MisGuided Bus: a sad day for democracy

Guided Bus

The commencement of buying up of land between Cambridge and St.Ives for the ridiculous “Guided Bus” scheme has brought home the fact that, incredibly, this absurd creation really is going ahead. Powered by the unstoppable combination of governmental ignorance and county councillors’ vanity, the “misGuided Bus” is set to plonk the most enormous concrete white elephant on our county, and cause irreparable damage to our local transport infrastructure at the same time.

The most progressive way of taking traffic off the A14 would have been to have rebuilt the railway line to Huntingdon and connect it up fully to the East Coast Main Line there. But proponents of that option didn’t dare campaign for such a scheme, because the estimated £100million cost would never have stood a chance of being approved. Instead, rail enthusiasts devised a commendable community-operated scheme which would cost less than half of that, but which would terminate at St.Ives for now. This sensible plan was felt to be far more likely to get governmental approval.

But up against this came the bizarre idea of a “Guided Bus” running on a concrete road over the old railway track – a technology dismissed by its creator as inappropriate for the area, and which would achieve nothing other than taking a few buses off the A14 – big deal. Somehow, the idea gathered momentum – a councillor became enthusiastic about it (you have to ask questions why) and then became defensive when it was criticised – always a dangerous thing. After that, possibly for no better reason than “avoiding loss of face”, the plan began to be promoted aggressively at county council level, and astonishingly, it became a genuine possibility.

Hang on, said the rail enthusiasts, this technically and strategically daft scheme will cost over £100million, but would achieve less than the community rail link. And if that sort of money really was available, we could have the proper, joined-up rail alternative after all, which would actually get freight off the roads too. But the councillors, their taxpayer-funded consultants and other vested interests insisted the misGuided bus would cost half of this amount, and pushed it through a mysterious public enquiry where the results were “accidentally deleted” at the last moment and had to be rewritten.

Guess what? The current estimated cost of the Cambridge Guided Bus is now £116million and work hasn’t even begun. All this to give buses their own road from St Ives to Cambridge, after which they get stuck in Cambridge traffic as normal, and then apparently out to Trumpington. Of course, businesspeople working on the Science Park are going to flock to leave their cars at home and jump on a bus just because it’s got a road of its own, aren’t they? A quick back-of-a-fag-packet calculation suggests that if the Guided Bus carried 50 people in and out of Cambridge every 10 minutes (yeah, right), for 15 hours a day, 365 days a year, (I know, I know), it would carry 16 million people in ten years. Yes folks, that a cost to the taxpayer of seven pounds a journey.

There is so much talent and knowledge amongst the public in this country, and yet we leave the decisions to enthusiastic amateurs more concerned with their own self-image in the community. Yes, I know it’s called local democracy. But while the party-based system and public inertia makes local democracy not worth participating in, local democracy does not serve us well, my friends.