydon, the Hatleys, Gamlingay, Abbotsley and St Neots, also incorporating the existing market day service to Royston (Whippet 28, 75, Myall C2, 15).
8. The existing route between Biggleswade and Sandy via Wrestlingworth would continue, with a new connection at Wrestlingworth to/from Royston via Guilden Morden thence following the existing route (Centrebus 188, Charter 127).
In the evenings the following communities in the area are large enough to deserve a service: Comberton (and other villages on this corridor), Cambourne, Papworth, Godmanchester, Gamlingay and Potton. All of these should have a connection off a train from London leaving after the end of the evening peak period (as defined by the availability of off peak tickets), and at weekends a bus that allows people to return from evening entertainment. The latter should also connect with trains for the benefit of people returning home from longer journeys.
On Sundays Cambourne should have at least an hourly service to Cambridge via Hardwick, and 2 hourly services to Huntingdon, Biggleswade and Cambridge via Comberton. The Comberton route could provide a direct link to Addenbrookes via Grantchester. There should also be late buses to allow people to return home from weekends away. A link from Shepreth station to Wimpole Hall (also catering for shoppers from local villages) could be provided by community bus.
Some of the required facilities might be procured by adding extra stops to the X5 at Cambourne (on the A428 itself, on the slip roads, or outside Morrisons), Eltisley (A428) and Croxton.
We now give a digest of Web information on day out tickets that may be of interest to people travelling within, from or to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Prepare to be confused by the lack of clarity and inconsistencies on the websites -- we would appreciate any corrections readers might know of.
We start with Stagecoach. If you visit their website you may be taken to one of their local pages, and if you want service updates for a particular area choose the relevant page if you aren't there already. However, if you want timetable or tickets information, click on "Timetables" or "Tickets". Note that Stagecoach has changed the format of some of the timetable links, and if you want the timetable for a given route -- even one within our area -- it's best to choose a location outside our area! However, if you want information about tickets, then having clicked on "Tickets" scroll down to "Local Tickets" and click on one of the regions shown.
Our own region is East. If you choose this one you will find information about (inter alia) Dayrider, Dayrider Plus, and East Dayrider Gold. The Dayrider provides for local travel around Cambridge, Peterborough and Bedford. The Dayrider Plus provides for travel around Cambridgeshire (including Peterborough) or Bedfordshire, also covering cross boundary routes except for the X5 west of Eaton Socon, the X4 west of Oundle, and the 50 north of Higham Ferrers.
If you visit the Cambridgeshire Dayrider Plus page you'll be told that to use the X4 beyond Oundle or the X5 beyond Eaton Socon you need an East Dayrider Gold. It also says that if you have a Dayrider Gold you can pay a 1-20 upgrade to an East Dayrider Gold which will cover these routes, though this is not available on the X4. In fact, we believe, the Dayrider Gold (but not the Dayrider Plus) is valid on the X4. And as the upgrade facility has been removed from the X5 website to which you will be taken if you click at this point, it has probably been discontinued. But anyway why does the Stagecoach East site say nothing about Dayrider Gold tickets?
Now visit one of the Stagecoach Midlands sites (Northants, Oxon, Warwicks). Each of these offers a Dayrider Gold, saying it is valid on all services in the Stagecoach East, Midlands, West, South Wales and South areas, except for the X5 and Oxford Tube. We believe that this is correct with one exception -- the T4 Traws Cambria service between Cardiff and Newtown, on which its validity ceases a short distance north of Brecon. They go on to say that one can get validity on the X5 by buying an East Dayrider Gold, but only the Oxfordshire site tells you directly about this ticket and how much it costs. We now consider the other regions mentioned above.
The Stagecoach West site covers the area west of Oxford as far as the Welsh border counties. Its day out tickets are called Explorers, as ours used to be, but their validity is the same as that of the Dayrider Gold, and their website also mentions the East Dayrider Gold and its cost, but only in a footnote.
The Stagecoach South Wales site also calls the tickets Explorers but doesn't mention any validity on the English subsidiaries at all. It does mention the above restriction on the T4, which is why we believe that English tickets won't be accepted on the relevant section either.
The Stagecoach South site uses the term Dayrider Gold, but tickets called Explorers are also sold. They seem to be valid at least as far as Oxford.
