The Park and Ride Service

Most park and ride schemes provide a bus service from a car park on the edge of a town or city, to a few stop off points within the town or city centre. Examples that people locally are aware of are the Cambridge park and ride sites, covering most sides of Cambridge, from within the M11 / A14 boundary. These include (times given are to the City Centre):

These sites are all within a few miles of the City Centre, yet often you will see a bus nearly empty, even near the peak hours - I have often used the H1 service from Trumpington to Addenbrookes, and that has never been near capacity, on a smallish bus. So - why aren't these buses being used? From personal experience, the H1 service adds between 30-45 minutes to a trip into Addenbrookes - and if Histon and the M11 are busy, that can make a 16 mile journey take over 1.5 hours. Once people are in their cars, they are unlikely to want drive into a park and ride, look for a free space, cross a car park (specially in the cold and wet), and wait for a bus. Given the level of bus use suggested in the proposal, these buses are likely to be over crowded as well.

So - will people driving down the A10 park their car and get on a bus? A report published by the developers via their website seems to think so - and then says the figures are uncertain! Entitled "Mereham New Community - High Quality Public Transport Service (HQPTS) Demand Estimates" - it suggests that:

An estimate has also been made of the potential for the HQPTS to attract existing car trips. Over a 12-hour day, this amounts to around 4,900 trips, equivalent to around 6% of car trips between the villages and Cambridge/Ely. This element of the potential patronage is subject to the highest level of uncertainty as the ability to attract existing car users is known to be exceptionally difficult, and there are many assumptions that need to investigated further to provide a robust estimate.

This throws up a few questions - one in particular being where would these cars park? The developer proposes 500 spaces initially, eventually leading up to 1000 - way short of the estimated trips. Even if a figure of 4,900 trips is assumed to be 2,450 return trips - thus requiring more than 2,000 car parking spaces. It could be argued that these will be trips from Ely, not requiring parking, but then the buses would be full by the time they get to Mereham.

The figures provided by the developer in this instance just do not seem to equate. They either do not expect to attract existing trips, hence the smaller car park, or they are over estimating demand to make the proposal look attractive.

If you take the total trip estimates from the document, namely:

you get 9,000 trips in total. Or, put it in bus terms - 109 full double decker buses, assuming a capacity of 82 seated passengers on a double decker (remember, this is High Quality, so no one is expected to be standing).

The figures for bus trips given are every 10 minutes peak (6 buses an hour), every 15 minutes off-peak (4 buses an hour) - providing roughly enough buses over a 12 hour period - although each bus will be full. But in the real world (not that of mathetical models, averaged over a 12 hour period), people do not travel like this - there will be high peak demand early morning and early evening, and low demand during the day. If the figure of 9,000 is correct, then the bus service will not be able to cope.

Sustainability and Viability

One of the key buzz-words of the proposal is sustainability - and that should be attached to the proposed transportation system. For a community such as Mereham to exist so far out from Cambridge, someone somewhere is going to have to foot the bill for the bus system.

The HQPTS documentation makes a brief mention of viability - but we just cannot get the figures to equate. We have requested the calculations from the developers, but they have yet to provide them. Here is what they say:
Based on the fares assumed in the mode split model and the resulting patronage levels, annual revenue trips arising from the completed development and the transfer of existing bus trips to the new service, amounts to £2.3 million. This provides an operating net revenue of £100,000 per annum and an operating margin of 4%.

This is based on an indicative estimate of annual operating costs (excluding the costs of vehicles) for the service of £2.2 million. The document also assumes fares range from £1.25 to £2.00 for a single journey.

Doing a quick calculation - all journeys (4,100) taken every working day (not bank holidays) and at the maximum fare price of £2.00 gives us: £2.06 million.
Being generous, and assuming a 50% take up on Saturday, 25% on Sunday and Bank Holiday:
52 days * £2.00 * 2050 = £213200. 60 days * £2.00 * 1025 = £123000.
Add them together gives us:
£2.29 million - close enough to the £2.3 million quote.
Fair enough - but that is a 'best case' - assuming full take up of the service, together with all trips being a full price (£2.00).
Give the figures a 80% / 20% split for £2.00 and £1.25 journeys, then we get a figure nearer £ 2.12 million - nearly a £80,000 loss. Add into that a 90% take up (holidays, illness, use of car - 90% is still a high figure) we get: £ 1.9 million.
Add in the cost of providing new buses (it is High Quality, remember) at around £150,000 each - needing at least 12 buses to provide the level of service stated (every 10 minutes peak) - that is an out lay of over £1.5m. If the £2.2m figure exludes the cost of maintaining and running the 'multi-model' site, and the local bus service around the development, then this service is far from viable.

