Well, the expensive potential white elephant which is the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway is running at least six months late (and with additional contractors being called in, that may be optimistic), so this week must have been a great relief to the Council. At last they were able to get a section open to demonstrate the system to overexcited councillors and then – today – a few busloads of members of the public. I was amongst those lucky competition winners, and here are some of the photos I took of the new buses, as well as a video shot from the back seat on the upper deck (as there was already one out of the front available on YouTube).
The buses are pretty standard types, with lots of executive class extras which I’m sure the schoolkids coming in from St Ives every morning will enjoy, such as leather seats, wifi connectivity and power points, as you can see. I’m sure the Guided Busway’s publicists will focus heavily on these amenities, but they’re nothing to do with the busway – the operator could choose to make these available on any bus on any route, if it decided they made commercial sense. I’m not sure why the Guided Busway passengers need this added incentive to take the bus, but they certainly won’t be complaining.
The buses appear to have a biofuel option, which again is nothing to do with the Busway, although I’m sure it’ll be publicised heavily as part of the claims that the system has some sort of green credentials, despite covering Cambridgeshire with what I’ve read is over 100,000 tonnes of concrete. Other than that, the only outward difference between the vehicles and the normal Park + Ride buses is the little “guide wheel” poking out by the front wheel, which keeps the bus on the straight and narrow while the driver tries to remember not to use the steering wheel. There will be single-deckers running too.
Anyway, on to the trip itself, which was accompanied by one of the project managers, much to our relief, rather than some council PR vacuum. As I said, this demonstration was obviously organised as soon as it became possible, to show that at least some progress had been made (the whole system was scheduled to have been operating by now), but the thing is still a long way from completion. There are no finished bus stops (stations?) yet, and when we got to ask some questions, we got some intriguing answers. We were told that the chassis on the newly-delivered buses are not as straight as they ideally should be, and that it’s hoped they will “bed in” to meet the guideway’s requirements. Also, the guideway is to have some sort of surface put on it still, but the builders haven’t even been able to decide what that should be yet!
Here we go then, six minutes from Cambridge Regional College to the north-west of Histon:
Despite being as resolute in my opposition to the MisGuided Bus as I was when it was first suggested, I don’t want to let that colour my judgement of the efforts of the engineers who are bringing this giant experiment to life. They seem to have done a good job, and I’m sure they’ll see it through to a successful opening and eventual operation. But more than anyone, they’ll know that Cambridgeshire could have had so much more (i.e a railway), for a lot less money, if it hadn’t (yet again) been for the inadequacies of local democracy allowing one person’s misguided vanity project to somehow trample over public opinion and rational technical argument, and snowball into reality.
Note: We passed at least one cyclist balancing his way down the tracks (see below), using it as a shortcut. This won’t be necessary if and when the cycleway is completed, but with such easy access from the road, the prospect of herberts in stolen vehicles using the busway as a drag strip is quite frightening…