Cambridge Area Bus Users’ Group launches with cross-party support

Summary

On the formation of a new citizens’ pressure group in support of better bus services.

Over 40 people took time out from the Strawberry Fair / a warm & sunny Saturday to go along to this gathering. (The group is also on FB at https://www.facebook.com/cbgareabususers/) Queries to wood.in.mill.road@gmail.com

I was one of them as I am a regular – almost daily bus user. In times gone by I was a regular cyclist, and had I been more aware, would probably have signed up to membership of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign in my teens & 20s.

Young people conspicuous by their absence. Again.

Primarily because of exams and the Strawberry Fair – and inevitable limitations of trying to organise a meeting at short notice. Having raised this at the meeting, one of the autumn actions is to run a series of stalls and publicity events outside the larger further education colleges, and ideally make these stalls annual events to cover the new cohort of students that might be taking long distance bus routes to college and back for the first time in their lives.

Learning from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Who are already setting a good example to campaign groups in Cambridge generally.

Active at local festivals

…and influencing opinion in the local media (or raising levels of anger if you are a motorist who doesn’t like cyclists in principle and refuses to be swayed).

For me, it’s the annual recruitment of college students that will make or break the campaign – simply on the grounds that they are the ones who form one of the largest group of users, and at the same time could be the people who, at the start of every academic year could bring their pressure to bear not just on the transport providers but also on local political parties too. Furthermore, there is an incentive on local political parties to be receptive should the campaign group be successful in recruiting, as some of these could be future party members.

‘My issue with Mayor James Palmer is…’

Buses and Park & Ride came up at Public Questions to the Mayor last week.

At the Combined Authority, Fenland District Council HQ, March, Cambs. 30 May 2018.

One of the major concerns from some people was The Mayor not being seen to prioritise bus franchising and bus transport. Part of that was due to the first piece of correspondence being sent by the campaign was before it had been formally constituted. As things stand, over 30 people (myself included) put their money into signing up to the campaign (suggested membership donation being £5 for those that can afford it, but free to those who genuinely cannot).

We dealt with some of the complexities of how broad the campaign should be. For example one or two people were against the proposed Cambridge Metro/underground light rail, in favour of buses, while at the other end is me & Puffles wanting both a light rail underground *and* a fleet of environmentally friendly electric buses serving Cambridge, alongside a decent network of segregated cycleways and footpaths. I said that dragons live for a lot longer than humans, therefore our timeframe is of the order of 100 years+ rather than the 10-30 years spoken by the institutions. After all, if our predecessors had extended, then electrified the Cambridge Tram Network of the late 1800s, what would Cambridge look like today? Thus we agreed to keep things focussed just on buses – acknowledging the need for buses to be part of a wider sustainable transport system for Cambridge.

A strong start

Having that many people rocking up (And not just the ‘usual suspects’) on a sunny Saturday afternoon with such a big local fair on that day shows that there are a core of people who want to take action on improving buses. For all the concern there was over Stagecoach – and their article at http://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/cambridge/franchise-the-buses-you-need-money-in-the-tank-1-5543557 on bus franchising, Andy Campbell of Stagecoach East has been on public record saying that Cambridge needs a local bus users’ campaign to support his efforts to improve bus services through increased subsidies from local councils amongst other things. Personally I think it was a huge error not to have him on the Greater Cambridge Partnership Assembly at the start – and his absence (& that of Whippet coaches) remains a problem. This doesn’t change my personal view that the privatisation of buses by Thatcher was a huge error, and that the buses should be renationalised, properly subsidised and properly co-ordinated across council boundaries.

Risks

There is a risk that in the process of campaigning, some may see it as open season against whichever political party or political figure they happen to dislike at the time. With Labour running Cambridge City Council, The Lib Dems running South Cambridgeshire, the Conservatives running Cambridgeshire County Council (the highways authority) and Mayor James Palmer although being a Conservative candidate is very much being ‘his own man’ rather than a ‘placeman’ of the county council, means that party politics (internal and external) may not be far from the surface.

To be fair, some councillors from all parties indicated that though they supported the launch, they said due to conflicts of interest they would not be joining the organisation at the start as they saw the campaign group as one for the public by the public, and that they were there to listen to concerns brought up. Other councillors however chose to join. One of the things that the campaign may need to consider in its constitution is protocols on how to manage the inevitable local party interest, and act in a manner that at least tries to maintain the confidence of all of the local parties. This is because at some stage the campaign group is likely to find itself opposing, or at least having concerns with certain policies from each of the political parties in control of the various councils across the county.

Any questions about the campaign should be directed to Richard Wood at wood.in.mill.road@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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