Transport 2000 Cambs and W Suffolk

Newsletter 59, August 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.


Our headline question has a multiple meaning.

Firstly, as Coordinator I myself am not fully up with what is going on locally. On returning from North America I opened my mail and have asked various people various questions arising therefrom, but I have not received all the answers I need -- perhaps because relevant people are on holiday.

Secondly, the County Council has clamped down on information with the demise of Travel Times (see later). If we don't know what changes are happening, we won't be asking the relevant people the relevant questions. We are trying to establish some arrangement with the Council whereby they supply us with relevant information, but until we have achieved this, i.e., until further notice, please send us any new bus timetables you may come across (other than those issued by the County Council itself). Our campaigning ability depends on being supplied with all relevant information.

In view of the above, I must emphasise that while the contents of this newsletter represent what we believe to be the truth, we would be grateful to any member who sends us any evidence that we are wrong. We will normally print any reasonable ``right to reply'' material in the next newsletter, whether on matters of fact or on matters of opinion. In particular if any member of any political party feels that we are misrepresenting its policy please let us know.

This brings us naturally to the third meaning of the headline -- namely the consequences of the change of power from Tory to Labour in Parliament and from Lib Dem/Labour to Tory in the County Council. A few months is not a long time in politics, but the record of the new county council is very worrying, and the record of the new Government suggests that they are unaware of the extent of the crisis currently facing public transport in rural and semi-rural areas such as Cambridgeshire as a result of the policies of the previous Government. On this more later.

In view of this please note that our Action Line at the end of this newsletter is longer than usual, and, departing from our usual practice, we are not referring specifically to the issues on which we wish members to take action within the text. So please read the end of this newsletter and take whatever action you can.

We would also like to draw your attention to our information on trips out. There are only a few weeks left of the summer season, and for some trips mentioned here the season ends as the schools return.

Branch news.

A renewal form is enclosed with this newsletter for those members from whom a subscription is due for 1997-8. Subscriptions are unchanged -- GBP 3-50 ordinary, GBP 2-50 concessionary, GBP 5 household or corporate. We expect to give members a further newsletter before striking them off our membership list, but please don't take advantage of this -- it won't extend your subscription further into 1998! If you believe you've already paid for 1997-8 please contact the Coordinator.

Following the general election we invited the new Labour MP for Peterborough, Helen Brinton, to join, and are pleased to say that she has done so. We also congratulate the coordinator of the Ipswich and Suffolk group, Barry Moore, on his election to Suffolk County Council and nomination to our Rail Users Consultative Committee.

There have been no branch meetings for some time and we have not arranged any yet. But all members will receive notice of our 1997 AGM with the next newsletter. Meanwhile here are some dates for your diary:

Rail News.

The summer timetable saw improvements to the Fen Line between Cambridge and Kings Lynn. This opens up new opportunities for Sunday trips to the Norfolk Coast (see Sunday buses, below). We have written to WAGN and the Norfolk Coast Project to ask for an inclusive ticket from Cambridge area to the Norfolk Coast, covering rail to Kings Lynn then bus. Such a ticket is now available from Norwich via Sheringham.

Not so good is the disappearance of Inter-City trains from Huntingdon. This means that all GNER trains now run non-stop between Stevenage and Peterborough, the longest gap in their network. With a main east-west road link passing through Huntingdon, and current roadworks between Alconbury and Peterborough for the wasteful motorway project, surely this is an ideal moment to establish a strategic interchange at Huntingdon -- we've written to GNER to say so.

We referred last time to changes to the Harwich-Hook ferry. Connecting trains are now merely a through train from Cambridge in the morning (Mon-Sat), returning on arrival at Harwich (daily). There are no through trains connecting with the evening boat in either direction. Connections to/from the cross-country network are far from inspiring, and the service does not offer as attractive a package as the former night crossing, even though the actual crossing is now faster. Incidentally the new fast ferry is reported as having caused problems at local beaches due to its shock waves.

While overnight international ferries decline, Eurostar has finally abandoned plans for through trains. Are we all to be forced to fly at a time when people in Manchester and Heathrow are concerned about airport expansion, not to mention the significant contribution of aircraft to global warming and other forms of pollution?

