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Would £1 bus fares or free travel for young people ease the Greater Cambridge transport challenge?

Free travel for young people, a flat £1 bus fare and shuttle buses to take users between city neighbourhoods could be among the options chosen by the Greater Cambridge Partnership under plans for better public transport.

Routes out of the city, connections with rail stations and other transport hubs, as well as connections with areas outside of Greater Cambridge, were among the topics discussed by the GCP’s joint assembly.

A Stagecoach electric bus
A Stagecoach electric bus

A future bus network has been drawn up by the GCP that envisages a bus every 10 minutes in Cambridge between 5am and midnight, and from larger towns and villages – plus a new hourly service from rural areas – to increase opportunities for people living and working in the area.

Other improvements could include bus services being available for longer and more direct services to reduce circuitous routes, improve reliability and cut journey times.

Lower bus fares and a comprehensive walking and cycling network would provide flexible travel options, the GCP suggests, while cutting congestion, reducing emissions and improving air quality.

Isobel Wade, assistant director of sustainable and inclusive growth at the GCP, said: “What this would mean is that most market towns, most larger villages would have six services to Cambridge an hour instead of the usual two services, and they’d have more direct links to places like Cambridge Biomedical Campus and the hospitals, the science park, and the west Cambridge site.

“They’d also have express services that would cut about 30 minutes off a typical kind of journey time from some of the large towns and villages into the city in a typical day.

“In terms of the rural villages, they would go from having only a small number of services a day, or even no services, and aim to go to an hourly service, which would run into the evening – so kind of 10 times or more the number of buses than they are getting at the moment.”

Ms Wade also spoke of smaller mini buses circulating within the central area between neighbourhoods to serve those people not on the main bus routes.

Cllr Alex Beckett, a Liberal Democrat city councillor for Queen Edith’s, welcomed the move for smaller shuttle buses, but added: “At the moment when you look at that, it’s all about outside of Cambridge – there’s very, very little from people inside Cambridge.

“One of the other things that I think we do really need to think about as well is access for city centre residents or city residents that want to get out of Cambridge again. This seems to think a lot about people coming in.

“We just need to make sure that we don’t necessarily solve everybody’s use case, but we have broad brushstrokes that can help people with their most common journeys that they have

to make.”

Young people having free would start a culture change - Cllr Rosy Moore

Ms Wade added: “And we’re also looking at fares. So the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s strategic bus review found that a £1 flat fare in Cambridge city would see an extra 1.6 million bus journeys a year.

“Alternatively, a 25 per cent reduction in fares across Cambridgeshire would mean an extra 2.5 million bus journeys a year, so they’re various options that could be looked at around targeted fare reductions all across the board.

“The fare changes would build on the service changes to make the bus not only reliable and attractive alternatives to the car, but for many people cheaper.”

Cllr Rosy Moore
Cllr Rosy Moore

Labour city councillor Rosy Moore, executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, who comes from London, said: “I was struck coming to Cambridge how it’s just not really in the culture, for people to use public transport, and obviously that’s because there isn’t suitable public transport to use.

“By starting with young people having free travel, it would encourage – it would start a culture change, because then they would use transport, but also it might encourage families if it’s cheaper to drive into the city centre and park in the car park than it is for your whole family to get the bus. It will promote that modal shift.”

Cllr Heather Williams, Conservative group leader at South Cambridgeshire District Council, spoke of a need to look at timetables to ensure that buses connected with other services, including rail, as well as ensuring that transport met the needs of people travelling into the city and not just those in the city centre.

Business representative Heather Richards, CEO of Transversal, agreed: “Where are all those buses going to go? Surely they all can’t be joining somewhere within the city centre itself.

“So, what part of this proposal are we going to be putting forth as a solution to get people to that last mile of the journey or, if it’s not the last mile of your journey, to that interchange that is going to be required to continue.

“I think otherwise we’re solving from point A to B journeys and nothing beyond that, which I’m afraid isn’t going to get the number of people required out of their cars.”

An eletcric bus in Cambridge, part-funded by the GCP. Picture: Andrew Wilkinson
An eletcric bus in Cambridge, part-funded by the GCP. Picture: Andrew Wilkinson

Cllr Eileen Wilson, a Liberal Democrat representing Cottenham on the district council, welcomed news that the proposed network map will be enhanced to include other villages that may need to be served.

She said: “It’s very difficult for people living there. They have to use cars – they just can’t get out and about.

“So these are people that we really need to think about as well when we’re looking at the bigger villages, that’s where we can get wins to get people out of their cars, because it’s right once people are in their cars they’re not going to get out unless it’s very, very simple.”

Cllr Williams, who represents the Mordens, added: “I do think we need to really not see the rural areas as a secondary thing if you want change and you want to reduce the number of cars into the city.

“That area probably needs more focus, or as much focus as you can give it, and will be the more challenging to achieve, because there’s just not anything in a lot of places at

the moment.”

The proposals discussed at the September 9 meeting are part of the GCP’s strategic vision for a “world-class, sustainable and joined-up transport network” that links the planned segregated busways and Greenways active travel routes – and puts the area on the path to net-zero carbon.

The GCP will work in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council and the Combined Authority to deliver this. Subject to agreement from the executive board, the GCP will launch a consultation in the autumn.

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