Transport 2000 Cambs & W Suffolk

Newsletter 57, March 1997

Disclaimer: the contents of articles do not necessarily reflect Transport 2000 policy at either national or branch level. If you know any reason why any opinion expressed on a matter within the branch's remit should not be branch policy, please contact the Secretary/Coordinator -- it is through the exchange of ideas that methods for solving our problems are developed.

Please note that although in this newsletter we concentrate on matters of strategic importance, we would like to hear from any member on any transport related topic, however small. If you have a complaint or suggestion of any kind we will endeavour to pursue it ourselves or to advise you on how to pursue it yourself.


This issue of our newsletter will deal with election related issues, but is not an ``election special'' as such, and we may well not have one.

What are the main transport issues in the election? Here are some questions on issues that are likely to be politically controversial. Ask them to candidates, canvassers and other party representatives in both the general and local (county council and Peterborough unitary) elections.

  1. Do you support the Road Traffic Reduction Bill (which we covered in our last newsletter)? If the Bill has been passed before this Parliament is dissolved, then ask about support for national traffic reduction targets. (5% reduction from 1990 levels by 2005, 10% by 2010 were the ones originally set out in the Bill but dropped to gain government support. The Action Programme of the Real World Coalition adds that these should be the first step towards deeper reductions.)
  2. Is there a need for emergency action to change transport and planning policies? Here are some possible actions.
    1. Give extra money to local councils for restoration of axed bus routes (or, where appropriate, for introducing new routes that would be better value for money). This could come out of the savings from axed roads as below. Because of the severity of what is currently going on (see later), and the likely hazard of local government reorganisation (ditto), we suggest that this should be a ``litmus test'' for the greenness of any party or candidate.
    2. Withdraw some road schemes already under way, especially those that are exceptionally destructive or defy European Union guidelines (Newbury by-pass) and those that are financially wasteful or will merely transfer the problems elsewhere (A1 Alconbury to Peterborough).
    3. In addition, suspend the rest of the road programme pending a review. For local authority schemes about to start, tell the council that they are free to use the money for other purposes instead, but if they proceed money will not be guaranteed in future years. (Note: there are no relevant schemes in Cambs, though there are in some adjoining counties.)
    4. Bring forward public transport initiatives which could be offered to contractors to buy them out of commitments to abandoned road schemes.
    5. Try to buy out developers where planning permission has been granted for unsustainable developments, notably edge of town superstores. This would be done by announcing a tax on car parking and an intention to implement the Traffic Reduction Bill sufficiently stringently to cast doubt on the profitability of such developments.
    6. Suspend developments which encroach on potentially useful railway lines.
  3. What powers do local authorities need to implement traffic reduction schemes? We believe it is important to give them a free hand to raise all the money they need, and not only for transport spending -- otherwise they'll be tempted to give the go-ahead to unsustainable developments as the only means of financing needed improvements, as has happened so much in recent years. Even more important is to give democratically constituted local transport authorities powers to coordinate local bus and rail services -- and the areas covered by such authorities should be at least as big as existing (1974) counties, i.e. without the hive-off of unitary authorities like Peterborough (though these, and district councils, should retain the power to support extra services over and above those required by the local transport authority).
  4. How should public transport be reintegrated? A recent, well publicised report by the Round Table on Sustainable Development concluded that bus deregulation and rail privatisation had been to the detriment of public transport as a network. As stated above, we believe that the best remedy is to set up democratic local transport authorities, preferably with some form of national coordination. Local transport authorities should have powers to set timetables and fares, and should collect the latter, though this need not exclude the possibility of supplementary commercial bus or rail services, or ``quality partnerships'' whereby the private sector puts in investment in return for a share of the generated revenue. But timetable coordination must be a public sector responsibility, and if local transport authortities collect fares it would make measures to switch motorists to public transport more financially viable.
  5. What about the cost balance between motoring and ppublic transport? We believe that correcting this is essential if motorists in rural areas (where parking is not a problem) are to be encouraged to use public transport for journeys for which it is suitable, even if they are still dependent on cars for some journeys.

The Government has raised fuel tax in advance of inflation every year. Unfortunately, it has also frozen fuel tax rebate for buses, which has been used as an excuse for bus companies to put up fares even faster. The rise in motoring taxes is nowhere near fast enough to achieve, for example, the Royal Commission's target of doubling petrol prices within a reasonable time. For the possible impact of such price rises on rural areas, see the article later in this newsletter on our model Traffic Reduction Plan for Cambs.