The new Gatwick Airport to Rugby service makes use of the West London Line and provides a second hourly train between Northampton and Rugby. We would like to see this used to improve links to Birmingham and the West Coast Main Line -- this would be valuable to Cambs people travelling by bus to Northampton. There's a new hourly bus link between Stansted Airport and Colchester North Station via Dunmow (but by-passing Braintree).

There are, of course, changes that are beyond the scope of our area, such as the new summer Sunday train service between Exeter and Okehampton (not shown in any Railtrack medium) and the new summer Saturday bus between Clitheroe and Hellifield (we don't know whether rail tickets are valid on this, but if so one should be able to use this as a slow but scenic route to the Settle and Carlisle line).

Some bad news that has seen a fair amount of media coverage: train operators in the Network Card area plan to bar the use of Network Cards on peak hour trains for journeys from or via London termini leaving between 16.00 and 19.00 (19.30 was the time originally quoted, but our latest letter from WAGN says 19.00). This will affect tickets bought with Network Cards purchased from the beginning of the winter timetable -- so you may wish to renew your Network Card early to gain up to a year's exemption from the new restrictions, especially as the price of a Network Card will go up from GBP 14 to GBP 20. However, we understand that London Transport have refused to allow any change to the conditions relating to 1 day Travelcards, so if you are affected by the new restrictions just buy one of these instead! (Is there any significance in the fact that London Transport is still in the public sector?) 5 day returns will also be unaffected by the new restrictions.

The purpose of these restrictions is to relieve pressure on evening peak trains. However, all the financial incentives in the world won't get people to return later from London if they can't get back from the station, and we have contacted WAGN and the County Council to ask if they can set up some deal (under the Private Finance Initiative?) to support improved evening buses connecting with incoming trains from London (and elsewhere where appropriate).

Local bus news -- weekdays

As we said earlier, the Council has withdrawn Travel Times. As we don't have enough copies for all members we are analysing the contents of the last two issues here in detail. In May they started by saying that the information was not sufficiently effective to meet users' needs, and that it was intended to write to parish clerks and Transport Information People giving fuller details of changes, and to send posters to parish clerks, libraries, post offices and shops in the towns and villages affected. Readers were invited to comment.

Though the officers in question knew that the Coordinator was away, and had the relevant email address, they didn't bother to ask us directly for our views. Eventually one of our members relayed the contents of the May issue, but we received the impression that the Council would still be providing information to us so didn't complain. Furthermore, we expected the Council to display the relevant information at bus stations and to have copies available for photocopying in libraries. As it is we have heard nothing from the Council at all since June's Travel Times.

This would matter less were it not that the Council is not updating display timetables at bus stations or bus stops either. Two weeks after major changes to Premier Buses (see below), many stops still show the old timetables inherited from United Counties -- indeed they still show United Counties as the operator!

Here are those changes notified in May and June's Travel Times that are still relevant.

Evening journeys on 93 and 151 -- Cambus season tickets are valid (also on all Sunday services). Unfortunately this doesn't seem to apply to seasons issued by other operators.

New timetable on 330-1 (Huntingdon-Peterborough via Ramsey).

New timetable on X94 (Norwich-Peterborough) including extra early morning bus.

Rail/bus ticketing from WAGN stations to Cambridge city centre (only) -- gives 10p discount each way. Unavailable on journeys originating in Cambridge. We regard this as derisory compared with similar facilities in Ipswich, Norwich and Yarmouth, where relevant rail tickets are valid to all destinations within the relevant town or city on a through bus route from the station for a mere 20p surcharge and, sometimes, at no extra charge at all. WAGN says that Cambus won't offer more but why aren't they putting anything into the kitty?

New hourly Cambus service 11 between Cambridge and Hilton duplicating part of Whippet 1, presumably introduced in retaliation for Whippet'e new Cambridge City service to Arbury (which they are improving). However we have suggested that Cambus should extend the service to Godmanchester and Huntingdon; facilities between Cambridge and Godmanchester, and between Papworth and Huntingdon, are poor. The case for this is strengthened by Premier's withdrawal of route 77A to the Wood Green Animal Shelter. The 11 also seems to take an unnecessarily circuitous route within Cambridge.

Confirmation of the cuts to services 111 and 118 -- we commented on the latter last time.

The June issue starts by listing the United Counties services hived off to Premier Buses, the new operator from South Wales mentioned last time. Roughly speaking these are routes 70-8 and St Neots town buses A-D. More on this below.

