There has been a changing of the guard at Stagecoach East, which runs most of the bus services in and around Cambridge, Peterborough and Bedford. The new managing director, Michelle Hargreaves, leads a new, young team that even includes a ‘customer experience’ manager. At a recent open event, staff were refreshingly honest about the shortcomings of Stagecoach’s service in recent times: the cancellations, lack of information, frequent timetable changes, and poor responsiveness to customer complaints. Changes should already be noticeable.
The incentive to get people along that day was the opportunity to ride a driverless bus. Honestly, it was an underwhelming experience: imagine being driven with great precision around a car park at two miles per hour by a nervous learner driver. To be told that such a bus will be serving a regular bus route next year, between Fife and Edinburgh, beggars belief.
Of more credible benefit is the cyclist detector, which alerts the driver if someone is cycling alongside the bus. That may need some tweaking in Cambridge if the driver isn’t to be bombarded by breathless warnings of, “Cyclist left, cyclist left, cyclist right, cyclist left…” But, if it is effective, it should be mandatory on all buses and HGVs.
Now, you may have read about how cities in China, like Shenzhen, have replaced their entire bus fleet with fully-electric vehicles and wondered, why not here? Well, the Citi 6 route will soon be served by two electric buses, part-paid for by the Greater Cambridge Partnership.
Stagecoach has also ordered 48 electric buses, 32 of which are double-deckers, to run in Greater Manchester and South Wales. We are getting close to the tipping point, when the total cost of ownership of an electric bus is lower than a diesel. The challenge now is to prepare the charging infrastructure: not just the points where the buses plug in to recharge, but in the electricity distribution network. That is already struggling to maintain a reliable supply to meet growing demand in the region. Electrification of buses is an opportunity to reinvent this much maligned mode of transport.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 12 June 2019.