Local government bodies – five of them now – are tripping over each other to be seen to be ‘delivering’. The mayor leaked bits of a proposal for a ‘metro’ for Greater Cambridge just to steal a march on Greater Cambridge Partnership’s (GCP) consultation on the Cambourne-Cambridge busway. Another member of the Combined Authority dismissed legitimate concerns about the recently-published report on mass transit options by telling the public: “We’ll build the innovative transport solutions, you check the paperwork”.
That report, proposing a bus-based ‘metro’, was meant to settle a long-running debate around light rail (originally backed by the mayor) and bus rapid transit (backed by County Council officers). It didn’t.
Critically, it failed to separate out the design of the route network from the choice of vehicle technology. Future demand (where people need to travel, when and in what numbers) determines the network geography, which in turn determines the most appropriate vehicle technologies to use.
GCP wants us to believe that its busway to Cambourne will form part of the future ‘metro’. But a busway will need to align with any tunnel under Cambridge, and no-one knows yet where that might be.
Smarter Cambridge Transport has published extensive commentaries on the Mass Transit Options report and the Cambourne to Cambridge consultation. The organisation doesn’t want to see more odd bits of infrastructure built in the hopes that one day they’ll mesh together. Planning and building a well-integrated mass transit network will take a decade or more. While this is done, there are countless small but useful interventions GCP can be getting on with.
For South Cambridgeshire residents, what’s needed are attractive, comfortable, reliable and flexible public transport options from close to where people live. That means building travel hubs in rural centres, along with safe (i.e. segregated wherever possible) and convenient walking and cycling routes that link the villages, local travel hubs and Cambridge. Providing a sensible alternative to driving is how we reduce congestion.
Buses can be given significant priority with a trial of Inbound Flow Control at relatively low cost and environmental impact. And the Combined Authority must use its powers to integrate bus services and ticketing, as well as cross-subsidising socially desirable services with profits from popular city and commuter services.
Please – let’s have less rushing to be ‘a city of firsts’, and more attention on getting the basics right.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 14 February 2018.