Viscount buses: new hourly 12 between Lynch Wood and Queensgate bus station. X65 at 20.05 retarded 10 minutes. 367 westbound journeys become 17.40 instead of 17.55, 14.30 instead of 14.40, 12.30 instead of 13.00, but a 13.00 journey will serve Stibbington and Water Newton Weds and Sats only. Similar changes eastbound. Also minor changes to X13 and 10.

Other changes: 16.15 Stamford to Peterborough now leaves at 16.00. 344 curtailed to run only between Benwick and Peterborough. Fen Bus 145 (Fris only), First Choice 708 (Peterborough-March) and United Counties 868 (Houghton-Peterborough) withdrawn.

Since then the main changes we know about have been major cuts to Premier Buses, also some huge fare increases (at least for schoolchildren). There are cuts to St Neots and Huntingdon town services (especially early morning and peak journeys) and to evening buses on the 73, though the 75-6 are unchanged. Premier have said that they are too small to be able to sustain these services at their former levels, which to our mind casts grave doubt on the competence of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission who ordered Stagecoach to dispose of these services.

Particularly disgraceful is the saga of the late night bus from Cambridge to Huntingdon. We campaigned successfully for this several years ago to replace a non-passenger working taking the last X3 from Bedford to Cambridge back to the Huntingdon depot. Following the hive-off of Premier Buses the X3 is still garaged at Huntingdon (but this is now an out station of Kettering depot, we've been told!). From the hive-off, the service was transferred to Premier, who therefore had to bring in a bus from Huntingdon depot to perform the working while United Counties were running their bus empty to Huntingdon! We certainly don't object to the injection of common sense whereby this journey reverted to United Counties on 4 August. But we do object to the fact that the Council omitted the United Counties working from their new Cambridge West timetable, and posted a notice at St Ives bus station which implied that the journey had been withdrawn without replacement. (Incidentally, St Ives bus station is in a disgusting state and no Premier timetables are posted at all.) How many people from St Ives will abandon evening trips to Cambridge, or, worse, go by car, because they believe they can't get back (or can only do so by the 23.15 which takes nearly an hour longer)? The service is now numbered X51 and leaves Drummer St from a different bay. Will people who don't know about the change miss the bus? (The Coordinator was able to advise one man who nearly did so.) The X51 route is slightly different, in particular not including the bus stop in Bridge St where the old timetable is still posted -- has anyone been stranded as a result of waiting there?

When the Council did commit errors such as this in the past, it was able to correct them in the next issue of Travel Times. Now people who have been misinformed have to wait 6 months for the next issue of their local timetable.

To round off this catalogue of insensitivity, United Counties Explorer tickets are no longer available on those routes that have been hived off to Premier -- and we haven't had the compensating advantage of their being available on Cambus. They are available on Viscount, part of the Cambus group taken over by Stagecoach -- but they had already been available on their buses prior to the takeover.

Forthcoming bus changes.

We received the following message from the Council just before printing our newsletter. We have added some comments.

The new Willingham area services from 1 Sept are as follows (all journeys Mon-Sat):

The net result is a more frequent service for Willingham, a faster and more frequent service for Swavesey and Over, a new link between Willingham and Cottenham, and the provision of a more comprehensible timetable with few variations between Mon-Fri and Sat as at present.

These improvements are at the expense of the need to change if travelling from Somersham area to Cambridge off-peak, changes in the St Ives area, and the loss of the Cambus off peak service to Fen Drayton. The latter village will only have the Mon-Fri Whippet service 15 as well as Cambus 159. The officers have contacted the parish council and are awaiting a response. (To deal with the last two points, we suggest asking Whippet or Premier to divert some of their Huntingdon service via Boxworth End at times would also provide an interchange from Over and Swavesey to St Ives and Huntingdon, and with through ticketing.)

Other changes in the offing include:

Mr Holmes, public transport officer, comments: ``As you can see there are a lot of changes in the offing. We are keeping local councils informed of the changes, together with updating many timetables and producing notices, but this is putting a strain on our resources. If there is any information you want, please let me know.''

Sunday bus news.

Changes relating to the Cambs CC network were mentioned and commented on last time -- briefly, 14, 303 and 477 are withdrawn except for local journeys between Cambridge, Anglesey Abbey and Bottisham (which are interworked with the 19), and the 151 is diverted via the 473 route between St Ives and Huntingdon, replacing the latter. Here is what's happening elsewhere within the Sunday Rover network.

