Wednesday 31 August 2011

Busway in last week's local papers

The Hunts Post of 24 August carried an article entitled Busway success : firms to consider increasing fleets ( page 14). This highlighted the possibility of Stagecoach introducing new routes, such as buses starting from Longstanton, and promoting the Fenstanton feeder service (route 20). Whippet are considering adding to their fleet of three buses, and Whippet manager, Peter Lee, calls for multi-operator tickets so that passengers can catch the first bus that comes along. These kind of tickets are normal in London, but legislation forbids them in the rest of the country. There is a call for 'red routes' in Cambridge city centre to minimise bus delays. And a suggestion that traffic lights need to respond better to the buses. The article mentions that work was due to begin on Tuesday 30 August on the Swavesey-St Ives cycleway - and today (31 August) there are signs of work having begun - piles of gravel, surveyors wooden markers, 'closed' signs. There are still puddles lying in several of the hollows, emphasising the importance of this remedial work.

The same issue of the Hunts Post has two letters about the busway (page 6). Busway blues complains about the withdrawal of the bus from RAF Wyton to Cambridge Regional College, for which the writer blames the busway, probably erroneously. And Where are we suggests that driver should announce each stop in advance.

The Huntingdon & St Ives News & Crier (p18) mentions a complaint from a woman who says not a single guided bus she has travelled on has picked her up or dropped her off on time, and once she waited 50 minutes for a bus, which then sailed right on past without stopping. Another complaint was about the electric sockets in the Stagecoach buses not working. Motorists have been noticed using the St Ives Park & Ride car park and walking into town to avoid car park fees, and other motorists have complained that the traffic lights where the busway crosses Harrison Way are causing traffic jams.

Timetable changes from 4th September

Stagecoach have just announced improvements to the Sunday service starting from 4th September. Buses will run every 20 minutes (instead of hourly) between St Ives Bus Station and Drummer Street from 08.40 until 17.00, returning from Drummer Street 09.20 until 17.40.

However, the overall timings have been slowed down.

On Sundays, Cambridge to St Ives will take 36 minutes instead of 32, St Ives to Huntingdon is increased by 2 minutes, and Huntingdon to St Ives by 11 minutes.

On weekdays, most journeys starting at Huntingdon are allowed an extra 5 minutes - presumably to improve punctuality and even spacing of buses on route B, which hitherto tend to leave St Ives late. Of course, they often arrived late from Huntingdon in the old days, but usually drivers could catch up a bit on the A14.

Details on this web page

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Ancient tradition vs modern transport system

On Bank Holiday Mondays, the centre of St Ives is taken over by an enormous market which draws traders and customers from far and wide. Yesterday (29 August) was no exception.

Even St Ives Bus Station is given over to market stalls. Previously this did not matter as the only bus service running was a shuttle between Huntingdon and St Ives, terminating at The Quadrant. But this time, with both Stagecoach and Whippet advertising an 'Sunday' service on the busway, I wondered whether the market would have vacated the bus station in favour of the buses. But not so. Stalls filled the bus station.

At first glance I could find no information explaining where the buses were running to and from, but there were a couple of small printed notice attached inside the display cases, mentioning in very small print that passengers should go top The Quadrant. One of these notices was so curled up that it was impossible to read most of the times shown.

I suppose it is good sign that the bus companies are having to run extra buses, but the small notice advertising the new Sunday bus times had a glaring mistake on it - showing bus from St Ives to Cambridge taking 70 minutes. I think a typing error. But good to know the buses will be running every half hour on a Sunday.

In The Quadrant were two signs telling motorist not to park there on the Bank Holiday Monday - but nobody had paid any attention to it. There was a slight gap in the parked cars at the bus stop itself, but not enough for a bus to enter. So, the buses were having to stop in the main traffic lane.

I took one picture showing congestion at the back of Budgen's with a coach off-loading market visitors while a service bus was held up behind it.

Buses bound for Huntingdon on service B were arriving in via the Park&Ride car park and Meadow Lane, then looping right round Cromwell Place and The Quadrant.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Guided busway in yesterday's Hunts Post

55,895 passenger used the guided busway in the first week, and extra buses have had to be put on to cope with the demand. (The Hunts Post, 17 August 2011, page 3) But how will they cope when everyone returns from their holidays and the A14 and Cambridge streets get busy again?

