Cambridgeshire Campaign for Better Transport

Newsletter 126, March 2018


Over the last few months, Cambridge Commons, the local branch of the Equality Trust, has been organising a series of talks in conjunction with Anglia Ruskin University with the series title "Imagine 2027". There are more to come.

On Thur 22 Feb the speaker was George Monbiot, the well known writer on environmental and social issues. He started by saying that due to the lack of urgency shown by governments across the world the threat of climate change had intensified to the point where he was now talking of "climate breakdown" -- but that two other kinds of breakdown posed an equally serious threat. One was ecological breakdown -- which might result in a collapse of soil fertility. The other was social breakdown, which the prevailing neoliberal philosophy has shown itself utterly incapable of tackling. He concluded by calling for people to organise better, and saying that old fashioned word of mouth communication was unbeatable in terms of effectiveness.

All very well, but exactly how do you communicate your plight face to face when you're housebound most of the time due to lack of transport? Especially if you live in one of the new developments which, thanks to the Government's policy of giving developers the whip hand in negotiation with local authorities, have poor community facilities as well as poor transport.

100 years ago some women were able to vote in general elections for the first time. Now the talk is of restricting the right to vote by requiring voters to produce ID at the polling station. Given that the documents usually referred to are the passport and driving licence, and passports are quite expensive, this means non-drivers may be under-represented, thus distorting election results.

There is an important difference between voter ID and other identity requirements. For example, our society regards children as too young to give informed consent if they wish to buy cigarettes. If older people wish to do so but are prevented because they can't prove their age, little harm (and maybe even some good) is done. By contrast, the injustice of people illegally voting exactly equals the injustice of people who can't prove their right to vote, and this injustice affects not only the people concerned but the integrity of the democratic system. The American journalist Greg Palast has exposed how the 2000, 2004 and 2016 presidential elections may have been swung by "voter purges" in some states. Might future UK general elections be swung the same way?

Already, the Government's introduction of individual electoral registration a few years ago may have led to electoral distortion, which will outlast the registration drives of 2016-7 if earlier electoral registers are used to determine new constituency boundaries. It is well established that moving from "opt out" to "opt in" significantly decreases participation rates -- indeed this has been the theme of campaigns on a number of issues, from organ donation to trade union political funds -- so there may well have been a selective decline in voting eligibility for some groups.

Finally, the new General Data Protection Regulations, which come into force on 18 May this year, may well clamp down on all political activity because it will make it illegal for organisations to communicate with people unless they have "opted in" -- at least this is what we've gathered from other organisations. Why did civil liberty groups and other campaign organisations not protest against this piece of repressive legislation at a time when it could have been stopped? Yes, unwanted communications are a problem for many of us, but it's easy to delete an email or put a letter in the recycling bin, and making people who run organisations worried about inadvertently transgressing the GDPR is surely a far greater problem -- except for politicians who want to railroad their pet ideas through. (See next section for how Cambs CBT will be dealing with the GDPR.)

Branch News

Subscriptions for 2018-9 are now due, and all members who haven't already paid up will receive with their paper newsletters a renewal slip, as well as a copy of our annual reports as presented to our AGM in November. (There may be a delay in the distribution of paper newsletters.) Subscription rates per year are unchanged: 5 pounds individual, 4 pounds concession, 6 pounds household/group. Those who haven't paid up for 2017-8 will be asked to pay double these rates for 2017-9 or triple for 2017-20, and will not normally receive our annual reports.

Note that the renewal slips include a new clause asking you to give consent to receiving communications, in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulations referred to above. Unless you return this or reply to the covering email we are sending with our emailed newsletters, you will receive no more communuications from us after 18 May.

Those members already paid up for 2018-9 will still need to confirm their consent to receive communications. Again, this can be done either by returning the paper slip you will be receiving -- which will not include a request for renewal -- or by replying to the covering email.

As for those who aren't paid up members but receive complimentary newsletters, we plan to use the GDPR as a pretext to "clean up" our circulation list, so, again, please either reply to the covering email or, if you receive a paper newsletter, return the slip. We hope that some of you may wish to join us -- if so send a cheque for the amount specified above, made payable to "Cambs Campaign for Better Transport", to the Treasurer at 6 Hertford St, Cambridge CB4 3AG.

If you do not wish to continue hearing from us, please say so rather than just fail to reply. Then we won't pester you with reminders -- we certainly intend to send one immediately prior to 18 May.

