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There are two ``big issues'' this time, the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway decision and the threat to local buses. We start with the latter.
With this newsletter our Cambridgeshire members should have received a copy of the ``save our buses'' petition. If you haven't had one, go to our website. Please return the petition to us by the stated date as the deadline set by the Council for comments on its budget is Tue 14 Feb. Also, assuming you have received a copy of the Council's budget consultation form, you may wish to use this opportunity to make known your concern for the future of buses in Cambridgeshire.
Our longer standing members may remember that we also launched petitions in January 1990 and 1998. Reference to the latter can be seen on our website (Newsletter 61). For those of you whose records go back far enough the first petition was circulated with Newsletter 21.
They seem to come round at 8 year cycles. It turns out that there was a very good reason why our previous petitions came out when they did, but for this one different reasons apply.
In the county elections of 1989 and 1997, the Conservatives regained control of the County Council, which had previously been ruled by the Lib Dems (or one of their predecessor parties) supported by Labour. At the time there was a clear dichotomy between the policies of these parties with regard to public transport, which led the Conservatives to seek budget cuts.
This time the situation is different: there was no change of control in Cambridgeshire in 2005, and its plight is part of a national problem. For example, Suffolk is also facing cuts (though this county did have a change of control).
Cambridgeshire County Council have come to realise that public transport is an essential service, but their policy towards it is very much in the ``ewe lamb'' style (II Samuel 12 1-4) whereby help is concentrated on those areas that are already quite well served. Note that this is not the same as either the Cambridge urban area or the wider Cambridge sub-region; as has been highlighted in previous newsletters, there are several parts of the urban area, as well as many nearby villages, that have very poor services.
In 1990 we failed to avert the service cuts (though they were less severe than we had feared), but we did succeed in persuading the various district councils to take over funding for pensioners' concessionary fares. In 1998 the then recently elected Labour government came to the rescue (albeit too late to save many of the threatened services) with its Rural Bus Grant. But in 2006 it is the Labour government which is part of the problem. To put it bluntly, it has frittered away the time which it bought by means of the Rural Bus Grant. Since then circumstances have turned against bus users in many ways:
(a) Much of the extra money used to support buses has been swallowed up by higher contract prices. Greed by bus operators may be one of the explanations, but there are others -- see below.
(b) The need to attract staff to provide the extra services generated by Rural Bus Grant (and other such schemes) has led to pay increases which have to be paid for, especially since the pool of unemployed labour has come down a lot since 1997.
(c) The regulatory environment has imposed extra costs, such as the requirement for European driving hours regulations for longer distance services. There are also disability discrimination requirements, which are essentially being paid for by other bus users rather than by society as a whole.
(d) We also understand that insurance companies have sharply increased their rates for bus operators. I am unable to think of any legitimate reason for this -- could it be that they are having to underwrite the cost of damage caused by uninsured drivers which had previously been borne principally by motorists?
(e) Increased congestion has considerably reduced the productivity of bus drivers.
(f) Perhaps most significant of all, the Government has since 2000 (when it abolished the fuel tax escalator) been actively encouraging people to use cars, by allowing motoring costs to fall as against inflation (despite the rise in oil prices) while public transport fares have rocketed.
(g) And while Government transport policy has funded an increase in capital investment, revenue support remains a totally discretionary activity, and the pot of money available for it is limited by ``capping'' and has to be shared with other more emotive council requirements such as education. Can anyone objectively justify the spending of GBP 86m or more on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway -- a bus route serving a single corridor within the county -- while buses elsewhere are languishing for want of far smaller amounts? (We don't have figures for Cambridgeshire, but according to the East Anglia Daily Times on 7 Jan 2006 over 25 Suffolk routes are in jeopardy for want of a mere GBP 280,000, or less than 1/300 of the cost of the busway.)
Nevertheles it looks from the Council's suggested budgets that public transport support is being put behind other categories of spending which can hardly be considered ``emotive''. For example, how come that all three of the budgets propose cuts to bus services ranging from ``significant'' to ``very large'', while only two of them involve cutting money spent on ``verge cutting, highway signs and road markings''?
