You probably know you can get a guided bus from Cambridge to Huntingdon? It takes 1hr 7mins. You can save yourself 14 minutes by catching the Whippet X3, which runs via Cambourne and Papworth – yes, via Cambourne. Take a look at a map to see how mad that is.
Real journeys of course don’t start and end at a bus station. On occasion I travel to Police HQ in Huntingdon. There are several permutations of bus services taking between 1hr30 and 1hr45. (It’s a similar time by train via Hitchin or Peterborough even though it’s three times the distance!)
By car, it’s typically 35 minutes. I allow extra time to get there, but the journey will be quicker once the A14 upgrade is finished. So I can spend 3½ hours travelling by bus (including wait times) or 1½ hours driving.
So where does the busway service go wrong?
After the bus leaves the guideway, it takes a convoluted route through narrow, congested streets in St Ives and housing estates in Huntingdon. It turns from being a competitive alternative to driving into a social service for those with limited mobility and no access to a car. St Ives to Huntingdon is a third the distance of Cambridge to St Ives, yet takes the same amount of time.
The other problem is that only two services per hour run close to my destination, so I have a choice of long walks at each end or long waits.
This isn’t an untypical journey. It clearly illustrates the challenge of providing a service that’s attractive to car owners: it has to be direct (hence fast) and frequent. Direct services mean stops are too far away for most people to walk to, so park/kiss-and-ride, local/community buses and safe cycle access are critical complements. Most people will have to change bus to reach their destination, so services must either run frequently (at least every 10–15 minutes) or be timetabled to connect.
The infrastructure buses run on is far less important than the route, timetables and quality of stations. Make sure your councillors understand this!
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 2 August 2017.