Suffolk: contrary to what we were told this county is still participating in the Sunday Rover network. In accordance with one of our suggestions there is a new day out facility from Soham to Lavenham, Ipswich, Colchester and the coast. Elsewhere the main changes are the withdrawal of commercial service 129 between Ipswich and Hunstanton, and major cuts to the Ipswich-Diss service, now numbered 489. Sunday Rovers are now valid on route 171 between Norwich, Loddon, Beccles and Lowestoft -- formerly a commercial service run by Flying Banana which didn't accept them.

Norfolk: here things are generally improving, though last year's working between Norwich and Yarmouth via Woodbastwick, Ranworth and South Walsham is, unfortunately, not running this year, and the evening bus from Norwich to Diss makes a much poorer connection with the 200 to Cambridge. (There's still a good connection in the morning.) New services for the summer season include the X47 from Southery to Hunstanton -- also, on some dates, an X48 and X49; route 5 between Norwich, Wroxham and North Walsham; and improvements to the coastal network. Also tickets are now valid on trains between Norwich and Sheringham (the ``Bittern Line''), but not on the special bus to the Redwings Horse Sanctuary. See below for how to make day trips to the coast.

Essex: As stated last time 452 between Ongar and Chelmsford no longer runs. Summer services 665 (Wallasea Island-Southend) and 698 (Burnham-Bradwell) no longer run, considerably reducing the opportunities available to users of the 631 between Saffron Walden and Burnham. However the latter does still connect with Cambridge Coach Services 38 at Radwinter, though Cambs CC have yet again refused to show this in their timetable. Otherwise little change.

Beds (including Luton), Northants and Herts: we summarised the Northants Saunterbus last time, also mentioning the changes to the X3 which make it more difficult to come back in the evening with a Sunday Rover. Otherwise no significant change.

Bucks (including Milton Keynes): many of the summer specials operated by Classic Buses are running to new timetables, but the network sees relatively little change. There is a new route between Marlow and Beaconsfield via Booker Airfield, High Wycombe, Hazlemere and Penn, hourly till the end of October.

Oxon: we covered changes to the Ridgeway Explorer between Reading, Wantage and Swindon last time. The service from Witney and Carterton to Burford isn't running this year.

Sunday bus trips.

Here are some sample trips.

Trips via Diss can be made starting on route 200 from St Ives via Cambridge and Bottisham or route 649 from Haverhill (which connects with 38 from Cambridge). The 200 continues via the Waveney Valley to Yarmouth, the 649 via Southwold to Lowestoft. Connections are available at Southwold for Dunwich and further south. There is also a connection to Norwich, but the return bus leaves 17.05.

Trips via Lavenham can be made starting on route 156 from Ely and Soham. The 156 continues to Ipswich where connections are available to many coastal areas (and there's also an open top tour of Ipswich). One can also change at Lavenham for Colchester, though arrival is not at a time suitable for most of the coastal connections.

From Cambridge, the best way to Ipswich is to use the 640. In principle one is supposed to change at Newmarket from the 200, but in practice buses seem to run through. The 640 runs through to Clacton. An alternative route to Clacton is by 38 to Haverhill then 601 to Colchester where connections are available; this gets in earlier and leaves later. Connections are also available at Colchester for many other coastal resorts. And as stated above, one can change from the 38 to the 631 at Radwinter. The 631 goes via Braintree (providing an alternative route to Colchester via Coggeshall), Witham and Maldon to Burnham, where there is a ferry to Wallasea but no connecting bus at the other end for Southend.

These trips have all been available for several years. A new opportunity is the Norfolk Coast Circular. Use the 08.53 train from Cambridge to Downham Market and walk to the bus station whence a bus leaves for Hunstanton at 10.00, connecting with the 11.05 from Hunstanton round the coast to Cromer, Blickling Hall and Norwich. To return the same way leave Blickling at 14.30 or Cromer at 15.00; but one can also return later, using the 18.00 from Cromer through to Kings Lynn and connecting with the 20.40 train. To make a complete circle, use the 200 from Cambridge to Diss then the connection to Norwich and onward train arriving 13.44 (Sheringham 13.55); or return from Sheringham at 16.02 and Cromer at 16.12 to arrive Norwich at 16.51. Then hurry to the bus station to get the 17.05 to Diss. If you miss this the cheapest way back to Cambridge is to use Cambridge Coach Services 74 to Thetford and change there to the 200.

