After a delayed start, the Bus Reform Task Force met for the first time in December and again last week. There is no doubt that Mayor James Palmer is serious about improving bus services in the years before the proposed “Autonomous Metro” opens, but is it on track to make a real difference?
The recent public survey confirmed that poor service reliability is people’s biggest complaint about buses. The first step to address this is to have more active enforcement of obstructive parking that regularly delays buses and sometimes forces diversions (e.g. the Citi 3 last week).
People also want services to start earlier and end later. How about, as a first step, extending Cambridge P&R services to 11pm on (late night shopping) Wednesdays?
The Task Force is committing to reinstate missing flags and service information at stops. We also need more bus shelters and more signposts to guide people to bus stations and stops, especially outside railway stations.
Not only has the Mayor committed to protect any existing service at risk of being cut, he is seeking proposals for reinstating or adding new routes. As long as the process of soliciting, evaluating and selecting proposals is open, transparent and economically sound, this is welcome.
The Task Force is keen to give people better quality information about bus options via journey planner apps like Google Maps, CityMapper, Moovit, UK Bus Checker and a host of others. As long as the focus is on getting accurate information out of operators in compliance with the Department for Transport’s Bus Open Data initiative, this is a good objective. However, developing a new app, duplicating the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s MotionMap project, would be folly.
To the above I would add sorting out fares, which could be a gamechanger. Nobody knows how much most single fares are, or thinks it’s fair having to pay twice because a journey – inconveniently – requires a change of bus. Fares should be simple and include a free transfer to any operator’s buses. The local authorities and bus operators could make that a reality within a year if the mayor made it a priority.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 5 February 2020.