Smarter Cambridge Transport

Improving access to Cambridge from the east

Transport routes should be direct and services as cheap as possible. For anyone accessing Cambridge from the east, there are no public transport options that fit the bill.

The train service from Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket is infrequent, and only gets you to Cambridge railway station. Onward bus connections, say, to the Science Park, Biomedical Campus or West Cambridge, add time and cost to an already inconvenient journey.

Rural bus services wind their way through the villages, taking an hour and twenty minutes between Newmarket and Cambridge bus stations. If you miss the 06:59, the next service doesn’t arrive in central Cambridge until just before 10am. Coming from Bury St Edmunds, there are just two express services in the morning and one returning in the evening; otherwise you have to change at Newmarket – connection not guaranteed – making the journey nearly two hours.

Is it any wonder almost everyone drives?

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) Eastern Access proposals attempt to fix these problems with infrastructure: more bus lanes on Newmarket Rd; moving the Park & Ride east of Airport Way; building a busway through the airport (when it’s redeveloped), and linking that to Mill Rd via The Tins (currently a cycle/footway).

Buses take 17 minutes to get from Stow-cum-Quy to Drummer St via Fen Ditton. GCP’s proposals could reduce that by maybe 5 minutes. On a journey that can take up to 114 minutes, that’s not a game-changer.

Feedback gathered by the action group A to B1102 indicates that most people want a better bus service from the villages, not a better Park & Ride service which they still have to drive most of the way to catch, and which only takes them to the city centre. As an aside, they would also like GCP to work with East Cambridgeshire District Council to extend the proposed Swaffhams Greenway cycle route to Burwell.

Will GCP acknowledge the wisdom of making transport links direct and as cheap as possible? If so, can we see how it proposes to help realise that ambition for bus services east of the Stow-cum-Quy A14 interchange?

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 9 December 2020.

Emma Fletcher


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  • You need to look at a complete mobility as a service package, with several elements
    1) Stop driving buses round every last village green – look at examples
    – Lincoln-Skegness (10) Interconnect, from subsidised hourly with old buses to fully commercial half hourly with new buses, using main road & interchange hubs, with cheaper systems that get passengers to the bus rather than buses to the passenger – the bus service is then as fast as driving & finding a parking space – using phone app taxi systems a village taxi can collect several passengers & connect with the bus, then return with others from the bus – far more efficient than a fare to the town, and returning empty. Quality walking & cycling routes to the main road bus stops, with cycle parking (in place of bike o’er the dyke) and bikes on buses (which I’ve been doing since 1986, and with buses now all low floor by law since 2020, there’s a 100% of the fleet available to run a trial scheme on almost every route – especially at night when cycling on an unlit rural road is not for the nervous) Cycling expands the catchment area for a bus route by a factor of 15 – you’ll typically cycle 2-3 miles in the time you’d be happy for walking to a bus stop. Worth noting that typically there’s at least 1 bike on an X5 coach between Cambridge & Bedford most times of day, and you can take bikes on National Express/Megabus, subject to their conditions of carriage.

    Certainty is a key factor, especially when there is a limited service and COVID has forced the pace of development of interactive systems, but I’m looking for help in pushing this faster & further. 3 years ago the major supplier of bus ticket machines, confirmed that with the right interfacing, a bus user could, a check on how full a bus is or book a space for a wheelchair/bike, as well as booking a local taxi/dial a ride car to catch a specified bus service. The screen on the ticket machine would then display a manifest to the driver for the next stop (avoiding the fierce braking when a passenger hails from the side of the road outside the land of formal bus stops). Passengers would have the assurance that a bus running one minute early would not be seen heading into the distance as they reached the stop. This also makes life so much easier for those with sight problems, as they no longer have to flag down every bus to ask the driver if its their service.

    Many other wrinkles, which I’ve seen & used over the years. As for the rail services, ditch that busway and get some tram-trains running – share the rails to Newmarket (& restore the West chord from the tunnel to loop back to Ely) and then move to on street/reserved track running to leave the railway through the existing station for regional and longer distance trains.

    Closing there needs to be properly managed licensing/concessions to deliver personal mobility on demand – 20+ years of car and bike share operations have provided clear data. Naieve local government and others saw the same mistakes made with Ovo, Mobike etc, that those of use who’d been with this since the 1990’s were telling them to avoid. The average private car sits idle for 95% of the time requiring storage space, that so many owners expect to get for free – that HAS to change – the space is scarce, and there is no mandate for councils to provide roads for any purpose other than moving traffic (all modes) a shared car can replace 10-12 owned ones, massively reducing the storage space required, and undications are that this also means 90% fewer charging points, and parking bays are needed, with a much faster delivery of an all-electric car parc across the UK. Bikes are similar, a hire bike can deliver up to 8 hires per day before level of service begins to suffer, and thus high quality EAPC, professionally maintained, deliver a low inertia change for many ‘non-enthusiasts’ to make local journeys by bike, without the hassles of storing it in a small flat, and fear of theft. Scotland’s laws also require bike hire to be licensed – why we’ve never had the Ofo debacle, with proven options of local maintenance, and a revenue steam from branding (40 bikes for same price to an advertiser as a single bus stop poster) all detail that some of us have known for 25 years of working with bike share, of only people asked us for advice….

  • PS – I do know the area. My grandad was one of Newmarket’s first taxi drivers, and works at Marshall’s 1939-45 repairing planes, and I’ve cycled over to Cambridge for nights out with friends at ADC and dlsewhere