Places of interest between Hunstanton and Cromer include numerous nature reserves, the Wells and Walsingham Railway (and Walsingham village), Holkham Hall, the Muckleburgh Collection, the North Norfolk Railway (accessible from Sheringham or Weybourne and running to Holt) and Felbrigg Hall (National Trust). Or go on a boat trip from Blakeney or Morston to Blakeney Point, tides permitting (one can also walk there from Cley).

One can also go to Yarmouth on route 200 then use the Coastliner to Kings Lynn and home by train. The Coastliner leaves from outside the Tourist Information Centre in the Marine Parade at 16.45.

Another area, further away but accessible from Cambridge in a day, is the Cotswolds. At Oxford get a Cotswold Explorer ticket (Network Card discount available) which covers train to Worcester and bus connections at Moreton in Marsh and Evesham. The latter give access to the National Trust's Hidcote and Snowshill. This facility in fact runs daily during the summer but only on Sundays is it possible to visit both -- and then only by leaving Cambridge at 05.00 or 07.00 and returning 17 hours later. (If using the 05.00 travel via Moreton in Marsh, Broadway, Hidvcote, Snowshill and Evesham; if using the 07.00 via Evesham, Snowshill, Chipping Campden, Hidcote and Moreton in Marsh.)

Here is a longer trip, available until the end of August only: 07.00 Cambridge to Oxford, train to Worcester, 144 to British Camp (Malvern), new service 244 to Ledbury, train to Hereford, 38 to Ross, 234 to Monmouth and then back to Worcester or Pershore, where there's plenty of time to walk to the station) thence returning as outward. Unfortunately one doesn't get home till 02.00. Ask for a Sunday Rover on the bus at Worcester -- their version costs GBP 4-30.

Other bus news.

There are improved buses on the A14 corridor between Bury and Ipswich -- some journeys operate as Suffolk County Council's new ``Superoute 88'' with a short length of guided busway similar to Superoute 66 to Martlesham.

The Norfolk Coastliner, mentioned earlier, also runs on Tuesdays to Fridays, with through journeys from Kings Lynn at 08.30 returning 20.30. In addition to the coastal area to Cromer, one can also go on to Yarmouth or intermediately. This provides access to Broads boat trips at Stalham, Hickling (walk necessary from Sutton) or Potter Heigham.

What's the best route from Peterborough or Huntingdon to Oxford? The X1 provides occasional connections at Bedford with the X5. Or train to St Neots, X3 to Bedford, then X5.

Here are some recreational facilities further afield; if you have a holiday to come you may find them of use.

Devon: the Dartmoor Rover on Sundays now covers the new train service from Exeter to Okehampton as well as, at the other end, the train from Gunnislake to Plymouth. In between there are lots of scenic bus routes, including a new service to Okehampton Camp. Unfortunately last year's Cornish services 151 and 152 no longer run, though there's still a reasonable Sunday network.

Yorkshire: buses in the Moors and Dales run much as last year; the Moorsbus network is now accessible from York as well as Hull and Teesside, and still runs on certain weekdays in August. For next spring, enquire about the Daffodil Bus network set up to reduce the pressure of cars on Farndale, a valley in the N York Moors noted for its daffodils. The Fountains Flyer between Leeds and Lightwater Valley via Fewston and Pateley Bridge runs again till end August; this year there's a connection at Pateley Bridge for How Stean Gorge. All main services in Yorkshire are included in the new Southern Vectis timetable which is available for consultation in Cambridge Central Library. This goes as far as Kirkby Stephen, including in particular the Howgills Express between Brough and Kendal -- the most scenic approach to the Lake District (from Kirkby Stephen station). Unfortunately the service between Brough and Barnard Castle is still appalling.

Lake District: perhaps the best news of the year. The following are all new (except 519): 11 Keswick-Ravenglass (Sats and Suns till end August); 73 Keswick-Caldbeck circular (ditto); 111 Carlisle-Mardale (Haweswater) (ditto); 534 Finsthwaite-Cartmel (daily till end August); 519 Kendal-Kentmere (Sats and Suns till end Sept); 501 Hawkshead-Tarn Hows (Suns till end Oct); other services include a Saturday bus between Kendal and Strawley Bank.