The letters from users of the service are more revealing and do not share the optimism of the Directors of Stagecoach and Whippet. ( The Hunts Post, 17 August 2011, page 7)

Here are some of the points raised:

1 - late running, unreliable buses, particularly on Route B
2 - journey times of up to 2 hours between Addenbrooke's and Huntingdon
3 - two service B buses turning up together
4 - huge queues trying to board at Drummer Street
5 - the indirect route between Huntingdon and St Ives - via the Oxmoor and Hill Rise

One worrying statement is this "The conclusion I have come to is that, once it has settled down, the guided bus will be slightly slower than the traditional bus". Well, yes. Just compare the old timetable with the new one. The fast run on the guideway doesn't quite make up for the often slow plod through the Cambridge streets. Perhaps the only time we shall see the benefit is when the A14 is blocked, or is so busy that traffic there is crawling. But if traffic is crawling in Milton road, Histon Road or Bridge Street, the busway isn't going to help.

What about this from a resident of Brampton "Come on, bus companies, try to be more competitive and make the bus more attractive than the car"?

I don't think bus companies can be relied on to provide a good enough network of service to attract people out of their cars. There are huge holes gaps in their network of routes. The town centre of Huntingdon is only about 17 miles from central Cambridge and yet the bus takes (in theory) an hour or more. However, we know that not many people live in the town centre - so how to the buses serve the suburbs adequately? Godmanchester is 15 miles from Cambridge and has no direct service at all. One of my colleagues, who travels in from Godmanchester drives to Madingley Park & Ride, it's her best option. I don't see how Godmanchester can be plugged into the guided busway easily without running along part of the A14, but perhaps a Huntingdon - Godmanchester - Papworth - Cambridge route via the A428 might be viable. It could start from Huntingdon Tesco's or Hinchingbrooke alternately. And perhaps the Brampton service could feed into it at Huntingdon Bus Station.

Gail Anderson (The Hunts Post, 17 August 2011, page 15) has interviewed several busway passengers.

A St Ives resident who works in Cambridge notes that, because the busway has opened up more stops, it take longer for him to get home - but he will continue using the service because 'nothing is worth parking in Cambridge'.

Someone from Warboys expresses 'high hopes' for the service. She seems to have previously used one of the Park & Ride sites, and has switched to St Ives P&R. But her comment raises another issue in my mind that hasn't been properly address - how to provide frequent, all day connections to the busway from outlying communities such as Brampton, Ramsey and Warboys. A few token through buses to Cambridge are provided for Needingworth, Bluntisham, Earith, Colne and Somersham via the busway - but are they enough to build confidence in the service? As I mentioned in an earlier posting Fenstanton now seems to have a half hourly link to St Ives Park and Ride - but will anyone use it when most of the day there is a direct Whippet service to Cambridge via Bar Hill? No attempt has been made to link the existing Citi 5 service through Fenstanton, Fen Drayton, the centre of Swavesey, Over and Willingham into the services on the busway, either at Swavesey 'station' or at Lonstanton Park & Ride.

[This is Longstanton Park & Ride - still under construction]

The road layout at St Ives Park and Ride doesn't make it easy for non-busway buses to connect there. Extending the service A to/from St Ives Bus station would help.

A final comment in Gail Anderson's article, reiterates the problem of delays, most notably an evening bus service departing 30 minutes late from Cambridge.

The Hunts Post can be viewed online at . You have to register, but access is free.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Cycling along the busway

Monday morning, as my weekly ticket had run out, I decided to cycle to work. This was my first experience of the newly tarred cycle track from Swavesey to Cambridge. Very smooth and fast - just a pity about the steep gradients in and out of some of the hollows that had been flooded in the winter. In fact, there remains one puddle on the St Ives to Swavesey section, which still has a gravel surface. Does anyone know when it is being tarred?
One thing that surprised me was how quiet the buses seemed as they glided past.
I came off the guideway at Histon, and reaching my work via Arbury Road, part of Milton Road and Elizabeth Way. I made good time - 56 minutes door to door.
I returned on the Service A from Parkside. This was unfortunately delayed as the driver thought he'd knocked a cyclist off her bike as he overtook her in Emmanuel Road. He was mightily relieved that she said he hadn't hit her bike, and she was unharmed. I think she had wobbled as the bus went past. That delay of 5 or 6 minutes meant that my door to door journey ( walk, bus, walk) took 54 minutes.

Weekend fares

Whippet were offering a special fare of £1 single on either their busway services or on the old route via Bar Hill, on both Saturday and Sunday. This was great, as long as you knew not to buy a ticket from the ticket machines, which hadn't been re-programmed to offer the reduced fare. Unfortunately, some people had bought their tickets from the machines, so you can imagine they were not best pleased to discover about the cheap deal!

