Good news for the guided bus - at last

IT’S not the announcement of an opening date and, no, BAM Nuttall has not agreed to refund Cambridgeshire County Council �45million of the overspend on the project.

GOOD news for the guided bus. No, it’s not the announcement of an opening date and, no, BAM Nuttall has not agreed to refund Cambridgeshire County Council �45million of the overspend on the project.

The good news is that it works.

The testing which took place on Thursday on the guideway between St Ives and Cambridge was a success – the signals, the buses and concrete guideway work in splendid harmony.

The testing – which involved Stagecoach, CCC and BAM Nuttall – was also another opportunity for the developers to show why �181million and several years (it was first formally proposed in 2001) have been spent on this project.

The busway is almost certain to be more than two years late when it opens – although the legal argument about responsibility for the overspend will ensure the construction of the project is talked about for years to come.

The question is whether, once up and running, the busway will be an asset to Huntingdonshire and will offer quick car-free access into Cambridge from St Ives and vice versa.

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Bob Menzies, head of delivery for the guided busway, thinks so.

“People will see it in a very different light when it is finished,” he said. “It does what we said it would.

“I think people will realise the benefits of being able to get from Cambridge to St Ives in 16 minutes.

“I know one person who has bought a house in St Ives because of the proximity to the guided busway.”

Mr Menzies is confident that, once people have used the busway, it will become a staple part of the public transport diet.

What’s more, he suggests new housing development like Northstowe and Glebe Farm in Cambridge will benefit greatly from the busway.

True to his word, the bus testing the signals last week took 16 minutes to travel from Cambridge Science Park on the edge of the city to St Ives (the footnote here is that there were no paying passengers and the same journey is timetabled to take 20 minutes).

Stagecoach, one of two operators to use the busway, the other being Whippet, has invested heavily. The now- familiar buses in the �3m fleet haveair-conditioning, leather seats and free wireless internet.

Stagecoach managing director Andy Campbell said: “It’s pretty impressive in terms of journey times. It’s a smooth ride. Once people have experienced it they will use it again and again.”

He added: “It’s been very frustrating for us and we still haven’t had a firm opening date. But we’re still confident it’s going to be successful.”

“[The public are] probably as frustrated as we are. There has been no real explanation as to why the delays have been so long.”

And herein lies the issue: will the delays and bad publicity prevent the guided bus from being a success? Or will that all be a distant memory once the project finally starts carrying passengers?

The answer is likely to lie somewhere in between.

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