But if the developers had ever actually used the bus then they would know that fares at £2.00 and £1.25 just do not exists! Even the longer term rider-style tickets cost more than that this far from Cambridge. The higher price will obviously benefit the bus operator, if people are prepared to pay it. But most people do not like to pay upwards of £5.00 a day to travel on a bus.

Travel Times

The travel times for the journeys are quoted in the HQPTS document, as follows:

In terms of travel time, it was assumed that the priority measures provided would result in the following approximate journey times from the development: Milton 14 minutes Cambridge City Centre 28 minutes Ely 11 minutes
And how did they arrive at these quite fantastic looking times?
Highway journey times along the corridor were taken from the AA on-line journey planner, which gives routes and times for typical off peak conditions. Between Ely and Cambridge city centre, the AA planner estimates a journey time of 28 minutes. Peak times were assumed to be 50% longer than the off peak to reflect the high levels of congestion, particularly on the approaches to Cambridge city centre.
For anyone interested, the AA on-line journey planner is available here. To put this into perspective - a journey from Wilburton to Addenbrookes Hospital, South Cambridge, is given at 15.7 miles, 30 minutes. Now, as a regular on that route - this is achievable at 6:45am - but at 8:10am on Monday 14th November - this journey took 1 hour 20 minutes (actually a reasonable trip - it has been over 2 hours!) - almost 150% longer. Adding in the 'reality' figure to the journey time, we get:
Cambridge City Centre: 74 minutes
Needless to say, the developers representatives at the Public Exhibition were a little surprised at the 'real' figures, having already denied that figures published were obtained from the AA website, and were a little far-fetched. It turns out none of them have actually tried to do the journey during a peak hour. If at all.

If we compare these times (28 minutes), to the times given at the top for the existing Cambridge Park and Ride (between 13 minutes and 18 minutes, off peak) - it seems difficult to believe that a service coming from some 10 miles further out will out take an additional 10 minutes - given that it is likely to need to server the science and business parks, and Milton en-route. Oh, hang on - we're moved - the developers are stating that we are "some 10km north of Cambridge" now - not 11.9 miles as the AA route planner says. For those of you without a calculatoe to hand - 10km is around 6.25 miles - considerable closer than the site is.

Cost to Travel to Work

Using the figure of £2.00 for a single trip - as given in the HQPTS documentation - this equates to £4.00 a day, and £20.00 a week - around £85.00 a month. It may be possible to offer cheaper multiple trip tickets, such as the GoldRider currently available - prices of £17.00 per week, or £68.00 per month.

But when put into the context of the proposed development - with around 40% of the development being affordable and social housing, (buzz word 'key worker housing'), then this cost to travel to work gets more expensive.

Let us take an example - Addenbrookes Hospital is likely to be a major employment centre for a lot of key workers - this is situated on the South side of Cambridge, so would require a GoldRider ticket (Addenbrookes do currently offer reduced price tickets at £56.00 per month). It is unlikely that a bus service will exist that is direct from the new development, so assume a change is required in Cambridge - so typical rush-hour travel time will be in excess of an hour.

Using this website for pay levels, a Grade B Auxillary & Assistant nurse would be in the range £12,604 to £14,833. Taking the lower range, minus tax etc, gives a monthly wage of £859. So - even at the subsidised levels offered by Addenbrookes, this equates to around 6.5% of disposable income each month just to travel to work. Add to this around 2 hours a day travelling, and no reasonable transport for shift work, the the location of the development, as well as the transport plans, just not not make sense for key workers.

For workers not able to claim the Addenbrookes discount, on a similar level of pay, they are looking at spending around 8% of disposable income on travelling to work, compared to around 4% is they lived within the MegaRider catchment area (i.e. near to their place of employment).