I had to go in to Cambridge early on Sunday so the 09.00 Stagecoach departure got me in earlier than Whippet's 09.25 via Bar Hill or 09.35 via the Busway. I discovered that the St Ives to Cambridge single has gone up from £3.20 to £3.50 - I don't remember any advertising about that. On the way back I benefitted from the £1 ticket.
Talking to a passenger who had tried to catch the Whippet Service C from Cambridge Railway Station. He hadn't realised that the busway stop is round the corner from the station in what looks like a building site. Maybe there is a sign posting issue here. He'd tried to flag the Whippet down as it emerged into Station Road - but it didn't stop for him. He then caught one of the citi buses into town and sprinted that last bit to the bus station.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Friday 12 August and review of the first week

I travelled on Service B in both directions today.

The morning trip took 37 minutes, and the afternoon trip took 45 minutes.

Verdict at the end of Week 1 - the quality of the journey actually on the guideway is excellent and fast, and the timings achieved between St Ives and Milton Road or Orchard Park are consistently in the 18-23 minute range.

My quickest journey took 28 minutes (Wednesday). The slowest was on Sunday - 46 minutes running time plus 11 minutes for late start. There was a bad trip on Thursday - 15 minutes late leaving Parkside, and 22 minutes late reaching St Ives.

However, the guided buses are being delayed by traffic conditions off the busway. Buses arriving in St Ives from the Huntingdon direction are often late, as they were before 7 August - and this suggests that their schedule is too tight.

Traffic conditions in Bridge Street and Magdalene Street are difficult - mainly as a result of the single track section from Magdalen Bridge towards Huntingdon Road.

Histon Road and Milton Road have several sets of traffic lights which have caused delays, and frankly the 13 minutes allowed in the timetable isn't enough, except when traffic is very light (e.g. early morning).

The Addenbrooke's loop is another source of delay, as it is unbelievably slow, narrow and twisty.

The fact that there are no ticket machines at certain busy bus stops e.g. Drummer Street, New Square, and St Ives Bus Station, is slowing loading times and therefore contributing to delays.

Traffic levels - an exceptionally busy Sunday when many people turned out for their first trip on this new form of transport. I'd say the number of passengers has increased steadily as the week progressed. A fair number of people are commuting to/from the Science Park, from St Ives and the intermediate villages, journeys which could not readily be done by public transport before.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Thursday 11 August

My morning journey was punctual and took 29 minutes.

Problems in the evening, though. I'd checked on the live bus information online, and knew that my bus (Service A due to leave New Square at 17.01) would be a few minutes late arriving at Parkside. We were 15 minutes late leaving New Square. Heavy, slow traffic in Victoria Avenue, and Milton Road meant that we didn't reach the guideway until 1833. St Ives Park & Ride was reached at 18.55 - 22 minutes late.

Bus routes through Addenbrooke's site

On my trip yesterday, I commented on the slow and tortuous journey round the Addenbrooke's site.

Seven years ago, Addenbrooke's stated its commitment to improving sustainability by promoting public transport improvements, bus travel, car sharing, cycling and walking.

Regarding the guided busway, then under consideration for Cambridge, the Trust had 'plans to re-arrange the main entrance area of the hospital to allow the guided buses to drive through the centre of the campus to improve access.'

Is this plan still being considered? Or has it been abandoned completely?

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundatuion Trust. 2020 vision at Addenbrooke's: the future of the hospital campus - update July 2004. Page 9. Available at: [accessed 11 August 2011]

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Wednesday 10th August 2011

This morning I walked to the Park & Ride to catch the route A bus leaving at 07.38. This got me in to New Square at 08.07, which is pretty good.

I was able to take a longer lunch break than usual and decide to go to Trumpington on the guided bus to see what the southern end of the route is like. There was a 13.11 departure from New Square, and it took 10 minutes to reach the Railway Station via the ordinary streets. the A calls at a bus stop about 150 metres from the station entrance. This stop is situated in the middle of a building site and it looks as if they are creating a series of bus stops near that location.  The busway dives under Hills Road Bridge, which has a 12ft 1in height limit, explaining why Route A only has single decker buses. Then followed a fast section more or less parallel to the railway line, built on the track of the former railway from Cambridge to Bedford and Oxford. Addenbrooke's is reached by a branch guideway rising steeply to cross the railway line. At the far side is a T junction, and the far side of the junction is built to allow an extra section of guideway to be built at a later stage, which will hopefully shorten the  Addenbrooke's loop. The bus follows a  slow and tortuous route anti-clockwise around the Addenbrooke's campus with 5 bus stops.  The whole loop took 14 minutes to complete, and returning to the main guideway, we turned right towards  a bus stop called "Trumpington". Immediately afterwards, the guideway becomes single track, with traffic lights controlling entry, and squeezed under Trumpington Road to emerge at the Park & Ride. Running time 31 minutes = 9 minutes longer than scheduled. The return journey retrace the same route taking 26 minutes - 4 over schedule.

