Smarter Cambridge Transport

Has the Guided Busway been a success?

Ten years after the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway opened, has it delivered on what was promised?

The project cost £150 million instead of the budgeted £116 million, and the contractor still lost money. Alleged design and construction defects require repairs that could end up costing over £100 million – still the subject of litigation. Grade: F

Patronage on busway services was climbing steadily before the pandemic struck, bucking the national trend. However, even discounting trips for the unbuilt part of Northstowe, the forecast for around 8,500 users each weekday in 2016 has still not been reached: the 8,000 reported in 2019 includes trips on busway services that don’t touch the busway, such as St Ives to Huntingdon, and Cambridge station to Eddington. So, something like 7,000 people travelled on the busway each weekday in 2019. Grade: B+

On journey times, the busway has failed to live up to expectations. The forecast journey time from Huntingdon was 44 minutes. It’s now 77 minutes, compared with 67 minutes pre-busway –and 38 minutes by rail back in 1869! Many villages lost their services when the busway opened: Fenstanton now has just one service a day out of Cambridge, and none on Sundays. Grade: D

The cycle/footway alongside the busway has proved far more popular than transport planners expected, with at least 2,500 people a day walking and cycling along it. However, simply tarmacking what was designed as a maintenance track has made parts of it dangerously conflicted, contributing to a tragic death in 2018.  Grade: B-

Overall grade: C-

Further investment is needed to realise the busway’s full potential. Every village along its route needs a protected cycleway to the busway, and a bus service that either joins the busway (as originally envisaged) or shuttles to travel hubs at St Ives and Longstanton. The cycle/footway should be moved away from the bus track, widened and segregated. It also needs elevating through Fen Drayton Lakes, where flooding can make it unusable.

If the busway’s structural defects require a rebuild, then perhaps it should be converted to a light-rail line, extended to Huntingdon railway station, and given a tram-bus interchange on Milton Road. Déjà vu?

This article, with some small differences, was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 11 August 2021.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.