For various reasons we will also be emailing this newsletter to various people who have not received it in the past. If you are such a person and want to get future newsletters, just reply to the covering email, otherwise you won't hear from us again. We hope that some of you will wish to join us -- if so then, again, send a cheque for the amount specified above to the Treasurer at the above address.

Some organisations, when sending requests for consent under the GDPR, attach them to all communications to people on their circulation list, even those who have already given consent. This can be very irritating to people who lose track of which of the many organisations to which they belong have already asked for consent. Once you have given your consent to us, you can be sure that we will not ask for it again.

There will be no change in our methods of communication. Paid up members will receive paper newsletters, annual reports and AGM notices, plus renewal slips when appropriate. There is an option not to receive paper newsletters, but this does not apply when we have to send out other material, which is most of the time. Members with an email address will also get emailed newsletters, and can choose between plaintext and PDF formats. Those who get complimentary newsletters can, again, choose between plaintext and PDF formats, but they will not get any paper communications, except for people without email access, and people are associated with CBT who want paper newsletters. We have telephone numbers for many people on our circulation list, but only ring people in exceptional circumstances, and have never texted. So do not worry that giving consent will expose you to unwanted phone calls!

Driverless cars

We believe the model of individual vehicles is fatally flawed, leading to problems of pollution, congestion and social exclusion. However, the prevailing philosophy seems to be to look for technological fixes to some of these problems and ignore the others.

Electric cars are widely touted as a solution, but they cannot cure problems of congestion or social exclusion, and they may create new problems of power supply (particularly if we want to phase out climate changing emissions) and availability of certain minerals required in their manufacture.

Now we are told to look forward to driverless cars (autonomous vehicles). Apparently they'll beat congestion because automation will enable them to drive closer to one another, and they'll beat social exclusion because without the need to pay a driver anyone will be able to call up a vehicle at any time.

Well, before you hook into this model of the future, please read "Driverless Cars: on a road to nowhere" by the well known writer Christian Wolmar. The book can be ordered through the author's website. It gives many reasons why the model envisaged by proponents of this technology is unlikely to work, and will have serious side effects.

Autonomous vehicles may have uses in specialised applications, but it will be a long time before they can cope with a mixed traffic street. We might be able to design a future where driven cars are banned and the majority of road journeys (excluding walking and cycling) are made by driverless buses; where, far from driving closer together, autonomous vehicles are programmed to leave enough space between vehicles for pedestrians to cross; and where our streets are at last liberated from wall to wall parking. But this would demand a degree of societal control over the uses of our technology which we have shown ourselves quite unable to achieve so far, and it is certainly unlikely to happen when the development of autonomous vehicles is controlled by big corporations.

Oxford-Cambridge and A14

Some time ago the Government announced plans for major development on the Oxford-Cambridge corridor, including a new expressway and completion of the east-west rail link. Now it appears that this corridor is to become a focus for major development, with up to a million new homes.

This is very worrying. The biggest congestion problems at the moment are in the cities and towns, not on the open roads between them. Much of the traffic from the new developments on the corridor will be bound for the main regional centres -- Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes and Bedford. Given the scale of development east-west rail can hardly cater for most of the relevant movements, and the building of an expressway will encourage people to drive. So how will these cities and towns, which already suffer from major congestion problems, cope?

The route of the missing rail link between Bedford and Cambridge has yet to be announced. The forgotten London to South Midlands Multi-Modal Study recommended that to minimise environmental problems it should follow the A421/A428 corridor. This would also have the advantage of providing a good set of interchanges with inter-city routes radiating from London (at Milton Keynes, Bedford and St Neots); and as all three of these are on the existing bus route interchange development could start now (e.g. by having selected inter-city trains actually stop at St Neots to connect with buses). We could then allocate sites adjacent to the railway for housing, with provision of stations, and a mixture of fast and stopping trains to give long distance travellers a fast journey.

However our impression is that this is not what is envisaged. There is pressure to concentrate development on brownfield (previously developed) land, which through a loophole in planning law includes old airfields and quarries in the middle of nowhere. That's why there are plans for massive housing development on airfields around Cambridge including Oakington (Northstowe), Alconbury (Alconbury Weald), Waterbeach and Bourn. So airfields such as Bassingbourn, Henlow, Tempsford and Sutton, plus brownfield sites such as Elstow Depot (The Wixams), are likely to bear the brunt of development on the Oxford-Cambridge corridor. If east-west rail is to serve them, it will have to zigzag between these sites, and it's very unlikely that attractive interchange points can be found with radial inter-city routes. These problems will however not affect the expressway, which can just follow a brand new route through the largely unspoilt countryside between the A428/A421 and A505 corridors, with new link roads to the airfield communities.

