Wednesday 19th February 2020
I took a ride on the Cambridge Busway earlier today to look at Stagecoach’s latest vehicles purchased specifically to increase capacity to meet growing demand on the popular link from St Ives to the city as well as other destinations as far away as Peterborough and Royston.
Eighteen vehicles costing £5 million have been bought including 12 ADL Enviro400XLB mega sized tri-axle buses seating 100 and six MCV EvoRa-bodied Volvo B8RLEs.
I didn’t spot any of the MCV single decks out today but the tri-axles were in service on route B and they really do look mega; maybe it’s the plain unbroken ocean green livery they’ve entered service in which seems to over emphasise their length?
I guess they’ll soon be dressed with Busway branded vinyls which will make them look more attractive and welcoming. Perhaps this is waiting corporate permission from Stagecoach HQ in view of the Group’s new approach to localised brands (ie abolish them – all too confusing and all that).
The route taken by Busway buses in central Cambridge involves some very narrow corners and twists and turns and I was very impressed with the way Stagecoach drivers manoeuvred around the tight spots with ease despite the length of the bus.
I’m not sure why double doors have been specified as that takes away space for a second wheelchair and buggies on such a large vehicle with lots of seats for able bodied passengers. When I alighted at a stop along the Busway the driver only opened the front door so I had to make a quick dash to the front. I asked whether the centre doors were being used and he shrugged his shoulders indicating not.
However I can imagine having two doors will help to offload a hundred peak hour passengers in a hurry to get to work and minimise stop dwell times so perhaps it does make sense.
Like Lothian’s tri-axles there are two sets of double seats back to back over the rear wheel pairs …
…..whereas it would be an ideal area to remodel as Transdev Blazefield have done with their ledge type tables over wheel arches or perhaps something more radical like a a rounded sofa or two!
Upstairs there’s adequate but not generous leg room between seats which are quite smart looking and importantly are comfortable to sit on for the average journey length on the Busway.
I’m very pleased the specification wasn’t the Stagecoach standard bright blue and orange as that really would look overly garish on so many seats.
There are usb sockets …
… and good to see at the rear another operator going for the four seat option although the cushion comfort is not so good….
… and not upstairs where five seats have been squeezed in.
The audio-visual next stop announcements weren’t working – just displaying ‘Depot Test’.
No tables or some of the other refinements I found on Monday’s ‘excel’ outing but these are Busway workhorses and they fit the bill for what’s required but are a bit basic for such a high profile and busy route.
While travelling on the Busway today I noticed the timetable isn’t very coordinated to make the most of the frequency.
During the daytime on the guided Busway itself there are eight buses an hour – four running as route B – and four as route A (with one of those serving Cambridge North and designated route D). But instead of providing an even 7/8 minute frequency it’s a 15 minute service with the buses on routes A and B following each other in the eastbound direction with a 2/13 minute uneven spacing westbound which, from my observations today, were actually running together too.
I appreciate there are complications in marrying up different ends of the routes as some route A buses continue hourly to Royston and others turn at Trumpington and hourly B buses continue to Peterborough and others turn at Huntingdon but there’s got to be a better way than the current rather inefficient pathing.
Things are no doubt also complicated by the prolonged closure of the eastern end of the Busway for maintenance meaning a diversion for route A buses and what’s become an extended temporary timetable.
At a public meeting last November Stagecoach promised a revamp of the timetable to offer a regular five minute frequency on the Busway during the peak period. The current timetable includes no less than seventeen eastbound departures from St Ives between 07:00 and 08:00 with a maximum gap between journeys of five minutes which is impressive. With many of these journeys operated by these 100 seaters there should be plenty of capacity for everyone.
I noticed a sign in the cycle park at the Oakington stop reminding Busway passengers to buy a ticket before travel. On my last visit I recall being confused by contradictory messages of this kind.
It was the same today as notices in the shelters confirmed tickets can be purchased from the driver, and still making reference to Whippet who no longer operate along the Busway.
And indeed there’s no ticket machine in the westbound shelter to buy a ticket before travel.
And the one in the eastbound shelter wasn’t working. This does need sorting once and for all and a ‘notice audit’ wouldn’t go amiss. It might ensure passengers don’t say they’re confused when asked by market researchers for their views on liveries.
While in Cambridge today I took the opportunity to ride on one of Stagecoach East’s two electric BYD ADL Enviro400EV City buses which entered service on Monday on citi route 6 which provides a half hourly frequency between Oakington and Girton (to the north west of the city) and the city centre – appropriately enough depicted in green on the network map.
They’re liveried up in the new Stagecoach corporate livery which looks to me as though it’s a variation of the one denoting a ‘specialist’ service, being ocean green, whereas citi route 6 is very much a ‘local’ service – a bit confusing to my mind.
I did notice the Greater Cambridge Partnership logo bears a striking resemblance to the new Stagecoach colours, which is a happy coincidence, and also the white livery was looking somewhat grey already.
However it was good to see passengers noticed the buses being something special with a few positive comments along the way about them being electric and giving a smooth ride.
Internally they’re kitted out in the standard Stagecoach bright blue and orange scheme with seats that are perfectly comfortable for an urban bus route but not in the luxurious league for longer inter-urban rides and as I’ve mentioned before, for me, a more subtle colour scheme would work slightly better.
There are usb sockets and audio visual displays …
… but no other refinements and we’re back to five uncomfortable low back seats across the upper deck rear too.
More positively the buses give a very smooth and quiet ride, which is important.
I always think if a bus route is being fully upgraded with impressive and expensive new buses it would be nice if the opportunity was taken to upgrade other infrastructure too so it befits the new image for the whole catch-a-bus travel experience.
It was particularly noticeable how dirty the bus stop flags were looking all along route 6 and how beneficial it would be if they too were given a makeover. Mind you, this bus shelter in Girton really did look splendid. It almost tempted me to get off and take a wait for the next bus!
Cambridge was its usual colourful self today despite the drizzly rain with various attractive Park and Ride liveries (please don’t paint them all in the same ocean green new style) but despite five high profile edge of town P&R car parks it was frustratingly slow travelling between the station and the city centre, despite bus lanes which were tantalisingly inaccessible due to long queues leading up to them. No wonder the Mayor is coming up with all kinds of schemes to ease congestion.
Extending the current ban on cars from inner city streets across a wider central area would seem a good short term solution with more of these impressive new buses to boost capacity and provide an alternative.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.