A Stagecoach dayrider ticket, valid for a day’s travel in Cambridge and necklace villages (but not as far as Sawston or Hauxton) cost £2.80 in 2007. If fares had risen with inflation (wages, fuel and CPI), it would now cost £3.58. Today it’s £4.50, 25% higher in real terms than in 2007. Is the service 25% better?
That depends on where you live and work. Villages along the Guided Busway have a relatively fast, frequent service to the Regional College, Science Park and into Cambridge. However the ‘first mile’ links are barely adequate: unsealed footpaths and narrow pavements shared with people cycling. Rampton, for instance, has no direct access. Also missing are local services that collect people from villages such as Earith and Willinghan before joining the busway. This theoretical flexibility was a key selling point of the busway.
Two other services stand out: the 13 from Haverhill and the Citi 4 from Cambourne are fairly fast and operate the hours that most people need – but are let down by poor quality stops and congestion at the edge of Cambridge.
Otherwise it’s a depressing tale of slow, infrequent, often late and sporadically cancelled services, gradually declining to the point where only those who have no alternative use them.
Few villages have services returning from Cambridge after 7:15pm. Even Park & Ride ends around 8:30pm. Barrington and Haslingfield have six buses on a weekday, five on Saturday, and none on Sunday. Burwell, the Swaffhams and Bottisham (combined population 12,500) have no Sunday service.
Many services are no quicker than cycling, even ignoring the walking and waiting that a bus journey involves. From Sawston to central Cambridge is 37 minutes; from Burwell, 55 minutes; from Comberton, 29 minutes. Average speed: about 13mph.
The problem is not simply (or even mainly) congestion around Cambridge. It’s the whole service provision that needs redesigning – as is happening now in Dublin. The mayor’s office must be prepared to act quickly and boldly when the Bus Services Review is published this autumn: serious efforts and money – by local authorities and bus operators – are needed to turn things around.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 05 September 2018.