Bus transport is, and for the foreseeable future will likely remain, an important component in the mix of public transport provision in Cambridge. Buses can offer more flexible services than is possible on a fixed Light Rail line, and this offers advantages for deployment of public transport to a wide range of sites that would be impractical or too expensive by Light Rail. They are suited to routes where patronage is likely to be lower than served by Light Rail, and smaller sized mini-buses can be deployed to areas where demand is low.
Weighed against their advantages, buses are limited in capacity, are less energy efficient than Light Rail (see Light Rail environmental benefits), and, where they do not have their own dedicated busways or buslanes, are subject to congestion delays just like any other traffic. In addition, these large vehicles are typically ~10-12 m in length by 2.5 m in width and weigh up to around 15 tonnes. As such, they require considerable surface space to operate and park, can block other traffic, and can impose on other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. These heavy vehicles with power steering stress inner city roads, increasing road maintenance costs. Buses are also less comfortable, with a typically bouncy ride. On the other hand, modern trams run steel wheels on durable steel rails, making for a much smoother and more comfortable journey.
Cambridge Connect supports the improvement of bus services where they offer real advantages, for example by enabling access to parts of the City relatively inaccessible to a Cambridge Light Rail network and, importantly, by connecting outlying ‘satellite’ towns, villages and employment centres beyond the present practical reach of a city-wide Light Rail network or heavy rail lines.
In the context of Cambridge Connect’s current proposals, buses would play an extremely important role by providing public transport links from outlying areas to nodes on the periphery of the Cambridge Light Rail network (for example, the Park & Ride sites proposed at Girton Interchange, Milton, Wing / Newmarket Road (A14), Babraham, and Hauxton), from which rapid access to the inner City and other important employment centres can be provided. This approach both connects the Light Rail network to the wider regional community and provides the population with effective and efficient means to travel by public transport. The approach would also protect the inner City from environmentally destructive busways along surface radial roads to the City core. To meet needs in the inner City and move people in large and rapidly growing numbers, Cambridge Connect believes it is both necessary and beneficial to place rapid transit infrastructure within the historic City core underground.
Buses would continue to play an important role in serving the needs of local people in parts of the City less accessible to the Cambridge Light Rail network. With Cambridge Light Rail meeting the needs of the majority of residents, needs for such local City buses would diminish, and coupled with fewer buses and coaches entering the City from the wider region, overall pressures arising from bus congestion within the City core would be reduced. This would result in improvements to air quality, reduce congestion, and enhance the amenity of the inner City environment. With a Cambridge Light Rail system in place, ‘Better Buses’ is ‘Fewer Buses’ congesting the City centre.