South Cambridgeshire faces several transportation challenges. While we have reasonable service coverage from bus and rail in some areas, other parts of the district are comparatively neglected. With Combined Authority Mayor James Palmer focusing more resources towards his metro project and away from immediate solutions involving buses and park and ride services, this neglect looks set to continue.
It is simple to suggest light railway or autonomous vehicles as shiny and semi-futuristic solutions that capture the imagination and leave their champions a lasting legacy, but they won’t be available any time soon. They are costly at a time where our local government agencies are suffering from continual cuts in the name of Tory austerity (unless, that is, you happen to operate a Combined Authority office which has gone vastly over budget).
It’s easy to criticise though, and whilst it is important to scrutinise current plans and projects we also need to be able to suggest alternatives which could potentially improve transport for local people in South Cambridgeshire. The goal must be to deliver fairly-priced travel to as many people as possible over both the short and the long term.
To provide these alternatives, we need to work out what we’re trying to do with our transport. As a starting point, here are some principles which, although not exhaustive, seem to cover most points:
- Fair prices
- Regular timetables
- Reduces congestion
- Promotes an environmental solution
- Realistic cost of implementation
- Deliverable in the short term
- Meets the needs of potential users
- Delivers a social benefit
As an example, and our start to this conversation on South Cambs transport, there are some measures being taken by the Greater Cambridge Partnership to examine how feasible Rural Travel Hubs might be in Oakington and Sawston. I was present for a recent consultation session on the Sawston proposal. These Rural Travel Hubs would effectively be miniature Park and Rides with an emphasis on accessibility for pedestrian and cycle traffic, and where possible proximity to railway stations. In the Sawston meeting it was suggested that community transport could also make use of the facilities to help ferry the less mobile to these central points.
With journeys directed over shorter distances to these hubs, it is hoped that they would cut congestion and pollution, and help connect some areas which are suffering from poor or non-existent public transport coverage.
It was emphasised that any development of these sites would be on a trial basis, but this would still be sooner than other, more glamorous and costly solutions. I believe they may be able to accommodate all the points above, although at the meeting I attended there was still some scepticism over its efficacy, and dispute over the proposed location. No matter how good some facilities may be, if they’re poorly placed they will not encourage use.
This is also reliant on bus providers being willing to accommodate any new Rural Travel Hubs. No such conversations had yet taken place when the consultations happened, but these would be essential to make sure they worked; like the placing of any hubs, failure on this count would scupper the whole trial.
When queried about the single biggest obstacle to increased bus usage, the main (but not only) answer was bus fare pricing – something that the construction of Rural Travel Hubs would not address. Taking any funding for Rural Travel Hubs and using it to subsidise some bus services is an immediate thought here, but it would not provide the long-term impact which is being sought.
The Rural Travel Hub concept is by no means a magic bullet. It has the potential to fall flat on its face if any of its component parts are poorly executed, and there are some elements it does not confront, such as bus timetables and bus fare pricing (which is decidedly unfair at times). These issues show the holistic nature of the issues we’re facing – we need to think about many aspects and not just focus on one area if we are going to provide better services for our communities in South Cambs.
This is not a small topic, and to be properly comprehensive about all the possibilities and pitfalls, Labour in South Cambridgeshire will examine the proposals in greater detail, so we can make South Cambs a better place to live, relax and work for the many, not the few.
By Rob Grayston