If you buy an East Dayrider Gold ticket on an X5, the ticket will say that it is valid throughout southern England. This is almost certainly false -- it's not valid on Stagecoach Southwest (Somerset and Devon) or Stagecoach Southeast (Kent and East Sussex), and it is} valid in South Wales -- at least that's what sites such as Stagecoach Oxfordshire say.
If you aren't confused enough by this already, there's more confusion over concessions. For the wider area tickets reduced rates are offered for a category called either "Senior" or "Concessionary" but nowhere defined, except on the X5 site, where one is told that "Concessionary" covers anyone over 60 or a student with NUS, NUS Extra, ISIC or Oxford/Cambridge University photo ID card. It is not clear whether these categories will be accepted, even for purchase of East Dayrider Gold tickets, by non X5 drivers.
Here is a quick summary of other day out tickets whose validity includes part of Cambridgeshire or Peterborough. First, four local authority tickets.
Multibus. This ticket was developed by Cambs CC, and in addition to Stagecoach is stated on their website as covering A&P, Burtons, Cedar, Myalls and Whippet. In fact none of the first three run any services in Cambridgshire. There is some cross boundary validity, not stated explicitly, but on route 11 it is not valid east of Newmarket.
Intalink Explorer. This ticket was developed by Herts CC, and is valid on almost all operators within that county and some cross boundary services. However it is not valid on services provided primarily for schoolchildren, even when they are available to the general public. Stagecoach accept it on routes 71/72 (Hitchin-Bedford) but not 26 (Royston-Cambridge). It is also valid on many Arriva and Centrebus services in adjoining counties. Routes entering Cambridgeshire which accept it include Centrebus 190 to Gamlingay, Centrebus 90/91 and Landmark 202/290 to Ashwell & Morden station, Richmonds 43 to Heydon, and Richmonds 334 that runs once a week all the way to Cambridge.
Essex Saver. This is valid on all services within and to/from Essex with some exceptions mostly for express routes. It is only valid for journeys starting or finishing in Essex. Included will be the Citi 7 Cambridge to Saffron Walden. Other routes entering Cambridgeshire are the 29, 31, 43, 59, 101, 132 and 334.
Peterborough Local Link. All Local Link services around Peterborough, with some rural coverage including to Stamford on Sundays.
Now four operator tickets:
Norfolk Green Explorer: This covers all routes operated by Norfolk Green, including the Coasthopper, and also Konectbus. In Cambridgeshire it runs the Ely local service and many routes in the March and Wisbech areas. There is an extensive network running as far east as the main road between Norwich and Cromer, though some services in this area are run by Sanders (which has its own Explorer).
First Day: Covers the X1 Peterborough to Lowestoft and connecting services. However as First have abandoned the rural areas there is no connection, for example, to their Ipswich network.
Kimes/Centrebus Midlands: Kimes is now part of Centrebus, but it is not clear whether the relevant areas -- which adjoin each other -- have amalgamated their ticketing.
Delaine: Links Peterborough, Bourne and Stamford, with a few routes running beyond.
Finally, Plusbus can be useful for those making rail journeys. It provides unlimited travel on the day for which one's rail ticket is issued in and around the stations of origin and destination. The stations in Cambridgeshire which provide this facility are Cambridge, Ely, Huntingdon, Peterborough and St Neots; Royston's Plusbus area also extends into Cambridgeshire. It has the advantage that its coverage is often wider than that of operator tickets, for example Cambridge Plusbus, which is valid within the Stagecoach Dayrider area, also covers Whippet. For those with railcards it can offer substantial reductions. However there are some big disadvantages: as tickets can only be picked up at stations one can't use it to get to the station; for period return journeys it won't be valid for the return; and one can't normally get it from ticket machines.
As reported in our last newsletter rail passengers had their fare increase capped at 1% above inflation. However motorists were spared any increase in fuel tax altogether. And no relief has been offered to bus passengers who have been hit by a quadruple whammy -- cuts to local authority budgets, removal of ringfencing, doubling of fuel tax due to cuts in Bus Services Operator Grant, and reductions in concessionary fare reimbursement to operators (which means that the burden of supporting concessions is being borne more and more by fare payers).
Some better news is the startup of the Bus for Us website, targeted at young people, and offering goodies such as free travel for some unemployed people until the end of this month.
