Plusbus again

January 2nd, 2014

Following my previous rant about the complexities of Cambridge’s bus ticketing, there’s a further interesting item to add to the mix – Plusbus. As I’ve discussed before, Plusbus is an add-on to a railway ticket that allows use of local buses. The Cambridge version costs £3.10 (plus your rail ticket), which is a reasonable saving on a £3.90 dayrider. it covers the same area as the Stagecoach Dayrider but also works on Whippet buses, including Busway routes C and D. If you’re a railcard user, the discount applies, cutting the cost to £2.05 (plus rail ticket). Greater Anglia (who manage Cambridge, Waterbeach, Ely and Shelford stations) are supposedly upgrading all their vending machines to sell Plusbus tickets, otherwise you can buy one as an upgrade to a machine-issued ticket when you arrive at Cambridge station. It’s also possible to buy them online and then collect from any ticket machine.

Bus frustration again…

December 28th, 2013

I was in Cambridge at the weekend, and re-acquainted myself with its bus system. A few things have changed in the two years I’ve been away, but some obvious things appear not to have been acted upon.

Let’s start with some good news – the guided bus system appears to have been popular enough for the original routes to have been expanded somewhat, and for some routes to now be operating at a higher frequency. For instance, the Stagecoach route A service from Trumpington to St Ives is now every 15 minutes rather than every 20, and now makes a slightly better job of connecting Addenbrooke’s with the railway station, although the Park & Ride bus service from Babraham to Milton still actually has a faster journey time.

I used the route A to get from our temporary flat at Addenbrooke’s into the city on Saturday (partly because the guided buses stop within 2 minutes walk of the flat, whereas the main bus station is about a ten minute walk) and it arrived ahead of time at the railway station and sat there for a few minutes. The new bus access road and bus stops at the railway station (built as part of the CB1 development) are a big step forward for traffic flow around the station, but I can’t help feeling that some important details have been lost in the remodelling. Our Route A bus stopped at stop 9 at the station, which is the one that’s nearest to the station entrance. No fewer than six people came and asked the driver if his bus went to the city centre. He answered no – which is probably the right answer, the route A calls at New Square, which is fairly central but not the main shopping street – and directed them further down the road to another stop (stops 6 and 7 both have buses to the city centre). Surely it would be more logical for the “buses to town” to be using the stops nearest the station entrance, so as to make things easy for people unfamiliar with the city?

This has been a longstanding complaint of mine. Outside the front entrance to the station should be a large signboard explaining where to go to take the buses to a few popular destinations (the city centre and Addenbrooke’s being obvious ones). The bus stops themselves should also be clearly labelled “buses to city centre from this stop” and should also clearly show the fare and explain that the drivers can give change for banknotes but don’t take credit cards.

Now, let’s get onto the thorny topic of ticketing. Stagecoach have a near-monopoly on services in Cambridgeshire, so the majority of people will be happy buying Stagecoach’s tickets: there are singles, returns and two all-day tickets (Dayrider covers the city only, Dayrider Plus covers the whole county). It’s impossible to obtain the single or return fares on the web – you have to call the depot and ask – which seems daft in this day and age. About 20% of buses in Cambridgeshire are operated by other independent operators, so the County Council applied some leverage to the bus companies and made them issue a ticket called a Multibus, which was originally a day ticket covering all buses in the county. A Multibus is quite expensive – £7.80 as against a Dayrider Plus at £6 and a city-only Dayrider at £3.90 – and I suspect they don’t sell very many. Until recently it wasn’t even listed on Stagecoach’s website! However, the Multibus ticket now doesn’t cover the Stagecoach-operated Busway A and B routes, for no reason I can properly understand. There is, however, a special busway smartcard ticket that works on both Whippet and Stagecoach busway buses, but nowhere else! Logical!

Cambridge rail improvements 2013-2019

December 20th, 2013

We’re moving to Cambridge in the new year, so I thought I’d follow up the previous post about Oxford rail improvements to cover changes in the Cambridge area.

Hitchin flyover

One of the long-standing problems with the Cambridge-Kings Cross service has been the flat crossing at Hitchin, where trains going north to Cambridge had to cross all four lines of the East Coast Main Line in order to reach the Cambridge branch. Any disruption to the timetable tended to result in a Cambridge train getting held at Hitchin station whilst waiting for the line to become clear. Network Rail have built a new line that crosses on a large curved viaduct, which opened in the summer of 2013. Only a few trains a day have been using it so far, but with the timetable change in December 2013, the Cambridge route trains have been switched to using the new line. This actually adds about a minute to the journey time, but should avoid the previous delays.