It's as if they've tacked a Trumpington-Addenbrooke's shuttle service onto an Addenbrooke's- St Ives service.  The two seem scarcely compatible. And the slow plod round the hospital site might be contributing to late running further north. Maybe they are planning to run a fast direct service between Trumpington P&R  and the City Centre via the Rail Station. But for the meantime, passengers going from the P&R should us the old P&R bus service on the ordinary roads.

My journey home today was on the 17.01 from New Square which I picked up at Parkside. Having checked the live bus times online, I knew it was running a few minutes late, which meant I didn't have to rush. We left at 17.05 ( 6 minutes late) and  getting held up a bit by slow traffic on Victoria Avenue and  near the Arbury Road/Milton Road junction, I got to St Ives P&R at 17.45. 40 minutes running time.

Unfortunately no use for Station - Cowley Road commute

I commute once a week from Cambridge Station to Cowley Road (St Johns Innovation Centre). It was a bright sunny morning, so I thought I'd trial the service and save on the taxi fare.

1. When I arrived at Cambridge station, the bus stop is a couple of hundred yards away (much further than the other buses and cabs, and through lots of building work).
2. The buses are timed to leave the rail station 3 minutes before the fast trains from London arrive, and they only run every 20 minutes
3. At the Science Park end, the stop is 15 minutes walk from St Johns Innovation Centre

So all in all, it takes just under an hour to get from the station to my office - compared with 10 minutes by cab, and longer than the 50 mile Kings Cross to Cambridge train journey. I appreciate that the service is bound to be slow running through the city, but there are no bus routes that take one from the Station to the Science Park / Business Park / Innovation Park.

So unfortunately I'll continue to Borisbike from Covent Garden to Kings Cross and take an expensive and environmentally unfriendly taxi from the station to my office.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Tuesday 9 August

Decided to use the 07.25 Service B from St Ives Bus Station. As was common with the old 55 route, buses arriving in from Huntingdon were often a few minutes late. And so it was today. We left at 07.25 reaching Orchard Park East at 07.54 (6 minutes late). Another 3 minutes were dropped in a traffic queue in Histon Road, waiting to get out onto Huntingdon Road.  Arrival time at New Square (08.11) was 9 minutes late. Counting the walk at each end, that's 50 minutes door to door.

Leaving St Ives, I noticed that the Whippet's 07.35 Service 5, was sitting in the bus station. Despite using the old route via Fenstanton, the A14 and Bar Hill, this bus beat us to Cambridge by a few minutes. I saw it whizz across the junction at Histon Road/Huntingdon Road as we waited in the queue.

There was a Whippet Service D ahead of us. Can anyone explain why Service D exists? It offers two early morning trips via Histon Road, but no corresponding evening trips. So they're clearly not looking for any two-way passengers.

Evening. Succeeded in getting the Service A from Parkside, which it left at 1705. Departure from New Square was at 17.07 (6 minutes late) but we didn't manage to make up time.  I alighted at St Ives Park & Ride at 17.40 (due 17.33). Again 50 minutes door to door.

Thats now 6 journeys I've made - and only one was on time.

Monday 8 August 2011

Monday 8th August - travel to work

I decided to walk from the house to the Park & Ride ( about 4 minutes walk) because I wanted to experience the Route A which goes into Cambridge via Milton Road.

Free copies of the Cambridge News  were being given out at the P&R.

But there were only 6 passengers on board  when we left promptly at 07.38. I thought our speed was higher than yesterday, and we reached Milton Road at 08.00 pretty much on time. The bus called at Swavesey, Longstanton, Oakington and Histon only. No passengers for Fen Drayton Reserve or CRC.

The 0728 service, which has come in from Huntingdon, was running almost 10 minutes late, and we followed it in as far as Orchard Park where it diverged onto the Histon Road route.

I alighted at New Square at 08.09, 2 minutes early, and the bus set off immediately for Addenbrooke's not waiting for a passenger who was quite clearly running to catch it.

So, a punctual journey for me - but what if there had been heavy traffic on Milton Road?

