The other evening, sitting patiently through a Histon Road Local Liaison Forum meeting, I heard something that made me groan inwardly.
We were shown the current draft proposal for Histon Road: various improvements for cycling plus a 550m inbound bus lane between Blackhall Rd and Carisbrook Rd. That bus lane will, for a few buses a day, provide at best a 2.5 minute advantage over car drivers. Of course the time penalty for taking the bus is far larger than that when you take into account the walking, waiting, bus route and stops.
A lady in the audience asked a very sensible question about smart ticketing as a better way to make buses more attractive.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s consultant from WSP declared this wasn’t relevant because “this is an infrastructure project.” It needed a moment’s silence for the absurdity of that to sink in: how many times must we repeat, transport is about moving people, not vehicles?
The managing director of Stagecoach was eager to point out that we already have smart ticketing. By that he meant his buses now accept payment with contactless credit/debit cards, mobile phones and a proprietary smartcard. All good (and under-promoted), but it is not smart ticketing. What people experience in London is smart ticketing: one fare for any operator’s services, no fare penalty for changing bus en route (a recent innovation), and automatic capping of daily/weekly/monthly spend.
This is central to making public transport attractive. We need as much public transport as we can get: that means combining services from different operators, including mainline rail services, without passengers paying over the odds.
The rail industry has PlusBus: for an extra £3.50 you can travel all day on local buses at your rail destination. The county council supports two flavours of Multibus ticket that are overpriced and under-promoted. We need the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the mayor to follow the example of Cornwall Council and introduce One Ticket, One Network, One Brand here.
That will do more to achieve modal shift than rolling out some red tarmac for a few buses a day.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 14 March 2018.