As regards the A14, the upgrade process has surely accelerated the disintegration of the A14 corridor bus service: before the guided busway Fenstanton had 4 buses every hour to/from Cambridge and Huntingdon, now there's nothing to/from Huntingdon, the Cambridge buses use circuitous routes, and the direct route to/from Cambridge requires a change at Bar Hill and doesn't run on Saturdays let alone Sundays.

A Stagecoach person told us that given kickstart funding he thought a regular service on the A14 corridor towards the Midlands could be commercial. If Highways England was really interested in solving A14 traffic problems it would use some of its money towards such a project, as per our response to the A14 Challenge back in 2012.

Greater Cambridge Partnership

The GCP (formerly the Cambridge City Deal) is continuing to consult on various options to deal with the city's traffic problems. The Coordinator replied to the initial consultations on the Milton Road and Histon Road bus priority proposals, but has not participated in them since, nor in the Greenway (cycle route) schemes. There has however been continued participation in the Cambourne corridor consultation, and a response is planned to the next round of consultation on the A1307 corridor.

We reported last time on the Rural Hubs meeting convened by S Cambs District Council in Sept 2017. We were disappointed that the consultants' idea of a rural hub appeared to be an area where people could park their cars and change to a bus or train, or cycle, to central Cambridge -- we, and I think most people present, had a wider vision of a place where people could also transfer between different public transport routes to travel to many more destinations, and the main role of cycling would be to get people between their homes and the hub (instead of being expected to drive). Well, the consultants' vision appears to have won out in the final report, which is leading to trials at several locations, only one of which was on our list (Whittlesford).

Rail News

The big news this time is that trains are running between Finsbury Park and St Pancras Thameslink, 2 each way 5 days a week on each of Cambridge-Brighton and Peterborough-Horsham. From May there will be regular services, and when the Thameslink project is complete next year there will be 6 trains every hour in each direction.

Present times are 11.24/14.24 from Cambridge, stopping at Finsbury Park, St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, London Bridge, East Croydon, Gatwick Airport, Three Bridges, Balcombe, Haywards Heath and Brighton. For the return trains, leaving Brighton 11.32/14.32, Balcombe is replaced by Burgess Hill and the earlier train also stops at Stevenage and Hitchin. And trains leave Peterborough at 09.46/13.17 calling Huntingdon (10.00/13.32), St Neots (10.08/13.40) and all stations to Stevenage, Finsbury Park and as above to London Bridge, New Cross Gate, Norwood Jn, East Croydon, Purley and all stations to Horsham, except that the earlier train does not call at Faygate. Northbound trains leave Horsham at 10.00/13.30 with the same stopping pattern (neither calling at Faygate).

The other main news is that funding has definitely been allocated for the new Cambridge South station serving the Addenbrookes Biomedical Campus, including full 4 tracking between Cambridge station and Shepreth Branch Jn, where the lines to Kings Cross and Liverpool St diverge. Let's hope this station is better served by connecting buses than Cambridge North, exploiting the synergy between bus/rail connections and better access to the Hospital and Biomedical Campus. In particular we'd like to see a revival of the 16/17, bringing services via Fulbourn to villages towards Haverhill and Newmarket, and a direct service to Cambourne which could replace the 18 (with the villages on this route being given a separate service direct to Cambridge City Centre).

Grassroots transport campaigning

It is often said that the transport problems of Cambridge are intractable because of the multiplicity of interest groups that spring up to oppose any potential solution. Fortunately these interest groups have also managed to stop the car based makeover of our city centres that was at one time fashionable, but they didn't stop the inexorable increase in trunk road capacity that has allowed more and more cars to descend on the city. Now, however, the establishment of the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the Cambs & Peterborough Combined Authority has stimulated grassroots campaigns with a wider vision.

We referred to Smarter Cambridge Transport and Cambridge Connect in Newsletters 123 and 124, and the bus meeting convened by Daniel Zeichner MP in Newsletter 125. The last has now led to the formation of a Cambridge Area Bus Users Group, which has contacted the Mayor emphasising the need for a coherent bus strategy that prioritises the needs of bus users.

Meanwhile, the Association of British Commuters, which reacted very effectively to the industrial dispute on the Southern rail franchise, is planning to expand and one of its aspirations is to develop effective bus campaigns targeting the Cambs & Peterborough and Greater Manchester Combined Authorities. Here is what Emily Yates, co-founder of the ABC, has to say:

The Association of British Commuters was founded in Sept 2016; and since rose to national prominence through our legal challenge of the Department for Transport. Originally a committed group of Brighton based passengers suffering through the "Southern rail crisis", we are now a non-profit organisation dedicated to the cause of justice, transparency and democracy in public transport.