We therefore contend that campaigning needs to be targeted at both local and national levels. Unfortunately (from the point of view of those who want to influence the Government) Cambridgeshire no longer has any Labour MPs, but if your own MP is sympathetic to this campaign he (they are all male) can be of use in communicating our concern to the Government.
The title of this headline has another meaning which we now wish to discuss. Recently the scientist James Lovelock, who popularised the concept of the Earth as a self-regulating organism which he called ``Gaia'', suggested that humanity might be past the point of no return in terms of climate change. It isn't quite clear whether he was suggesting that it was now impossible to save our civilisation, or that saving us would require greater changes to our way of life than the world could plausibly accept.
Let us envisage four possible stages in the urgency of the problem.
1. Green light -- climate change is due to natural fluctuations, which will reverse in due course, and nothing we do is likely to make a significant difference.
2. Yellow light -- if we improve our energy efficiency and get rid of wasteful consumption (in which category I would include most of our motoring and flying) then we can avoid the problem.
3. Red light -- we have to make major cuts in our energy use which will cause hardship to many. Essentially, we have to live on a wartime-like footing where, for example, even travel by public transport should be avoided unless necessary. We cannot even spare the energy needed to enable elderly and ill people to keep warm, or to allow severely disabled people who can't use conventional public transport to travel.
4. Black -- nothing we do can possibly avert runaway climate change.
What is the rational response of humanity to these scenarios? I don't believe that the science is ``hard'' enough to rule any of them out -- even 1, though it would be foolish in the extreme to base our policy on the assumption that this is correct (as much of the world seems to be doing).
If we are in stage 1, we obviously need do nothing (though it could still be that, as we suggested in our headline article last time, traffic recduction would improve our quality of life).
If we are in stage 2, then relatively minor changes in our way of life would work, but they would require either major changes in social pressures (so that those who use energy profligately are looked down on rather than admired) or major changes in financial incentives.
If we are in stage 3, then our quality of life, and not just our current lifestyle, is unsustainable. In this case the environmental movement has failed in its aim of making our civilisation sustainable. The rational response to this stage would, as suggested, be a command economy where every effort is made to ensure that resources are used to best advantage. There have been recent suggestions that the environmental movement would make more progress if it ceased to project the image that people have to make ``sacrifices''; this might be possible if we are in stage 2, but it's surely hopeless if we are in stage 3.
If we are in stage 4, the rational response would be a combination of a desperate search for a technofix, the provision of a ``lifeboat'' for a small elite, and business as usual (as in stage 1 -- so we've gone full circle) for everyone else until disaster strikes. Given that the elite, who are largely responsible for allowing our environment to deteriorate, can hardly expect the cooperation of the rest of the population (whom the elite have betrayed) in providing a lifeboat for them, the outcome is likely to be similar to that in Ben Elton's ``Stark'' (which we mentioned in Newsletter 35 when we reviewed his next book ``Gridlock''), where a small elite escape from a dying earth to the moon but fail to build up a viable society there -- though it's probably unlikely that we now have the technological capability to build a self-sustaining society on the moon anyway.
The Government published the Inspector's Report and announced its own decision just before our AGM.
As I'm sure most of you will be aware, this was to endorse the scheme -- and wholeheartedly at that. Objectors have decided that there is no point in seeking a judicial review of the decision.
We believe that the case against the scheme has been considerably strengthened by events since the decision was made -- specifically Cambridgeshire County Council's budget crisis. As we said above, how can it make sense to spend nearly GBP 100m on a single corridor when buses elsewhere in the county are in jeopardy for want of much smaller sums of money?
The Government's decision letter stated specifically that it did not imply a commitment to fund the scheme. They have already allocated GBP 65m, but the cost estimate at the inquiry was GBP 86.4m. Some money may be recoverable from developer contributions, but how much?
However, we are worried that the Government may feel itself under pressure to finance the scheme because it is seen as essential to their housing strategy. Without the guided busway, the new town at Northstowe may not be able to go ahead. A couple of months ago, we had a meeting with the developers who had put forward proposals for the Waterbeach airfield site, which we saw as more sustainable because they are largely rail based; and which would require a much smaller outlay. At the time, we weren't specifically thinking of Waterbeach as a replacement for Northstowe, but it could well be one (and the developers have stated that they could deliver the scheme within a comparable timescale).
