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Travelling the Busway blog

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What is being proposed?

What is a guided busway?

Cambridgeshire County Council is proposing to convert the dormant Cambridge to St.Ives railway line into a guided busway. The railway track will be lifted and concreted over with adjacent land compulsorily purchased. The railway will be destroyed - trains could never run again.It is a private road for buses with high kerbs on either side between which a specially modified bus would be driven. The busway can only be used for buses (not emergency vehicles or taxis) and only those that have been expensively modified to fit special guide wheels next to the front wheels.

Advantages of a guided busway?

Disadvantages of a guided busway?

It is claimed that a bus in a busway would be faster and more comfortable than the same bus on a road without a bus lane. A busway could be used only by buses, not as a rat-run for cars. Journey times on the busway ought to be consistent, as buses would not get stuck behind cars or lorries only other buses (which they couldn't overtake). Because the steering wheel is effectively disabled, the ride might be smoother since the bus would not sway from side to side. However, the concrete surface might be less comfortable and more noisy than tarmac.The guided bus has "all the pain of the train but none of the gain". Anything that could go wrong with a train, such as one breaking down and blocking the line, would also happen to a bus. Unlike a train, one bus could not give another a push, and a guided bus could not reverse out of the busway. As well as suffering problems compared to normal buses, the guided bus would be limited to 43mph, compared to a train's 70mph limit in the County Council's 1994 plan. One driver could only carry a bus-load of passengers, instead of the 300+ that a train can carry.

Where are there other guided busways?

A guided busway in Adelaide, Australia, is highly-regarded by the locals. However, it has not been a financial success since the system has never been extended. In Essen, Germany, an experimental guided busway has operated for 10-years on a former tramline. However, is switching back to trams. The remaining busway will be dismantled once it becomes life-expired after just 20 years.In Leeds, several stretches of busway have been built on wide roads but these have only attracted a few people out of their cars. Leeds later chose to reintroduce trams to the city.
Britain's first guided busway in the 1980's - in Birmingham - was abandoned after only three years as unviable. A 200-metre busway opened in Ipswich in 1995. It had to be rebuilt two years because it was too narrow for new buses.There's also a guided busway in Bradford and a 250-metre one opened recently in Crawley Very few guided busways have been built and Britain is the only country that is currently constructing new ones.

What are the risks of building a guided busway?

The busway being proposed between the Cambridge Science Park and St.Ives bypass will be the longest busway in the world, and also the only inter-urban busway in the world. Whilst a small number of busways have been technically proven over two decades, nothing of the scale or type proposed for the St.Ives line has been tried before. People have called the busway a 'white elephant'.Britain's privatised and deregulated bus system doesn't ensure that a bus company will use the 80+ million busway that Cambridgeshire County Council wants taxpayers to fund. Rival operators could run buses on the roads for lower fares because they will not have to pay to use the busway. Existing operators may abandon existing rural bus services in order to transfer their limited number of buses and hard-to-recruit drivers to services on the busway.

A politician's view

Cambridge City MP Anne Campbell, writing to constituents said: "I do not feel that the need for mass transit in and around Cambridge should allow us to use this precious corridor for a means of transport which could just as well use the road."

Is a guided busway suitable for Cambridge?

The guided-busway is back to front. The biggest transport problem in Cambridge is cross-city journeys, which the railway is capable of delivering. However, there will be no busway in the centre of Cambridge and buses must come off the busway and merge with the heavy traffic loads in the narrow streets. Buses will get stuck in the traffic and the journey times will become unpredictable, with the timetable becoming unreliable. To overcome the Achilles heel of the busway, Cambridge Futures 2 proposed a hugely expensive long tunnel under the city just for guided buses.The busway will only provide local journeys between St.Ives and Cambridge/Trumpington. Anyone wishing to start or finish at any point which is not on the busway route will need to change buses and/or drive. The busway is completely useless for other journeys, such as between the major workplaces north of Cambridge (Science Park, Regional College, Histon Vision Park) and London, Stansted Airport. Direct trains could carry passengers seamlessly through Cambridge, and would not be emitting diesel fumes through the streets.

Is the guided busway definitely going to happen?

Cambridgeshire County Council is claiming that the guided bus is a done deal. They claim that the government has said it will only pay for a busway, not for improved bus services, trains, trams or any other transport system. They say that the A14 road-widening cannot happen without the busway, despite the government having found the 430m for the A14 (which is an important route between the east coast ports and the midlands). The Government has confirmed the A14 will be widened regardless. The majority of the railway line between Cambridge and St.Ives could be reopened by 2006, since refurbishment could start immediately. Construction of the busway cannot commence until 2006 (after the general election). It will not carry a passenger before 2008.The County Council has asked the Government for 73 million to build the basic busway (not the buses) in July 2002. Government is still questioning the value for money of the busway, has offered no money yet and has said it will not give 100% funding. The County Council will have to part-fund the busway out of money intended for other local purposes. The County Council has yet to get a majority of councillors (30 out of 59) to vote in favour of the busway, which might not happen. The busway plan must be submitted to government, which will force a public inquiry. Many organisations, and people/businesses who will have their land taken from them intend to object to the busway. Even if the busway is approved (late 2005 at the earliest) a judicial review is still possible.

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Site last modified June 2022