Another important issues is heavy lorries: the Government has been consulting on the issue of raising weight limits to 44 tonnes, but the main railfreight operator has said this would cost it 20% of its business during a period when it aims to triple railfreight's market share, which could cut HGV's by up to 45%.

Before concluding this section we discuss the records of the three main parties and questions of tactical voting.

Nationally, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats offer the prospect of reintegration of our public transport system, but there are doubts as to how much money will be available. (We believe that increased motoring taxes should be the main source of finance.) Neither party has any declared policy of shifting the financial incentives to discourage car use.

The Tories have cut the road programme, but they have cut public transport even harder. The local government settlement for 1997-8 has completely axed the ``minor works'' budget (which covers pedestrian and cyclist improvements) to pay for past over-runs in local authority road schemes.

There are no Cambridgeshire constituencies where tactical voting should be regarded as imperative. If Labour lose Cambridge, they are sunk anyway; if they win Peterborough, they'll almost certainly have an overall majority. The Lib Dems aren't strongly enough placed in any of our constituencies to be regarded as in with a reasonable chance.

Locally, the record of the Lib Dem administration, supported by Labour, has been disappointing -- the closure of Bridge St (see below) being just about the only major initiative that has brought significant fruits. There are of course the purely negative policies such as abandoning the Cambridge Southern Relief Road proposed by the previous Tory administartion.

To some extent this has been due to financial constraints, but this does not excuse the total lack of a coherent rural bus policy (to the extent that such a policy is enshrined in the Structure Plan it has not been implemented). We believe that if the Council had a rural bus policy it would have found it easier to resist the pressure for cuts. Nor does it excuse the failure to consult users as to what changes are necessary -- it is not sufficient to consult town and parish councils.

Would more sustainable policies emerge under a non-Tory government, especially if the Road Traffic Reduction Bill became law? If you think so, you will wish to vote tactically in the County Council elections (which cover the whole of the county outside Peterborough district) if you live in an area where this is relevant. Don't forget one factor: unless financial restrictions in 1997-8 are eased (and Labour has said it has no intention to do so) there can be little progress till 1998-9, and by then Peterborough will have been hived off, which means that the Tories are very likely to regain control anyway. If they adopt sustainable policies, well and good; otherwise the best hope seems to be the adoption of proportional representation in local government. What is the attitude of the national parties to this?

Branch news.

Here are some forthcoming events (in Cambridge unless stated otherwise).

We welcome the following new members: S. Jourdain, Cambridge; J. Connett, Cambridge; Bassingbourn Parish Council, Redwood Lodge, South St, Litlington; Soham Town Council, PO Box 21, Council Office, The Pavilion, Soham. We have also established relations with Wisbech Friends of the Earth.

Unless we issue another newsletter prior to the election, subscriptions will become due by the time of the next newsletter. Please send a cheque for GBP 3.50 (ordinary), GBP 2.50 (concessionary) or GBP 5 (household or affiliate) to the Treasurer, preferably by mid April, unless you have already paid for this year.

Cambs bus news.

The main item is the agreement by Cambs CC of yet more cuts at the February meeting of the Traffic & Minor Improvements Committee. This brings the total to 20 since last Februrary. The new ones are:

All in all a sorry picture which gives the message ``pollute as much as you please -- if you try to be environmentally responsible we won't help you''. We are particularly concerned about the loss of the Gamlingay service, which is another nail in the coffin of the inter-urban link between Cambridge and East Beds where two cuts were reported in our last newsletter. Why on earth can't the relevant authorities get together with Stagecoach (Cambus and United Counties) with a view to instituting a regular service from Biggleswade, Sandy and Potton to Cambridge? As is evident from the above, we are also concerned at the loss of the 146, though this may be only temporary.

We are also concerned about the loss of the two Sunday services. As previous newsletters have indicated, we believe the 477 was badly planned. How can we ever find out if a better planned service would have attracted more people? The 303 is the last remnant of what was a very well used service (Barton 117 Peterborough to Nottingham) until the operator withdrew it because of the closure of its Stamford depot, and we believe that it would have attracted many more people had it and the Peterborough to Leicester service (which is totally useless for day trips) been developed to provide a regular link from Peterborough and Stamford via both sides of Rutland Water to Uppingham, Leicester, Oakham, Melton Mowbray and Nottingham.