It should be noted that CAST.IRON have stated that, with the same developer contributions as required for the guided busway but without any other help, they could deliver a rail link as far as Northstowe. This could be supplemented by upgraded conventional buses to link Northstowe with Cambridge city centre. Government support would, of course, be needed to extend the railway beyond Northstowe, or to incorporate part of it in the much needed east-west rail link.
We believe that a political campaign on the theme of ``value for money'' is what makes most sense at the moment, and hope to work with other groups to decide whether the Waterbeach option is the best way forward.
We submitted two resolutions from our branch 2004 AGM to the Transport 2000 national 2005 AGM.
One of these, calling for the immediate selection and protection of a suitable route for an east-west rail link, was accepted as a resolution for the national AGM and agreed unanimously. The other, calling for legislation protecting non-motorists against discrimination, was accepted as a topic for discussion. However, as in 2004, there wasn't enough time at the national AGM to discuss it properly and it was agreed that we should in due course discuss it privately with the Transport 2000 executive.
Following the success of the first resolution the Coordinator is trying to set up an umbrella group to campaign for better rail and bus transport on the corridors linking Cambridge, Bedford, Oxford and Northampton, and a meeting has been provisionally arranged for Sat 8 Apr at a yet to be decided venue in Bedford at which groups which would like to play a part in such an umbrella group will be invited to discuss how it should be launched. Note that this is not intended as a public meeting. We have also set up an occasional email newsletter about east-west transport; please notify the Coordinator if you would like to receive copies, in which case you will also have details of the meeting when they have been finalised.
Members will be receiving copies of our annual Activities Report enclosed with this newsletter. This was compiled just before the announcement of the guided busway decision. The Financial Report will be held over till next time.
There are still a few former members who haven't renewed for 2005-6, who will be receiving renewal slips with this newsletter, as will some non-members to whom this newsletter is being sent. Membership rates are still GBP 3-50 ordinary, GBP 2-50 concessionary, and GBP 5-00 household or affiliate. We will also accept renewals for 2006-7 at these rates. Add GBP 8 if you wish to receive ``Transport Retort'', the national magazine of Transport 2000.
The Government has awarded the franchise for the Great Northern Line to First Group. Normally we don't cover reports of refranchisings which, we believe, have little discernible effect on passengers, but this one is important because it shows how the Government is sidelining passengers' interests.
In return for its right to run the services of the existing WAGN (Great Northern) and Thameslink franchises, First Group will be paying the Government a substantial premium. Yet there is still no commitment to provide the link between the two lines in the St Pancras area, or the new station to replace Kings Cross Thameslink, even though most of the infrastructure work has been done in conjunction with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link works at St Pancras.
Through trains from our area to the City, South London, Gatwick Airport and the South Coast (or possibly South-East London and Kent) have long been one of our goals. The need for this route has become even more apparent with the recent announcement that platform space at Kings Cross is a prime bottleneck limiting the expansion of Inter-City services on the East Coast Main Line. And if this route isn't provided before 2007 (when the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opens), it will cost a lot more to do it later -- and cause a lot more disruption to Thameslink trains, especially as we understand that under the new layout electric trains will be unable to reach St Pancras from the Midland Main Line.
Government shortsightedness is also apparent elsewhere. Recently the operators of the test track that covers most of the old line linking Melton Mowbray with Nottingham announced that they didn't need the route any more. This offers a golden opportunity to reclaim the route for the national network, extending the test track a short distance to meet the former Cotgrave Colliery line into Nottingham. This would enable Norwich-Liverpool trains to keep clear of the East Coast Main Line (in particular the two track section between High Dyke and Grantham) and thereby facilitate expansion of Inter-City services. We have a vision of a half hourly service from London to Doncaster stopping at Stevenage, St Neots (or Huntingdon), Peterborough, Grantham, Newark and Retford, continuing to Leeds or York, which would considerably improve movements in Eastern England and the East Midlands.
