Changing how buses operate in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is vital to our transport future. Doing nothing is not an option.
My Six District Challenge tour last week, using just public transport, has only strengthened my determination to bring radical change to our buses.
You only need to look at how popular something as simple as the recent £2 cap on fares has been to understand that making buses better has to be the priority.
It is clear how valued our bus services are, and to many, they are essential public services.
The loss of these services would mean access to work, education, health services, social contact, and other important things, would be made significantly harder, or worse still, impossible for some.
But on the positive side, a big improvement in our services would open up more opportunities for careers, education, and training, and accessing shopping, leisure, and culture.
More services would therefore help communities, rural and urban, come closer together.
More individuals will be able to get on in life and their careers, and our high streets and local economies would be more vibrant and prosperous.
Better buses would ultimately support the wider Combined Authority goal to have a healthier, wealthier, greener, higher skilled, happier, and more connected society.
Our ambitions are not modest. We want to double the amount bus usage across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough by 2030.
We want using buses to become second nature for our residents as a result of improvements. This means they are more affordable, more reliable, more frequent, and more convenient.
I want to work towards a franchised bus system, giving us vastly more control over services. We are working right now on whether and how that could be delivered.
And achieving our net zero carbon ambitions is also dependent on more people using public transport, with public transport itself becoming cleaner and greener.
We know from various transport consultations with the public that there is huge support in the region to radically change our bus network to work better for people.
We are working on it. Our Bus Strategy, adopted by the Combined Authority in March 2023, sets out our ambition and objectives to create a bus service of a quality not seen before in the UK in what is a largely rural region.
Our emerging Bus Service Improvement Plan work will identify to Government the huge ambition we have for our bus network and the investment we need to help make it happen.
For decades now, Government investment in public transport in our region has stagnated. We can see that impact in our own bus network.
Our deregulated system, beholden to the balance sheets of private bus operators, is not delivering the levels of service we need.
It’s high time for change.
Our wider programme of Bus Reform, driven by our Bus Strategy, is underway. The focus is turning to delivery.
We’ve already supported, together with the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), 30 new zero-emission electric ‘Zebra’ buses into the Cambridge fleet.
We are also working on the electrification of the bus fleet in Peterborough. This includes setting aside funding to bring forward a new depot in the city with room for charging points for electric buses and being ready with a pitch for additional ‘Zebra’ funding from Government.
And we do have successful parts of the bus network, including the park and rides, the Busway and the Combined Authority-funded innovative ‘Uber-style’ demand-responsive service Ting.
What will be crucial to a better bus future is partnership working. That includes with Government, as we continue to make the case to them for more investment in our bus and transport network, including cycling and walking.
We will continue to work in partnership locally, including with our local councils and the GCP. We are already listening carefully to the analysis from the GCP’s recent Making Connections consultation.
There was a huge amount of feedback, including a vast amount of support for the high-quality bus services that were part of the proposals.
And working with bus operators is also important. They ultimately deliver the services people rely on, and we want to make them active partners in our efforts to improve the system, including by working with them to secure additional funding from Government.
Buses are integral to the low-carbon, more prosperous, healthier future for our region. Reversing decades of underinvestment will never be easy or simple.
But I believe a consistent and determined approach will help us deliver an affordable, reliable, convenient, and sustainable bus network that the region needs and deserves.”
The Combined Authority Bus Strategy: https://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/bus-strategy/#:~:text=The%20Bus%20Strategy%20aims%20to,Local%20Transport%20and%20Connectivity%20Plan.
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