I met Andy Campbell, Stagecoach MD, this morning along with Campbell Ross-Bain from the County Council. It was a follow up to previous meetings, both with him and his busway supervisor on site, to explore ways to improve capacity at the Histon & Impington stop, morning peak southbound.
Problem is: on a good day there’s sufficient capacity but if there’s rain demand is pushed up. Then there’s congestion in Cambridge and the bollards which restrict access to the Busway at St Ives which reduce capacity. On days when one or more of these come into play then there’s insufficient capacity, lots of standing on the buses and sometimes buses are too full to board at Histon & Impington.
This is compounded by steadily increasing demand. Patronage this year is 5% up on 12 months ago.
Plus of course Stagecoach is a private company which runs a pretty tight ship and doesn’t have spare buses with which to add capacity at short notice when it’s needed.
The good news is that Stagecoach is taking delivery of two extra buses at Easter and these will be used to add extra A route capacity.
However I suspect that we’ll still have days when the system can’t cope because Stagecoach’s business model is only to add buses when it can be sure that they will be heavily used. What’s to be done in the meantime?
First we can sort out the problems in St Ives. They’re a drain on system capacity and benefit nobody. Typically travellers from north of the Busway itself are having to sit on the bus for 10-15 minutes waiting for access. It’s up to CCC to work with the Town Council to sort this out.
Secondly there is something that the smart traveller might do. The N service runs pretty empty. It goes via Cambridge North Station and takes 16 minutes to get to Drummer Street. That’s a full 2 minutes longer than the A service. That wouldn’t seem like a large price to pay for a seat. The B service also takes 16 minutes.
It’s not a perfect situation. Stagecoach needs to be continuously reminded of its role in being the major provider on the Busway. That brings it responsibilities even though these might not be contractual. By and large it delivers a good service with clean modern buses but just sometimes it lets its customers down and this shouldn’t happen. Fortunately it does engage and it just might be the case that the improvements which we now expect are a result of this.