Returning home in the late afternoon, I aimed for the 17.01 Service A which stops at  Parkside. This is very close to where I work. I saw the bus turn the corner as I crossed the end of East Road. But I was just too late. I walked briskly down to Emmanuel Road, and seeing the Service A still sitting at New Square sprinted along the road. It pulled out just as I got to the stop.

Next bus due was the 17.11 Service B. This consisted of 2 double deckers, both almost full to capacity. I boarded the second one which left at 17.15.  The Bridge Street bottleneck slowed us down, and Orchard Park wasn't reached until 17.33 by which time we had lost another 5 minutes. At Longstanton we overtook the other bus, then it caught up with us at St Ives Park & Ride - arrival time 17.51. There we sat for 4 minutes while passengers disembarked and bus officials chatted, I hope about official business. Arrival in St Ives Bus Station was at 17.57. Journey time 42 minutes, plus 4 minutes late start. Total 46 minutes. We had been due in at 17.43.

In the bus station I bumped into a friend waiting for the Needingworth bus. I asked him if the Whippet 1A had passed through. He said, yes, about 5 minutes before. It had passed the New Square stop as I waited.

So the Whippet - via Bar Hill, the A14 and Fenstanton  - took the same time as the new guided bus.

Not good.

Sunday 7th August - opening day

It was a fine sunny morning, and we caught the very first public departure from St Ives to Cambridge - the 09.00 service B. The bus left St Ives more or less on time at 09.01. There was a 3 minute stop at St Ives Park & Ride where the bus filled to capacity.  A relief bus followed ours from the Park & Ride.
St Ives P&R   09.06
Fen Drayton   09.10
Swavesey       09.13
Longstanton  09.17-09.18
Oakington      09.22 ( did not stop)
Histon             09.27-09.28
Orchard Pk E  09.30
Orchard Pk W 09.32
Shire Hall       09.37
Round Church 09.40
New Square    09.41-09.42
Drummer Street 09.43

That's 43 minutes. We were due in at 09.32 - so 11 minutes late. Not a good start.

Impressions of the journey sitting upstairs in a double decker. A fairly smoothe ride, but some gentle oscillation when running at speed. A few slight jolts passing over some of the bridle track crossings. The bus had to slow down considerably at road crossing, where, of course the guideway has a break, and presumably there is a speed limit for re-entering the guideway.

I was astonished to realise that the reserve track running through the Orchard Park estate is not a section of busway, but merely a pair of concrete 'farm tracks' with grass up the middle. Speed on the 'farm tracks' seemed to be much less than 30mph.

Even on a quiet Sunday morning, it took us 13 minutes from Orchard Park East to Drummer Street compared withe the advertised time of 9 minutes.

Not a good start!

The return trip on the  12.35 from Drummer Street was eventful. The electronic display at the departure bay showed that the bus was delayed by 25 minutes. There was a Guided Bus sitting at the far side of the bus station but it did not drive over to allow the waiting passengers to climb aboard. I walked over to ask the driver if he was going to pick us up and he said he was 'the relief' bus and had to wait until the regular bus was full. This seemed a crazy bit of logic, but eventually he drove across, we boarded, and then set off at 13.46, 11 minutes late. This time the Bridge Street bottleneck meant that it took 19 minutes reach Orchard Park ( the timetable says 9 minutes). Progress on the busway was steady but sedate. And we alighted at St Ives Bus Station at 13.32, a journey time of 46 minutes ( timetabled 34 minutes). But if you add on the 11 minutes late start, that give 57 minutes for the journey.

This compares very badly with the journey times on Friday and Saturday by the old route.

Question - why are there no ticket machines at Drummer Street and St Ives Bus Station? Surely they'd speed up loading times at these busy places.

Friday 5 and Saturday 6 August

My last three trips on Stagecoach's number 55 service before the Guided Busway opened were on 5th and 6th August.

On Friday 5th, I caught the 17.15 from Drummer Street reaching St Ives Bus Station at 17.49 -- a journey of 34 minutes. This was quite fast for a rush hour journey out of Cambridge, but it's the height of the summer holidays, so the roads were quiet.

The next day, I caught the 11.05 from St Ives Bus Station. This did not leave until 11.14. I reached Drummer Street at 11.47, a running time of 33 minutes, 42 if you add in the fact that we were late leaving.

I returned from Cambridge on the 14.35 from Drummer Street - which sped back to St Ives in a mere 32 minutes.

On these three trips, Shire Hall to St Ives took 23-27 minutes.
Bridge Street and Magdalene Street are a bit of a bottleneck, with Drummer Street to Shire Hall taking 8-11 minutes.