Scotland: a full set of Highlands timetables (except Argyll) is available for inspection in Cambridge library, which also has the Southern Vectis summary timetable which includes Argyll. The former can be bought from the Scottish Tourist Office in London (near Trafalgar Square). Unfortunately it appears as if the Grampian centred Heatherhopper network isn't running (a victim of Scottish local government reorganisation?), though there is a summer service between Perthshire and Deeside. The network for the Highlands and Islands is fairly well integrated and access to almost all areas is possible.

Wales: the Heart of Wales Rambler train runs between Shrewsbury and Swansea on Sundays till Oct 12. Last year bus tours ran in conjunction with the train, and they are being repeated this year. We can particularly recommend the tours from the border stations on 21 Sept and 5 Oct connecting with the train from Shrewsbury -- for tickets send GBP 3 and SAE to the Heart of Wales Line Forum Office, c/o Technical Services, Powys County Council, Llandrindod Wells, Powys LD1 5LG tel. 01597 826678.

Elsewhere in Wales Powys have cut cross-border links between Kington, Hay on Wye and Llandrindod Wells. Though there's a Sunday bus from Swansea to the Gower Peninsula people from many of the valley communities to the north can't use it because they have no Sunday service. This also makes it hard for people further east to use the Chepstow to Monmouth bus (which connects with the bus between Pershore and Monmouth mentioned earlier, as Chepstow has no local bus links with Bristol or Newport and train connections are badly timed.

Services in the Peak District are running much as in previous years, and services to Hadrian's Wall are improved, but we don't have details of the latter. Services in Lancashire are also running much as in previous years. In the South, the Sunday Rider scheme still covers Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire much as last year.

Roads News.

The main news is the result of the Government's ``accelerated review'' of 12 road schemes. Of these, 5 (Birmingham Northern Relief Road, A13, Derby S by-pass, finish of Manchester orbital motorway, A2/M2 widening at Cobham) got the go-ahead; of these by far the most contentious of these is the first, planned as a private sector toll road through largely unspoilt Midlands countryside. We objected to it as it's part of the same Trans European network scheme that includes the A14. 2 schemes were dropped (the notorious Salisbury by-pass and the A40 in London); and for 5 (covering a string of schemes on the M25, A303 Wessex Link, Weald and Downland, Bradford-Cumbria including the notorious Aire Valley Road, and S Midlands) a decision was deferred. The last of these includes several schemes in the Bedford area which will have implications in our own county.

``Progress'' continues on upgrading the A1 between Alconbury and Peterborough to an 8 lane motorway plus a 2 lane local road. As we've said before any justification the scheme may have had in traffic terms went out of the window when schemes to upgrade neighbouring sections were abandoned.

What's the Government doing?

Well, little so far -- except to confirm council tax capping in Shropshire which is facing extreme pressure on its tendered bus network. Having received a report which recognises the social value of rural bus services (though their network is heavily depleted) they are planning major cuts to evening and Sunday services in Shrewsbury and Telford. Will the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, which lost its direct Sunday links to Shrewsbury and Birmingham in April, be cut off altogether?

The Government is encouraging use of the Private Finance Initiative started by the previous government. Fine if it isn't used as an excuse for unsustainable development. Plans to remove Norwich's hospital from the city and for major road development in Weymouth (with the initial studies for the latter paid for by a GBP 100,000 cut to rural buses) shows that the latter isn't always true. For us the key is to use it to finance the operating costs of an improved bus network, rather than just capital investment.

Neither the Queen's Speech nor the Budget offered anything for the environment or transport. The rise in petrol tax isn't large enough to be ``significant'' in this sense, and the Government failed to exempt buses from the increase (though it did provide tax relief for low emission buses).

Meanwhile there are numerous ``reviews'' in the pipeline, to some of which campaign groups such as ours will be making submissions. We hope that the Government gets moving before the rural transport network collapses altogether.

The Government seems to be examining the possibility of taxing private non-residential parking, but it was reported that it had rejected that option. We believe such a policy is essential not only to encourage developers to provide for public transport and non-motorised access in future and existing developments but to give a signal that the profits from unsustainable edge of town superstores and sprawling industrial estates will be taxed away.

What's the County Council doing?

