Saturday 20 August 2011

Busway Buts [3]

  "But does it work?"  

It is helpful here to understand the services that use the busway. Long ago BBC [before busway commenced] Stagecoach ran a service between Cambridge and Huntingdon via the A14 and St Ives. Instead of the A14, this route now uses the busway, running every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday daytimes and hourly every evening and all day Sunday. This is Busway route B.

The anti-busway brigade will gleefully point out that it takes just as long, if not longer, to get from Huntingdon and the nether reaches of St Ives to Cambridge via the busway as it did via the A14 (although they quietly forget the peak time delays, only quoting off-peak schedules!)

Additionally, buswise, there is a 20 minute frequency Monday to Saturday daytime only from St Ives Park and Ride (on the outskirts of the town) to Cambridge city centre, Cambridge Station ...
... where things don't look too ready; and on to Addebrooke's Hospital and Trumpington park & ride.  This is Busway route A

Then there is Busway route C, run by Go-Whippet which is a once an hour variant from Cambridge to St Ives (town) and occasionally going forward to Somersham. There are also some journeys labelled Busway route D which don't seem to be explained anywhere but look like Cs following the B route. Hopefully the locals know.

The crunch question is, "will Mrs Miggins and chums be willing to totter to the stations, not necessarily in the best location for foot passengers, thus making the combined 10 minute service viable?"
Swavesey Village, for example, is at least half a mile from the busway, further from many addresses, so most punters will stick with the hourly service 5.
It's even further at Longstanton.

Then there's the fares fiasco! On the busway itself you have to buy your ticket before you board from these pretty blue machines. Sweet.
BUT, and wait for it, tickets are not interavailable between the two operators. So you buy a Stagecoach ticket and Mr Whippet whips along and you can't get on. Or, vice versa. And currently Whippet's fares are significantly cheaper than Stagecoach's "premium" charges. And unless you carry high powered binoculars, you can't tell which operator's vehicle it is anyway.

The timetable (which can be viewed here) doesn't even explain who operates what! 

This is how Cambridgeshire County Council explain it all, succinctly. First, Stagecoach:-
and then Whippet:-
So that's pretty straightforward then. Pause to allow a new customer to take a few tranquilisers and jibber incoherently in a dark corner..

Then what about maintaining the weedy busway?

Not a piece of slang; it IS literally very weedy.
What happens, asks our local newshound, when this lot grows and starts getting tangled into guidewheels, steering, kneeling stuff and the bottom of opening doors?

A further snag. Because the routes no longer use the A14, they miss out the village of Fenstanton, so a shuttle service 20 runs every half an hour between there and the St Ives park and ride station. Here's one arriving.
Extra cost for the passenger and extra cost for Stagecoach. And Joe Public is resolutely averse to changing buses anyway.

It is, of course, dead easy to pick fault; BUT the busway is super smooth, satisfyingly speedy from the new stations and suggests "quality travel" to the disillusioned A14 car queuer. It NEEDS to succeed, but will it deliver its promises?

The jury, as they say, is out. The common man didn't want the tram in Sheffield, neither did the city's traders. Loadings were initially a disaster; the ticketing system was crackpot and doom was predicted. But now, trams are full and folk are clamouring for extensions.

Further busways are planned between Luton and Dunstable and at Leigh in Greater Manchester. Let's hope the promoters are proved right.

Tailpiece: In a noble attempt to prepare for an onslaught of confused, critical and cantankerous customers, Stagecoach have provided themselves with an enquiry office at St. Ives Park & Ride station. An fbb blog exclusive pictures it here to the left of the shelter.
Well out of the firing line!
[Thanks to our Northampton correspondent for the scoop.]
[A couple of pictures were "borrowed" from "Omnibuses" blog, see comment below]  

Next blog : due Sunday August 20th  


  1. Erm, that's my picture, the one with the Olympian in it! Fame at last! It appears on this post

  2. The more I read about this guided busway, the more ill-conceived it appears!

    The issue of railway stations being inconveniently located relative to the communities they are intended to serve is widespread. In many cases, I would imagine that the railway was built to link two larger towns, and the traffic from smaller intermediate settlements was not considered sufficient to warrant a significant route diversion. In other cases, perhaps, subsequent development has shifted the centre of 'gravity' away from the railway station. In any case, replacement of rail services with buses often provided an opportunity for the service to better penetrate the towns and villages, to the potential benefit of the passengers (not that such opportunities have always been taken). The Cambridge busway, by using the course of an old rail line, simply makes the same mistake again. The lesson from history is that we don't learn the lessons of history!

    The guided bus concept per se is no doubt potentially useful in some situations. It would seem to have been developed by the Germans, and promoted by Daimler-Benz AG as an attempt to capture part of the tram market. However, there are few applications in Germany, and some have already been reduced or abandoned. In Essen, guided buses were used in tram tunnels under the city centre, but that has now ceased, although other sections are still in use - in one case, in the median strip of a motorway, and another where the guideway helps buses to get through a narrow and curvaceous street. In Mannheim, a short section was used to assist buses negotiating a junction, though I understand that is also now out of use. However, the potential to use the guides to negotiate bottlenecks is probably useful, and might bring punctuality benefits, for a relatively low investment.

    The Cambridge scheme seems to be an example of politicians' desire for a grand gesture, coupled with muddled thinking that only provides a solution to a fraction of the problem (i.e. only an alternative for a part of the traffic on the A14), and then, not really a very satisfactory alternative for the market that it does attempt to serve. I am bound to say that a railway that took some of the other traffic away from the A14 might have helped make the buses that continued to use it more reliable, but I suppose that is lateral thinking that seems to be sadly lacking among our decision-makers today!