In 2018, we will be putting our grand plan into action and seeking to collaborate with other transport campaigns nationwide. In all that we have done so far, our aim has been to amplify the voices of passengers; most especially through legal, lobbying and civic actions that can help to give them a permanent seat at the table. In the process we have created "viral" social media platforms which we use to help local and user led campaigns get more exposure.

The strongest alliances we have created so far are with disabled access campaigns such as Transport for All, which has also led us to expand from rail into other modes of transport. The next step for us is clear -- 60% of public transport users rely on buses, yet this cause suffers an unforgivable lack of media coverage and national campaigning prominence. We want to help change this state of affairs -- after all it is only through an integrated vision of public transport that all users will gain the services and local regeneration they deserve.

It was thus a real pleasure to learn from Simon Norton about the work of Cambs CBT, as well as the strong collaborative work coming out of the Cambridge Area Bus Users Group so soon after its foundation. In the light of Mayor James Palmer's instigation of a full review of bus services in Cambs & Peterborough, and the new opportunities promised by the Bus Services Act 2017, it seems that there has rarely been a better time for passengers to have their say.

The more I talk to fellow campaigners, the more it seems clear that the key to the improvements we all seek relies on taking advantage of the new powers offered by the Bus Servicrs Act. Though I personally would have wished it to be even stronger in its devolution of powers, in areas with an elected mayor it should still be the most powerful tool we've had available to us in decades.

The potential benefits of the Bus Services Act to Cambs & Peterborough are significant. The re-regulation of buses immediately enfranchises all users in the county, and allows the service needs of all passengers to become central to decision making -- vitally important for rural areas and countywide regeneration. In all the discussions around private public partnerships in transport, it is clear that the line must be drawn long before competitive/profit notives outweigh the needs of rural users to stay connected. Through the Bus Services Act we can change all that and give powers back to them.

If we apply a longer term vision it is clear that the integration of services through this Act can become an excellent economic boom not just to rural areas, but also to domestic and even international tourism. Is it really so far in the future that we'll one day see the successes of London's Oyster replcated in Cambridge? And is it really such a faraway dream that we might even see an integrated ticketing system extended all the way from London to this most popular tourist destination? I have no doubt that the Bus Services Act is the first step.

ABC would love to hear from Cambs & Peterborough bus and rail users. If there is an issue or campaign you feel that we could help to amplify, please write to us at or tweet us at @ABCommuters

East Anglia bus news

There've been lots of minor changes in Stagecoach timetables in Cambs & Peterborough, but the only major change is the curtailment of route 11 (Cambridge-Bury) so that off peak buses to/from Bury terminate at Newmarket with onward connections to/from Cambridge and Ely by route 12. There have however been complaints that these connections can't always be relied on -- partly due to driver changes at Newmarket, and partly, no doubt, because of delays at the Ely level crossing. These delays may be removed when the new bypass opens -- at the cost of diverting this service away from the station, to the detriment of people wishing to use it to connect with trains to/from Ely.

Major changes are in prospect in April when Stagecoach abandons most of its Kings Lynn area network, which enters Cambs at Wisbech. They have already announced that from Easter the 49/A which link Sutton St James with Spalding and Wisbech will transfer to Fowlers, apparently under the number H43S, and that the Norwich-Fakenham leg of the X29 will transfer to First. About their other services, Traveline says the following:

Retained by Stagecoach (as part of Stagecoach in Peterborough?): 46 (March-Wisbech section), 50 (Wisbech-Long Sutton), 55 (Kings Lynn-Walpole St Peter, renumbered 45), 56 (Wisbech-Manea/Benwick), 66 (Wisbech town), 115 (Long Sutton School-Throckenholt) and 505 (Kings Lynn-Spalding). Also 407, 434 and NG01, but these school services are not shown on the Stagecoach website so may not be available to the general public.

Transfer to Lynx: Coasthopper Kings Lynn-Wells section (which will merge with Lynx 34-36), 1 (Kings Lynn town, renumbered 42), 29 (Wells-Fakenham, which will merge with the 36), X29 Kings Lynn-Fakenham section (renumbered 49) and 46/X46 Kings Lynn-Wisbech section.

