Buses: Team effort’ to improve service

THE only way to get Huntingdonshire out of cars and onto buses is to create a more co-ordinated service, according to the district s business community. And to do that it is vital that the bus operators meet with business leaders to stimulate the necessar

THE only way to get Huntingdonshire out of cars and onto buses is to create a more co-ordinated service, according to the district's business community.

And to do that it is vital that the bus operators meet with business leaders to stimulate the necessary change, said Malcolm Lyons, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses Huntingdonshire branch.

The problems - and the plus points - of using the bus network for the daily commute in Huntingdonshire, and Cambourne was highlighted during tests carried out by The Hunts Post last week.

While certain bus routes were found to be quick and efficient, other rural routes confirmed the car is the only realistic option.

"There is still a lot of work to do to get people to work by bus and to co-ordinate the services we already have," said Mr Lyons. "We understand that the bus companies have a business to run, but we think there could be a better approach.

"What we must do is make sure that we can get buses working in co-ordination. We need to get Whippet and Huntingdon and District together with businesses and the county council."

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One suggestion put forward by Mr Lyons is for the introduction of express services from outlying towns to the main employment centres. Smaller buses would then ferry passengers from villages to the express bus stops, with the aim of creating a fast service open to a wider section of the district.

"We need express buses with limited stops and further, smaller buses to service these. Bus journey times are unacceptable. Commuters to London may expect a long journey on public transport, but you shouldn't have to accept this within your own district," Mr Lyons said.

While there are already a number of meetings involving bus companies and business, there is still a willingness among the bus firms to discuss new ideas.

Peter Lee, a director at Whippet, said: "Obviously, I would support any kind of meeting or project that gets more people travelling on buses. We try to work with other bus companies but we are all in competition and unfortunately, we can do only what is financially viable.

"In terms of an express service to business centres, it is difficult to operate smaller vehicles because they tend not to be financially viable. I think once someone gets in a car it is very hard to tempt them onto public transport."

Terry Mead, general manager of Huntingdon and District, agreed.

He said: "Any idea has to be financially viable. We have in the past worked with other bus operators but we are all in competition now. I imagine with the guided bus we will start working together again."

Andy Campbell, managing director of Stagecoach in Cambridge, said there would be problems with an express service.

"We attract commuters onto our buses by offering high frequency to the places people want to be. If you are using buses just to travel to business centres like suggested in an express service, you have to decide what to do with those buses after the peak commuting hours."

Cambridgeshire County Council has suggested that, if a meeting is to take place, it should be held between bus operators, businesses and a group called Cambridgeshire Travel for Work Partnership.

The partnership offers free advice on how businesses can implement workplace travel plans, designed to deliver and promote sustainable and healthy travel to work.

A spokesman said the organisation was in contact with many Huntingdonshire employers and would welcome more businesses encouraging workers to use buses.

However, John Bridge, chief executive of the Huntingdonshire Chamber of Commerce, said there needed to be improvements to public transport before people would consider leaving their cars at home.

"It is not possible to use the buses for the journeys that people in this area want to make to get to work. It is unrealistic to expect people to use public transport to get to work if the funding and services are not in place. We need to know what the local authorities are going to do to improve public transport."

INFORMATION: Can you use buses to get to work? Send your views to editor@huntspost.co.uk or to The Hunts Post, 30 High Street, Huntingdon, Cambs, PE29 3TB. For details about Travel for Work, visit www.tfw.org.uk or call Mark Webb on 01223 712429.

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