The Greater Cambridge Partnership will need to do things differently for their revamped bus services & congestion charge proposals

…because the initial reaction online (a very biased sample it must be said) reflects a lack of faith in their ability to deliver the bus service improvements that are essential to their plans

ICYMI, read the press release here, and the full report from page 30 of the GCP Assembly papers for 08 September 2022 here. Which will be at the Guildhall – hence the stone coat of arms of the borough above the old library that’s round the back of the Market Square monolith!

I’ve written about my despondency about the way the GCP continued as if nothing had happened a year ago despite the local political earthquake of the super-elections in May 2021 that swept the Tories out of power for both the County Council and the Mayoralty. I don’t intend to go over old ground.

Improving the bus services – getting into the detail

If you are interested in making the case for improved bus services in your part of the GCP area (and even in next door areas), please get in touch with Richard at the Cambridge Area Bus Users Group as a few of us would like to re-launch it (it was taken out by Lockdown/Covid) so in order to do so we will need new people to step forward. Also, it means (for a few more of us) reading up on developments in the bus industry – so some of you may want to start buying Buses Magazine to see what new things other places are getting which we might want to get as well. (No, I’m not on a commission!)

Above – Buses Magazine – and also Tramways and Urban Transit that comes with membership of the LRTA.

Now that we’re getting into some of the detail, it’s important that more of us are informed about the wider industry. For those of you interested in light rail and heavy rail locally, the Rail Future Campaign in East Anglia is meeting in Cambridge in December 2022

Saturday 3rd December 2022 – Cambridge at 14:00
The Signal Box Community Centre, Glenalmond Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8DB

Above – The Signal Box Community Centre in one of the recently-built housing developments near Cambridge Station. Personally I think it should be bigger than it is.

Also, I only realised recently that there was no trade union representation on the GCP, let alone any input. One of the early complaints was the lack of representation from the bus operators, but I’m wondering whether the GCP should be asked about its engagement with bus drivers and their trade union representatives. Not least because the GCP’s proposals are budgeting for a 20% increase in salaries for bus drivers – reflecting the chronic staff shortages due to low pay from the existing operators. Note the plans assume a move to a bus franchising model where the Combined Authority will set the routes rather than the operators picking the profitable lines.

Overhauling existing consultation processes

I’ve written about this for Cambridge here, and for the Police and Crime Commissioner here, and the Combined Authority here. I won’t go into a huge speech about the GCP other than to say it would be good if they had some widely-advertised face-to-face consultation events where their target audiences are – and even more importantly where their most vulnerable and dependent passengers are. I agree with Cllr Lewis Herbert when he said at a previous GCP Board Meeting that we didn’t hear enough from people on low incomes or those that did not have the knowledge or the access to lobby the GCP in the way well-organised campaign groups did. But then that for me is all the more reason why the GCP should be bold and try both new approaches and go to places where perhaps in the past they feared to tread. (I saw lots of the latter during my Whitehall days – eg booking the same old conference venues for ‘community action’ conferences until some of us persuaded our senior managers to book them in community venues in the very areas our funding programmes were supporting. Which I’d like to think made something of a difference at the time).

No doubt there will have to be future consultations on deciding bus routes, so it would be good to get some idea of what people’s present needs are, and what places they might like to get to but cannot at the moment. For example I would love to be able to get to the Ice Rink on Newmarket Road by bus. This is potentially feasible by simply extending the Citi 3 bus that terminates at Tescos in Fulbourn just that little bit further towards Teversham, and then left at the Airport Way/Newmarket Rd junction to terminate at the Park & Ride there. Suddenly the Ice Rink becomes accessible by public transport to the majority of Cherry Hinton Village, and half of Coleridge Ward and a slice of Queen Edith’s ward too.

“No new congestion charge until the massively-improved bus services are in place”

…is the message that seems to be coming from people living outside of the city. The nature of the GCP means that East Cambridgeshire District Council villages close to Cambridge – such as Burwell, Bottisham (East Cambs) and towns such as Haverhill & Newmarket (over the border in Suffolk) are excluded. Which is bizarre. But it’s what the former Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister (Messrs Osborne and Clegg – where are they now?!?!) signed off. Just because they are outside of the GCP area does not mean they should be excluded from the consultations. In fact I think there is a strong public interest that outreach work is undertaken in all three of those villages because of the number of people who work, shop, and use the leisure facilities in Cambridge.

Tailor the approach to young people too

At the start of every academic year – or even at the start of every calendar year after they’ve had the chance to settle in, public authorities should be undertaking outreach work on improving public transport for older teenagers at college. Some of the grim commutes teenagers have to undertake have been reported by their concerned parents on how much extra the congestion charge will cost in the face of *existing* underfunded bus services. Hence the importance of getting the sequencing right.

Plan for post-2030

It’s outside of the remit for the GCP, but what they don’t want to do is to build something that is so inflexible that it will cost a fortune to improve should there be a change of government policy in the near future – say towards light rail, or extra funding becomes available to extend the busways beyond what they currently plan.

And not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet as far as future plans go – the continual problem of off-plan developments marketed abroad before locals can access them – something only ministers have the powers to deal with but something they have consistently refused to do.

…and one is even promoting the Cambridge Connect Light Rail as being completed by 2031! I hope someone has told the Transport Secretary that this is what potential buyers in foreign markets are being told!

…and I have no idea where they got the £4billion figure from either.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is 1) more people need to get involved in the various transport campaigns – in particular on improving bus services, and 2) The GCP need to go to where the people are, and go to places that they might not have been to before. Whether supermarkets and car-based shopping centres to village centres that have large commuting populations just outside of the GCP boundaries.

In the meantime, if you have not done so already, do consider starting a conversation with one of your local councillors. See it also as part of strengthening our democracy given the problems we still have nationally. Because there has to be a general election in the next two or so years. And it looks like they will be very troubling years ahead.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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