It is noteworthy that Network Rail have taken the trouble to build a new spur at Allington, which has enabled trains on the Skegness branch to keep clear of the Grantham to Barkston section of the East Coast Main Line, north of Grantham. So why not do the equivalent south of Grantham?
A new timetable has been introduced on the West Anglia Line. Connections between the Cambridge-Liverpool St line and Stansted Airport are less appalling than they used to be, but they are still far from satisfactory. We believe that connectional requirements should be the main determinant of stopping patterns for Stansted Airport trains.
The new timetable has also seen the restoration of regular services between Tottenham and Stratford. Unfortunately on weekdays they leave Tottenham just ahead of arrivals from Cambridge, and arrive just after departures for Cambridge, so passengers from our area to Stratford may as well go via London. On Sundays, however, Cambridge trains reach Liverpool St via Stratford (except when the route is closed for engineering work).
We must report on the threat to Saver tickets. The Government must soon make a decision on whether they will remain part of the ``regulated fares'' system. If not, then rail passengers will be at the mercy of the operators as far as long distance fares are concerned, as the Saver is the only competitively priced ticket for most journeys available without advance booking.
Meanwhile, no progress towards a National Railcard. It should be remembered that the original consultants agreed that it would bring more revenue to the operators than it would lose, yet the train operators have in general shown a complete lack of interest. We believe that although the media often project an image of overcrowded trains, the vast majority of marginal journeys which a national railcard would stimulate would be on trains with plenty of seats -- and whatever the operators say people simply don't want the hassle of booking, let alone the worry about what will happen to their ticket if they miss a connection (including arriving at their starting point later than expected because of problems with the bus service). And one must remember that if one goes by car one doesn't have to book!
We start with the M11, where the Government has decided against early widening of the section north of Junction 7 (near Bishops Stortford). Good news for a change.
On the A14, the High Court has turned down the judicial review brought by residents of the Offords on the grounds that the route selected for consultation was changed from that recommended by CHUMMS (and is now nearer the villages and will cause significant noise nuisance). The reason for the decision is that there will be further opportunities for people to express their views (when the Preferred Route is announced). We too are concerned (see Newsletter 89) about changes between CHUMMS and the consultation stage, in our case the failure to take account of the recommendation that part of the existing A14 should become a ``public transport corridor'', but clearly if we had supported the judicial review we would have been turned down on the same grounds. All this is of a piece with the flaws in the original CHUMMS consultation (see Newsletter 74), which contributed to its abandonment of the rail option for the Cambridge-Huntingdon corridor.
In Newsletter 90 we referred to proposals for a new coach terminal on Victoria Avenue, which we and National Express both opposed. This has now been replaced by a proposal for a terminal on Parkside, which National Express have supported and on which we have been neutral. However, we have made the following comments:
(a) We support a multi-stop system for coaches whereby passengers' joining points are not concentrated at a single location but dispersed round the city. (We believe that the runaway success of the Oxford-London coach service is partly due to such a system.)
(b) If Parkside is used, then we don't want a pedestrian barrier separating the terminal from Parker's Piece.
(c) If Parkside is used, then every effort should be made to provide stops for local buses as close as possible (for the benefit of interchange passengers).
(d) The coach terminal should not open until shelters and other amenities are complete.
Redevelopment of Bradwell's Court is imminent, as can be seen from the progressive closure of the shops. The bus and coach enquiry office has been moved to near the refreshment kiosk in Christ's Pieces, where unfortunately there is little shelter for queuing passengers, though at least we can now get access to the timetable racks without having to barge through the queue. We hope that when work starts the existing pedestrian route through Bradwell's Court will not close until the alternative route (Christ's Lane) is available, and we are also concerned that the combined closure of shops in the Bradwell's Court and Grand Arcade developments may significantly impinge on the vitality of this part of the city.
