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Local authorities need to get the basics right for better bus services

Opinion | By Edward Leigh, Smarter Cambridge Transport

Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell
Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell

The resident population of Greater Cambridge is expected to grow by at least 15 per cent this decade, the working population by even more.

Setting aside grave concerns about the environmental impacts of this growth and whether so much growth should be concentrated around Cambridge, the transport challenge is to break the pattern of history of more people leading to more cars, more traffic and more congestion.

It’s not just the pressure of growth that makes this necessary: decarbonising transport and reducing air pollution from motor vehicles also require a reduction in the distances each of us drives each year. The only way this will be possible is if we figure out how to make fewer solo journeys by car, and walk, cycle and use public transport much more.

Now, the great thing about public transport is the more people use it, the better the service gets. But the basics have to be right first.

Recognising this, the government is directing transport authorities to agree Enhanced Partnerships with bus operators that include “introducing … bus lanes, equipment to give buses priority at junctions, enforced clearways, new ‘buses only’ sections of road or bus gates …; changing parking provision, vehicle loading arrangements or non-residential parking; presenting the local bus network as a single system that works together; improving bus stop locations and routes to them, improving the waiting environment (including passenger safety).”

The list closely matches what Smarter Cambridge Transport has been campaigning for, except we only recommend bus lanes where there is sufficient space left for people walking and cycling, and to have trees. We also add travel hubs, to give people in rural areas convenient access to express bus and/or rail services; and a reconfiguration of the bus network in central Cambridge to accommodate more buses and faster interchanging.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s plans to improve bus services, other than by building busways, are patchy, lacking adequate funding and serious commitment. That needs to change: the City Access and Public Transport Improvements report, due to be published in September, must set out how bus services and stops will improve markedly from 2022.

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