Transfer to West Norfolk Community Transport: 2-5 Kings Lynn town services, X29 (Easton College-Fakenham journeys), 52 (Easton College-Swaffham), 53 (Swaffham-Downham Market, which will merge with the 60) and 60 (Downham Market-Wisbech). Routes 52, 53 and 60 currently interwork as a through service between Wisbech and Easton College, and this will remain as a WNCT facility. Some journeys on route 60 will continue to connect with route 61 Three Holes-Welney-Downham Market which is already operated by WNCT.

Transfer to Sanders: Coasthopper Wells-Cromer section (renumbered 4). This will interwork with Sanders 5 thus running through to North Walsham. It is not clear what will happen to the service between Sheringham and Holt currently provided by the 5, though this section is also served by their 44.

No replacement announced (at least yet): 6 (Kings Lynn town), 48C and 414. The last two are school buses so may now use an operator that does not allow the general public to travel.

It was the manager of West Norfolk Community Transport, Ben Colson, who built up Norfolk Green before he sold out to Stagecoach. In the past Stagecoach, like Go Ahead, have been very acquisitive -- one wonders whether they're now cutting back because they burnt their fingers on the East Coast Main Line franchise.

Other bus news

At the time of writing Staffs and Cheshire East are just about to impose major cuts. Northants is planning to withdraw all support, but the financial crisis which led to this has also led to the appointment of commissioners to take over the running of the council, and the Campaign for Better Transport and Bus Users UK have plans for a lawsuit arguing that such a blanket decision is illegal, so there is still hope. A positive outcome for the lawsuit may help bus users in Oxfordshire and Cumbria who have already lost all their support, and Hampshire where, again, the council wishes to remove support.

While Stagecoach Norfolk's withdrawal has been orderly enough for replacement operators to be found without loss of continuity, other areas have fares worse. In Essex, when Regal withdrew from passenger carrying, there was a month's gap before a replacement operator was found for route 3, leaving East Hanningfield largely isolated. (Incidentally the 3 also serves Hyde Hall RHS Gardens, which offer a discount to people arriving by public transport.) Worse still is Wrexham, where 3 months after the liquidation of D. Jones many routes still remain unserved -- see the borough council website for details. However, North Yorkshire did manage to find replacement operators for services previously run by Stephenson's of Easingwold without too much delay.

We conclude with updates on the bus news in our last newsletter, and a few other items.

Central Beds: Following the loss of Centrebus X31 Dunstable-Milton Keynes section, and the recast of Arriva buses on the Dunstable-Leighton Buzzard/MK corridor, Hockliffe and Tilsworth are now served by South Beds Dial a Ride.

Warwicks and Sussex: The Sunday services that do a circuit from Leamington to Upton House (National Trust) and Compton Verney (an art centre) have run through the winter, as have the Sunday service on the 349 Hastings-Bodiam-Hawkhurst-Cranbrook and the Thur/Sat service on the 3 Horsham-Shoreham.

West Country: First's summer timetable, starting at Easter, includes daily services between Weymouth and Poole via Lulworth Cove, with additional buses to Bovington Tank Museum and Monkeyworld on non schooldays. They are also advertising a variety of rural routes serving schools in Beaminster, Bridport and Lyme Regis. Also the 88 Wimborne-Sturminster Marshall has been reintroduced, though only on Thur/Fri. In Somerset, the Burnham on Sea-Wedmore service has been reintroduced, now run directly by Somerset County Council, while in Devon, the Sidmouth Hopper will run but with a shorter season (26 May-2 Sept) and will no longer be free.

North Yorkshire: The Grassington-Litton route will again run on the 5th Saturday of those months in the season that have one, and the Richmondshire Rover service to Barnard Castle continues to run Mon/Fri.

Lancashire: Last time we referred to plans to reinstate some routes. These include 582 Lancaster-Arkholme-Kirkby Lonsdale, which supplements Stagecoach 81 via Melling and interworks with the 580/1 to Ingleton, Settle and Skipton; 315 Ormskirk-Southport via Haskayne; 25 Clitheroe-Blackburn via Brockhall; and 466 Todmorden-Rawtenstall.

Shropshire: The Shropshire Hills Shuttle will run weekends and Bank Holiday Mondays May-Sept by the usual route between Church Stretton and Minsterley over the hills.

Hants: The Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery at Laverstoke is on route 76 which runs 7 days a week between Basingstoke and Andover, but they also procure a bus service which links with trains at nearby Overton and Micheldever stations. The latter uses a rural road.

Staffs: Even before the latest cuts (see above) the village of Alton was completely isolated. However nearby Alton Towers has a Mon-Fri bus link from Nottingham, Derby and Ashbourne for most of the season, and from Stoke on Trent station and Hanley weekends from 26 May and daily from 9 June to 2 Sept.