Finally, we have commented on the various options for the Hills Road railway bridge, billed as intending to improve provision for cyclists. We are not convinced that it makes sense to plan this independently of proposals for the intersections at either end (Brooklands Avenue and Cherry Hinton Road); we are concerned about the proposal to ban pedestrians from the cycle route under the bridge which is planned to parallel the guided busway (and would like to see consideration of complete rebuilding of the bridge to provide room both over and under; and we would give greater priority to providing a new bridge to the multi-storey car park at the Cattle Market so that this car park can also serve the railway station (and so as to improve public transpory access to the leisure centre).
See also our headline article which gives the background to the ``Save Our Buses'' petition.
Various bus strategy documents have emerged from the county council. The most notable feature is the contrast between the general aura of improvements projected by these strategy documents and the threat of cuts that is actually hanging over our county network.
According to one of these documents, there are plans to extend routes C5 and C6 to Northstowe as part of the reorganisation of the network when the guided busway is built. It's not clear what will happen to the 15/A. We've also heard of proposals to upgrade the main section of the C7 to every 10 minutes and to extend some journeys to Saffron Walden.
The A428 seems to be the first priority for the County Council's corridor improvement programme. Coincidentally we have prepared a strategy document for buses on the whole Cambridge-Oxford corridor, copies of which we will email or post to those who ask for them. Here are our main proposals for Cambs:
1. Extend X5 to Cambridge station and provide a pair of St Neots stops closer to its rail station. Also provide interchange stop in the Cambourne area.
2. Restore old route within Cambridge for 14, at least until Grand Arcade opens. A better option for routes to be diverted via Downing Street is those that enter Cambridge via Barton or Trumpington Roads (18/A, 26 and 75) and non-strategic routes on Madingley Road corridor (Whippet 1, 2 and 8).
3. Route swap whereby 14 takes over section of 18 beyond Cambourne, with addition of a 2 hourly service to Huntingdon via the A1198 corridor. This would be accompanied by timetable changes whereby 18As served Gamlingay at hourly intervals (taking both directions together), thereby facilitating connections with 188 (hourly Gamlingay-Biggleswade).
4. As a short term measure, first and last journeys on the 18/A which currently terminate at Longstowe or Papworth should start/finish at Cambourne, connecting to/from Cambridge. This would, for example, enable public transport users working normal office hours to commute from Cambridge to Papworth Hospital, which they can't at present.
5. Another route swap between the 188 and East Beds Dart whereby the former serves Sutton and the latter the Gamlingays, with connections enabling travel from Sandy to Cambridge and Wrestlingworth to St Neots, and vice versa.
6. New circular route from Cambridge via Hardwick village, Highfields, Caldecote, Kingston, the Eversdens, Harlton and Haslingfield; and new route Cambridge-Royston via Haslingfield, as 75 to Croydon, Tadlow, Wrestlingworth crossroads (connect East Beds Dart), the Mordens then as 127. These would replace existing 2, 18B, 75, 127 and several other routes.
7. We have also worked out ideas for amending the North Beds Dart and 152. These would be replaced by a circular linking St Neots, Kimbolton (connecting for Sharnbrook) and Wilden (connecting for Bedford).Multibus:
This is a welcome Cambs CC initiative which provides multi-operator day and weekly tickets for most parts of the county (also in Peterborough). These cost GBP 6 and GBP 25 respectively. Unfortunately there is very little validity outside the county on cross-boundary routes: we hope this will change in due course. Operators issuing and accepting the ticket are A&P, Burtons, Cambridge Blue, Cavalier/Huntingdon & District, Cedar, Myalls, Stagecoach and Whippet. The main exclusions are in the Wisbech area. For further details see the Cambs CC website -- from our website click on (Cambs CC online) ``bus timetable'' then ``No fuss with Multibus''.
We conclude with a few notes on recent bus changes.
X2/X7: The threatened withdrawal of Sunday services on these routes did not in fact take place -- the report was due to misleading publicity by Northants CC.
C2: All journeys on this route now run via Chesterton Road in both directions (instead of the former circular via Union Road and Milton Road) and the route is extended to Milton (going out from Cambridge via the A10 to Landbeach Road then returning through the village).
14 and 18 group: Minor timetable changes to improve reliability. The 19 is renumbered 18B.
Quite a long list of issues for lobbying this time.