This brings to a total of 6 the number of axed Sunday services. The majority of places of interest within the county have lost their service, while wasteful duplication continues on the A47 and A428 corridors. The only significant leisure facilities are the seaside networks operated by other counties, to which there is access from Cambridge, Ely and St Ives. Let's hope these too aren't axed.

All this at a time when official tourism policy remains to disperse people from Cambridge. This means that tourists staying in Cambridge are now virtually invited to use cars. Maybe many tourists weren't using the Sunday Rover network before, but whose fault is the low key publicity this network has been given?

Comments on Travel Times (January and February issues).

Advance warning: See above -- there may be other changes too, though they are unlikely to be as harmful.

Traffic Reduction Plan.

As we said in the last newsletter, under the Road Traffic Reduction Bill local councils (Cambs CC and district councils including Peterborough) would have to set local traffic reduction targets and submit a traffic reduction plan which set out what measures they believed necessary to achieve those targets. We have been drawing up, for campaign purposes, a model traffic reduction plan for Cambridgshire.

This plan has been considerably amended since its first draft, largely as a result of suggestions by other people and groups. Perhaps the most important change is our proposed minimum standards which people should be entitled to. These are as follows.

The strategic network.

This is the public transport equivalent of the trunk road network. It should aim to provide routes for long distance travel in every direction out of every main regional centre (in Cambs, Cambridge and Peterborough), including direct links with all neighbouring main and subsidiary regional centres (in Cambs, Huntingdon and Wisbech). All principal towns (in Cambs, Ely, March, St Neots and St Ives) should be on the network. Also every main regional centre should have a link to Europe with at most one change. Where possible, rail would be used for strategic services, and there should be a long term aim of extending this to as many corridors as possible. All services should carry bicycles. Each services should run at least 2 hourly, 7 days a week and evenings included, and overall frequencies on a corridor should normally be hourly.

The primary network.

As the name suggests, this is the public transport equivalent of the primary road network. It should aim to link every town with all neighbouring main and subsidiary regional centres, and every principal village with a main regional centre. Services should run at least 2 hourly, and where possible hourly, throughout the main daytime period on weekdays; in those parts of the county where London commuting is common there should be an early evening link connecting off a London train; and sufficient evening and Sunday services should be provided to cover every town and to give every village a service within walking or cycling distance by a safe route. The last bus to any village should connect with an incoming train. Also, at weekends (especially in summer) every significant visitor attraction should be served, and there should be facilities for day trips to the seaside.

A ``principal'' village is one which has seen large scale new development, or in which future development, of whatever size, other than for purely local needs, is allowed. If travel allowances are given to less well off people living in areas with inadequate services, the ``principal village'' standard above should be the benchmark for what is adequate.

The urban network.

This should aim to provide services every 15 minutes to every neighbourhood of a main regional centre, and to the main villages in the surrounding area. The latter would also fulfil a Park & Ride role. Evening and Sunday buses should be at least hourly and preferably half hourly. Neighbourhoods of subsidiary urban centres should have at least a half hourly daytime service and be within walking distance of evening and Sunday buses.

The local network.

This should aim to give every village access to a nearby town at times suitable for schoolchildren, workers and shoppers; to provide direct services between every pair of neighbouring towns; and to satisfy other needs not provided for by the strategic and primary networks.

Network coordination.

The above services should be planned with a view to optimising connections (easy transfer between services, low waiting times, through ticketing where possible). There should also be comprehensive publicity and marketing at three levels: to make people (including visitors to the region) aware of the extent of their journey opportunities; to give easy access to printed information enabling people to plan their own journeys; and to provide a 24 hour telephone information service which also covers late changes (e.g. alterations to rail or bus services due to infrastructure work).

Planning News.

The main item here is the closure of Bridge St in Cambridge to through traffic. This is probably the first important and worthwhile environmental initiative of the county council since the last elections (in 1993), and it has done wonders in making the air in Magdalene St breathable. However, we have two concerns:

  1. The original plans called for the barrier to be north of Thompson's Lane, but in fact it has been put south thereof. This has led to safety problems with traffic turning out of that street, and made it necessary to allow two-way traffic. It has also increased the amount of traffic needing to use Magdalene St and thereby blurred the message that this is not a through route.
  2. The closure has led to extra traffic in the Four Lamps area. In theory this should encourage people from the Huntingdon and Madingley Road corridors to switch to buses, with consequent relief to the whole area. However most buses use Four Lamps to get between Bridge St and the bus station anyway, thereby getting caught in the same traffic jams as the cars. We therefore call for the following:
    1. Rerouteing of buses via St Andrew's St during peak hours. This would require rescinding of the traffic regulation forbidding right turns from Market St to St Andrew's St. (We objected to this regulation at the time.)
    2. Comprehensive displays at all central area stops showing which buses use which routes when. This is highly desirable anyway, but if buses are to use different routes at different times of day, as the above would require, it becomes a necessity. Note that neither the County Council nor the Cambus map shows all this information at present.
    3. Review of the whole city centre closure. For example, it might be thought necessary to bring forward the reopening to buses to avoid the school peak just after 3.30.
    4. Cooperation between the County Council and operators (Cambus, United Counties and Whippet) to ensure that the above proposals work out. If the operators aren't prepared to cooperate, well, it's another argument against bus deregulation!

Two other items, also in the Cambridge area. The public right of way through Lion Yard is to be replaced by a walkway agreement which allows it to be closed at night. The agreement will also allow the operators of Lion Yard to exclude people from the centre on public order grounds. As the centre contains a key public amenity (the Central Library), to which right of access is an essential democratic prerequisite, this is very worrying. We (and the County Council) objected to this closure proposal, which was instigated by the City Council because the operator said it was essential to ``improve'' the centre.

And Cambridge University has started to consult over its plans to expand in West Cambridge, roughly covering the area bounded by Madingley Road, the M11 and the Coton Footpath. They are concerned to avoid too much traffic generation. We believe that this corridor should be considered as an option for part of a guided busway between Cambridge, Bar Hill and the proposed Cambourne development, and that adequate pedestrian and cycle links should be provided between the development area and adjoining parts of the City (including the central area) so that people can enjoy the ``greenness'' of the area.

Rail News.

The franchising programme has now been completed. As we said above, timetable planning needs to be taken back into the public sector if traffic reduction is to work, as otherwise it will be well nigh impossible to optimise rail and bus connections.

There have already been complaints about non-compliance by operators -- the media gave considerable publicity to cancellations on Stagecoach-owned South West Trains as a result of driver shortage caused by a redundancy package.

East Anglian councils have won money from the Government under the ``Capital Challenge'' programme to develop real time information at rural rail stations. Worthwhile but, we believe, not a high priority as bus services disintegrate in many parts of the region.

Finally, more complaints about the National Routeing Guide (see last newsletter). The Rail Regulator does not seem prepared to implement his promise that traditional route availabilities will continue to be available, and information obtained at stations or through the National Enquiry Office (0345 484950) is not always reliable. There are inconsistencies in the guide; some tickets are only valid by routes which have no regular service (such as Hellifield to Clitheroe)!

Other bus news.

While Cambs has suffered badly from bus cuts, other counties have suffered worse. It is reported that Kent is planning to cut all evening and Sunday services from 1 April. So avoid the Garden of England for a day out this summer! The important trans-Pennine link between Darlington and Penrith has also been axed except for a couple of days a week, though it is likely that services will improve in the summer. In West Yorkshire the popular Day Rover ticket has been axed because the Transport Authority has been unable to agree terms with the operators. The only multi-operator ticket still available is the Family Ticket, which costs nearly three times as much. In Suffolk there is a new travel enquiry number (0645 583358, local call charges from anywhere, Mon-Fri 08.45 to 18.00, Sat 09.00 to 12.00).

Another change which we hope doesn't set a trend is that National Express have banned unaccompanied children from its coaches. This follows an incident when an 8 year old got out of a coach at the wrong place. However, this is no excuse to ban teenagers especially as they should be given every encouragement to enjoy the freedom of public transport so as to diminish their desire for a car at 17. The decision is also liable to cause hardship; if children have alternative means of transport available (other buses or trains, including franchises operated by National Express) why should they be safer, and if they are taken by car this increases the danger to us all from traffic. As it is not clear why National Express differs from any other bus or train service, does this mean we are on the way to banning unaccompanied children everywhere, and if so how do they get to school?

Ferry news.

Fast ferries have been introduced in the North Sea routes between Ramsgate and Ostend, and are planned for Harwich to Hook of Holland in June. With the withdrawal of Felixstowe to Zeebrugge in 1995 and Sheerness to Vlissingen last year this means there's now no overnight service at all except for one conventional boat from Ramsgate to Ostend (and no return facility). We are concerned that this will make many European destinations ``out of bounds'' for travel without an overnight stopover, even after the introduction of overnight Eurostar trains.

Transport 2000 Cambs and W Suffolk homepage