Monday, September 19, 2011

Trying the Guided Busway

The Cambridge Busway opened recently - two years late, and millions of pounds over budget. So, many of us have taken to calling it the misguided busway instead.

A couple of weeks ago we went to St. Ives (to the beer festival, which meant that public transport is an ideal choice). As that's directly served by the busway, it seemed an ideal opportunity to try it out and see what all the fuss is about.

Compared to the old bus service, not much has changed. We got on and off the same vehicles at the same places, and the cost was the same. By and large, I would have said that journey times were pretty similar too. The bus is definitely comfortable, but the ride is anything but. On the regular road it's very smooth, but the guided sections aren't that great. The track is made up in sections, about a bus length each, and as the bus goes across these you get a regular pitching movement that can start to make you feel seasick. I can't imagine this getting better over time - settling is likely to make the joints worse and the track less even.

OK, so the bus is great for getting from a few places in Cambridge to a few locations along the busway. But that's all. It's very much a one-trick pony. It doesn't fit into a larger scheme, or address any of the area's other transport problems, or have any flexibility to evolve to meet changing needs. And that, to my mind, is a fundamental weakness to the whole project. It doesn't do anything to address issues of freight transportation or long-distance traffic, or even local traffic between villages, and isn't going to take any significant traffic away from the A14.

That's over a hundred million pounds of investment, with minimal impact in a very restricted area. Meanwhile, public transport in Cambridge itself remains extremely poor - overpriced, limited choice, and unreliable.