Tuesday 29th September 2020
It was disappointing to hear Stagecoach has split its Oxford to Cambridge route X5 in Bedford. The X5 is the well established bus equivalent of East-West Rail now under active development.
The half hourly frequency has been retained throughout but the opportunity has been taken to convert the more heavily used eastern section between Bedford, St Neots and Cambridge to double deck and renumbered 905. Handy ‘seamless’ connections are available in Bedford with the truncated coach operated X5 between Bedford, Milton Keynes, Buckingham, Bicester and Oxford.
The new 905 has also had a route makeover into and out of Cambridge and now serves the huge Science Park in the north east of the city as well as using the upgraded A14.
The route also serves part of the expanding ‘new town’ of Cambourne to the west of Cambridge much to the delight of the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority who had an almighty row with the Greater Cambridge Partnership over the best way to provide transport for the area.
Combined Authority Mayor James Palmer has a long term grand vision for a ‘Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro’ (CAM) including 140 miles of exclusive ‘track’ across the wider Authority area while the more locally focused Partnership wants to deliver a lower key busway from Cambourne into Cambridge. Palmer said he’d dig up the busway if it got built and reckons a short term solution of improving bus routes to get residents in the habit of using public transport is what’s needed while he works on his CAM idea.
Stagecoach introducing the new 905 to supplement its existing local routes between Cambourne and Cambridge is therefore very timely.
I caught the 905 departure at 12:00 as fine rain was falling in Cambridge this morning to see how the new arrangements are working out.
The 905, like the X5 before it, doesn’t depart from Drummer Street bus station, which is a pity as that’s where convenient connections to other local bus routes would be available and is the obvious place for it.
Instead it departs a few minutes walk away in Parkside where National Express coaches also depart from a very basic shelter for each.
It feels a somewhat exposed location and although there’s a reassuring electronic departure sign in the shelter and a notice telling passengers about the route split and renumbering, the absence of a 905 timetable (and even an X5 to show connections) was noticeable and regrettable.
My bus arrived a little late from its previous journey and after a truncated five minute layover (scheduled 13 minutes), the driver was back in the cab with us all on board for an on time departure to Bedford.
It was a nicely appointed Enviro400 with grey coloured leather-like seating, usb and Wi-fi. It’s a shame there was just seven of us on board.
The journey to Bedford was uneventful. Neither the new route via the Science Park nor the diversion via a tree lined Cambourne yielded any passengers.
A brief scheduled one minute pause in St Neots saw two of our passengers depart with another two boarding, one of whom just travelled locally. The other continued to Bedford where the five other passengers from Cambridge also alighted.
We arrived on time at 13:17 as had the X5 already on the stand for its 13:30 departure. I noticed two of the Cambridge passengers transfer on to the Oxford bound X5 travelling on to Milton Keynes.
The driver took the 905 bus over to Bedford bus garage and another driver soon arrived back with it ready for its 13:30 departure to Cambridge.
Neither the 905 nor X5 use the head on stands with its enclosed waiting and circulating area in Bedford bus station instead departing from an exposed shelter less lay-by type arrangement in front of the head on stands. I wouldn’t want to wait in wet or windy weather. Still at least the departure stops are next to each other for those passengers connecting.
The X5 left Bedford on time at 13:30. Whereas the 905 takes an hour and seventeen minutes, journey time on the X5 is 2 hours and 16 minutes, but the coach gives a very comfortable ride and the interior comes with well appointed seats, usb and Wi-fi.
We left with seven on board all travelling to Milton Keynes – one to the Coachway, four to the shopping centre and two to the station.
We picked two passengers up at the Coachway (one travelling to Buckingham and one to Oxford), and one passenger boarded at Milton Keynes station for Oxford where we had enough time to pause for about five minutes – as we did in Buckingham for another scheduled six minute pause.
This gave me time to have a stretch of the legs and check out how the X5 truncation has been handled on what is one of Best Impressions’ best liveries.
A faded Cambridge can just about be seen, on the sides, but it’s a bit unfortunate the way Cambridge has been removed from some of the rears. I’m surprised a reference to connections to the new 905 wasn’t added instead of a clumsy cut out job.
Still, at least Bedford still works as a destination to promote, even though it hasn’t quite got the tourist pull of Cambridge.
I left my friendly X5 driver and two passengers for their final 30 minute leg into Oxford, at Bicester North station having noticed a slightly late Chiltern Railways train was heading south, giving an excellent and ‘seamless’ connection and a quick journey back to Marylebone to end my round trip day out.
The disappointing passenger numbers are obviously still impacted by coronavirus caution. Thankfully routes 905 and X5 are benefitting from the DfT’s continued Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant Restart payments, which is just as well.
As is Chiltern Railways receiving Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements payments. With my train from Birmingham Snow Hill arriving into Marylebone at 16:08 with just 26 on board, that’s just as well too.
Particularly bearing in mind the draconian seat restrictions Chiltern are imposing.