Bus operators on the newly-opened Cambridge Busway have been running extra vehicles to keep up with early demand in the first weeks of operation.
The multi-million pound transport link opened on 7 August, offering fast services on a segregated route connecting Huntingdon, St Ives and Cambridge. In the first seven days, bus companies Stagecoach and Whippet Coaches reported a total of 55,895 trips being made.
On what is described as the world's longest guided busway, vehicles equipped with small guide wheels run between the kerbs of a purpose-built concrete track for 21.5km of the total 25km route, and on normal roads for the remainder. Traffic signals give buses priority at road junctions The link is intended to deliver fast, reliable public transport avoiding queues on the often busy A14 road.
However, long delays and budget overspends have marred the project, which also attracted local opposition both from those who said it was a waste of money and others who would have preferred a rail link. Much of the route follows the line of a former railway, with embankments too narrow to take a conventional road.
Busway officials are pleased with the initial passenger numbers, but have warned that it will take a number of months before the true demand can be assessed as many extra commuters will begin using The Busway next month after summer breaks.
As expected, large numbers of people have been using the route into Cambridge, but businesses in the market towns of St Ives and Huntingdon have also been boosted by the number of people travelling out from Cambridge.
Services run seven days a week, and up to midnight from Monday to Saturday.
New Park & Ride sites have been built at St Ives and Longstanton with spaces for hundreds of cars and covered cycle parking. The shorter southern section connects Cambridge Railway Station, Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Trumpington Park & Ride with a completely traffic-free link.
Cyclists, walkers and horse-riders can now use a car-free path alongside the route between Swavesey and Cambridge. The Swavesey to St Ives section is being raised and surfaced during August and will open later.
Ian Bates of Cambridgeshire County Council commented: “I am really pleased to see so many people using The Busway during the summer holiday season as this is when fewer commuters are travelling and traffic generally moves at its best on the A14. As the holiday season ends and we move towards Christmas I expect to see even more people using The Busway.”
Andy Campbell, managing director for Stagecoach in Cambridge, agreed that August is generally a quiet time, saying: “We have been pleasantly surprised with the demand so far. We are continuing to put on extra buses to keep up with demand and as the system beds in we are confident the service on our luxury buses will go from strength to strength.”
Stagecoach has purchased a £3m fleet of 20 luxury buses for the guideway. The specially-branded vehicles run on 100 per cent biofuel and are equipped with leather seats, air chill, real time information, and wi-fi.
Regular passengers can use a multi-operator Smartcard, which is accepted by both guided busway operators.
Peter Lee, Director of Whippet Coaches, added: “Even with lighter traffic on the A14 we are still seeing a good number of passengers using the route. Queues on the A14 are a big problem for buses as well as people in their cars and it is great to have a reliable alternative for our customers.”