At the European level, there's a project called Citizens' Rail aimed at developing spreading best practice in community rail type initiatives. The partners are a combination of local authorities and universities. Three routes are being targeted: Exeter-Paignton, Burnley-Manchester and La Roche sur Yon-Saumur. The first is a well established local route linking two urbanised areas, the second is a planned new service using the Todmorden Curve which is being reinstated, the third is a French local route in the Loire area that currently has a very poor service, at least by our standards -- so much so that we suspect that there must be an already approved upgrade scheme to justify its inclusion. We think it's a pity that neither of the two English routes, anyway, offers major opportunities for improvements through bus/rail integration.
In November both Cambs CC and Whippet published new timetables for routes 21 and 22, which link St Ives, Somersham and Ramsey. Unfortunately the new timetables are not the same! We suspect that the one on the Whippet website is correct and the one on Traveline and the Cambs CC website isn't. If so it's a pity, as it marks the final demise of the (once a week) service to the riverside village of Holywell. Holywell is less than a mile from the very frequent service on the guided busway at Fen Drayton Lakes, but there's a river in between. A bridge or ferry would come in handy, and would no doubt improve the takings of the local pub as well by providing access for birdwatchers.
There has been a minor route change to Grant Palmer 29 which runs weekly between St Neots and Pavenham; it now runs via Riseley instead of Thurleigh. The departure time from St Neots has been shifted to 12.30.
And here are the changes to Stagecoach on 10 Feb -- see Traveline for full details.
Peterborough Citi 1-8: Completely revamped with new timetables for routes 1-5, while 7 and 8 are withdrawn. Also withdrawn is city route 25, while the 36 is rerouted to cover a lost section of Citi 4. Yaxley and Farcet are now served by route 5.
X4, 61-64, 66: The X4 and 61 are withdrawn, with the 62-64 forming a new town network also replacing the 66 between the town centre and Tesco. However only a single Mon-Fri journey is provided to/from Cambourne on the 62, and as it's at peak times it will be no use to casual day trippers to London. Also some evening peak journeys on the 66 are removed.
X5: Stops in Eaton Socon are moved. New stop at Loves Farm, while the westbound stop at Longsands Road is moved further from the station. This means that the Loves Farm stop may be the closest to the station -- especially when the new eastern access, which we're told is to be built shortly, is complete. Incidentally the temporary eastbound stop at Bicester has also been moved, to the market square.
X8, 35: Timing changes between Huntingdon, Chatteris and March, but the frequency is maintained. Connections with the 9 are now looser for March passengers but impossible for Warboys passengers.
12, 13, 16A:Timing changes to schooltime journeys.
20: This is withdrawn. We have the impression that it was put on to take drivers to/from Stagecoach's depot near Fenstanton (formerly Whippet's depot), presumably on an out of service extension during its layover in Fenstanton -- if so how will this need be met now? Fenstanton is now mainly served by Whippet buses.
30, 31: These revert to the pre-cuts situation except that the frequency is halved to 2 hourly, and this is split between the two routes north of Ramsey. Connections at Ramsey are not ideal.
A couple of new facilities that may provide worthwhile routes for visitors.
Bucks: A new route 135 tours the villages around Buckingham every Saturday. It would open up new access to Stowe Landscape Gardens if the afternoon journey was altered to allow passengers to be picked up at nearby Dadford. The route to Claydon and Calvert partly replaces the 18 which was reduced to Mondays to Fridays only last year. (Incidentally we believe this reduction strengthens the case for the east-west rail link to include a station in the Claydon area to act as a focus for local buses.)
New Forest: The buses that serve Brockenhurst College are now available to the general public. They use double deckers operated by Wilts & Dorset and some of the routes give excellent views of the National Park. Explorer tickets and concessionary passes are not accepted, but the single fare is only 1 pound. Timetables for routes C1-19 are on the Wilts & Dorset website. Noteworthy are the lunchtime journeys on routes C16 and C6, which connect and can be used to go right through the heart of the National Park. Variations of these routes are also used by the C1, C2, C4, C13, C15 and C18, and other interesting routes are used by the C11, C14 and C19. There is a route map on the website.
In addition to the below, don't forget the county council elections in May, on which more in our next newsletter.