Sunday, 25 March 2012

Better Bus Area Fund Grant: Facts And Speculations

Cambridgeshire County Council’s recent application to the Better Bus Area Fund resulted in Transport Minister Norman Baker’s announcement last week that bid for £1.78 million has been successful.

Most of the application form contains hard core facts and figures about bus priority measures in Cambridge, a new school minibus drop-off/pick-up point at Trumpington Park and Ride, and the bollarded bus-only zone in the St Andrew’s Street area in central Cambridge.  The whole purpose of this particular national fund is to improve bus transport in urban areas, though Norman Baker will shortly be making an announcement about further measures to enhance bus subsidies.

The bid also contains some familiar and strongly made arguments about the success of modal shift in Cambridge city where people ride on buses and bicycles, but the relatively high level of private vehicle commuting in the rural districts around Cambridge where public transport is poor.  Making bus travel more reliable is one of the aspirations of the bus priority measures that the bid is mainly about – if prospective passengers can count on their buses they will be more likely to use them and to rely on them.

Whether or not to introduce new bus services, or to run commercially less profitable services in rural areas, is in the hands of bus operators who have businesses to run, and the county council which as a local authority has a duty to look after the needs of its residents.

One piece of text comes without hard facts and figures and has got people talking and speculating:  Stagecoach makes a commitment ‘to experiment’ with the introduction of new services between the Guided Bus terminals around St Ives, and market towns in Fenland, such as Chatteris, which are starved of public transport and where people are saying again and again that they are quite simply marooned.

It remains to be seen what this experimentation will be about; let’s hope that it takes off.  If the County Council would also make a commitment to put more not less money into subsidizing bus transport, surely that would signal a serious intent to make bus travel work for people who have no other way of getting around.