So far its main action has been to almost double the cost of pensioners' bus passes. We were prepared to tolerate that in conjunction with mitigatory measures on the assumption that the new price would not be high enough to deter users, but it emerged that the Council had budgeted for a 17% drop in the sale of passes. What is more, it had assumed that operators would be content with the same level of compensation per passholder even though it is obviously those who use buses least who would cease to buy passes. In short, we were able to prove that the ``ultimate'' savings estimated by the Council were overstated by a factor of over 2 -- not that that was any use in convincing the Council to back down.

The Council did tell us that it hoped to reduce the price for the needier. Well it's those pensioners who can afford to run cars who most need the encouragement to use buses instead. And we were horrified by the suggestion that use of passes would be barred in peak hours, which will considerably reduce the mobility of passholders. Should this idea ever be seriously considered we will oppose it vigorously.

The new Council has so far taken no action on the Bridge St closure or the St Ives line, but we fear that it will rescind the former and opt for a guided busway on the latter. Hence the meeting provisionally set for 4 Sept (see diary).

The second stage report of the east-west consortium of local authorities, seeking to rebuild a rail link between Swindon and East Anglia, has come out. They still support the proposed highly circuitous route via Milton Keynes, Bedford, Sandy and Letchworth to Cambridge. An ``integrated network'' including services between Birmingham and Ipswich (via MK), Reading to Northampton (ditto) and Swindon to Peterborough has been mentioned. We believe that the first stage should be to provide a train between Oxford (or Swindon) and Bedford with bus connection to St Neots and Cambridge; the second can then incorporate the above Swindon-Peterborough train with bus from St Neots to Cambridge.

What is happening internationally?

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment, drafted by OECD countries will prevent governments from discriminating against foreign investors, which sounds fair. But it also gives foreign companies immunity from some curbs which may apply to domestic companies. A US company has used a similar provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement to threaten the Canadian government with a lawsuit if prevented from producing a toxic chemical. They may also be able to sue governments who try to run public services commercially, which worries us as the experience of the last few years has shown clearly that public transport cannot be so run.

A private company in Canada which runs luxury trains for tourists has persuaded the Government to veto a plan by the national rail operator to improve its (heavily depleted) service on a key route. Will we see more of this if MAI comes to fruition?

The process has been highly secretive. No doubt if this had not been a popular outcry would have prevented the proposals from even being considered. We understand that there will be a meeting to finalise the agreement in October. After that it will still have to be ratified by national governments (including those outside the OECD, though they may be pressured to sign by fears of a boycott of foreign investment). We hope that during this process the voice of the people will be heard. Otherwise, as writer George Monbiot said in the Guardian on 15 April, there may be no point in voting in future elections -- this may be an exaggeration but a pardonable one.

Road Traffic Reduction Act.

When we compiled our last newsletter we were aware of some amendments to the original Bill, such as the removal of national targets, but not the remocal of the clause empowering local councils at all levels to say what in their opinion was needed to achieve their desired targets. Instead the duty falls on county and unitary councils to prepare plans to reduce traffic in accordance with Government guidelines.

Plaid Cymru MP Cynog Dafis has put forward (as a Private Member's Bill) a new National Targets Bill, scheduled for second reading in January. However as it stands it doesn't change the role of local authorities, around which our Traffic Reduction Plan was designed. We hope that some way will be found to force both central and local government to plan for the radical measures, like those contained in our Traffic Reduction Plan, which will surely be needed to achieve meaningful reduction targets.

Action Line.

In addition to sending us details of recent timetable changes here are some letters to write.

Write to the County Council (either the transport officers or your local councillor) to ask them to do the following (not in order of priority):

Write to any Labour Party contact to call for

  1. More freedom for county councils to raise the money to support bus services, whether by local taxation or the Private Finance Initiative.
  2. More support for the strategic public transport links -- both bus and rail -- that are needed to ease many cross-country travel and which tend to get overlooked by local authorities because their importance transcends county boundaries.
  3. A signal by Government to developers that in future profits will come from sustainable development plans which do not rely on cars for access.
  4. Reform of local government to improve democratic accountability. (For example, the Tories on the present Council has a majority of 3, and 7 after Peterborough is hived off next year, but they only got 44% of the vote in the whole of Cambs excluding Peterborough.
  5. Public debate on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

Transport 2000 Cambs and W Suffolk homepage