Cambridge Science Park station

Cambridge’s main station is to the south of the city centre, and it can take up to 45 minutes by bus to reach the northern part of the city. To help resolve this, a new station is going to be built in Chesterton, using land that’s currently occupied by goods sidings. This will be called Cambridge Science Park, and is in the advanced planning stage at the moment. Assuming no major holdups, construction should start in the summer of 2014, with the station being open from December 2015. The station will be served by the existing King’s Lynn – London trains (every hour), and should also get an hourly semi-fast service (i.e. stopping at Royston, Baldock and Letchworth). There should also be a service to Norwich. Detailed train provisions will be worked out nearer the time. The station will have three platforms – two on the main line and one “bay” platform for terminating trains from London. Access to all three platforms will be via a footbridge, as passengers need to cross over the line that leads to the remaining goods sidings. Vehicle access will be from Cowley Road, and a guided busway spur will be built along the trackbed of the former St Ives branch line to reach the new station. There will be no through route for buses or other vehicles, so it will be interesting to see if the bus companies choose to terminate some of their bus routes from St Ives at this station rather than run all the way into the city.


The Thameslink Programme is due to finish in 2018, and one of the final changes is the connection of the East Coast Main Line to the Thameslink route via a tunnel under the Regent’s Canal. The current proposal is to re-route the half-hourly Cambridge-Royston-Baldock-Letchworth-Kings Cross semi-fast trains to go via Thameslink. These trains will run through London and continue to Horsham in Sussex, providing a direct link to Gatwick Airport en route. They’ll use Thameslink’s new 12-car Siemens trains, which are unusual in that they are a fixed formation of twelve carriages rather than being made from two smaller sets joined together.

Intercity Express Programme

The existing Class 365 trains used for the fast services from Kings Cross to Cambridge and King’s Lynn are due to be replaced with shiny new Hitachi-built Class 801 sets as part of the government’s Intercity Express Programme. These are a more comfortable “long-distance” design, which will also be used to replace existing high speed sets (HSTs and IC225s) on several routes. They are due for introduction in 2018. These sets are designed for electric operation, but have an emergency diesel engine which should help reduce disruption on the days when high winds bring the wires come down on the Fenland section!

New franchise

First Capital Connect’s franchise comes to an end in September 2014. The new franchise is already being advertised by the Department for Transport, and will cover an even bigger area – incorporating the existing Southern franchise from 2015 (London-Brighton and branches) – as a result of the planned expansion of Thameslink services from 2018 onwards. Some new requirements have already appeared in the Invitation To Tender document, the most interesting of which is the provision of two trains per hour (as against one at present) serving King’s Lynn, Downham Market and Ely. This will probably be achieved by extending the hourly Kings Cross-Cambridge non-stop train to run to King’s Lynn. This hasn’t been possible previously because of a single-line junction in Ely, but this is going to be dualled during 2014.

Freight improvements

Various improvements are being made to rail routes in East Anglia as part of a programme of works to improve railfreight access to Felixstowe docks.  At the moment, container trains leaving Felixstowe either have to go to London, down the busy main line to Liverpool Street, or the locomotive has to change ends in Ipswich station, which is very disruptive. Network Rail are currently building a new piece of line (a “chord” in rail jargon) just north of Ipswich station, which is due to be finished in the spring of 2014. Once this opens, container trains will be able to travel from Felixstowe to Ely without reversing, and will then carry on via March and Peterborough to reach the East Coast Main Line. Those going to the West Midland and North West of England will carry on via Stamford, Melton Mowbray and Leicester and join the West Coast Main Line at Nuneaton, using a new flyover that opened in 2012. These proposals will allow much more freight traffic from Felixstowe to travel by rail to the Midlands and North of England, and should help to relieve congestion on the A14. A single container train can carry between 30 and 45 lorryloads!


  • December 2013 – Hitchin flyover in full use by Cambridge route trains
  • Spring 2014 – Ipswich chord opens, more railfreight travels via Ely
  • Summer 2014 – Construction starts on Science Park station
  • September 2014 – New franchise begins
  • December 2015 – Science Park station opens
  • December 2018 – Thameslink route trains start serving Cambridge. IEP trains take over Kings Cross – King’s Lynn services.

Oxford railway improvements 2013-2020

October 20th, 2013

Oxford and the surrounding area are about to experience a massive shakeup in railway services, and I thought I’d try and draw all this together into one simple summary. Things are going to get better, though they may get worse first!

Oxford to Bicester

Let’s start with the project that will affect Oxford soonest. Chiltern Railways are about to start work on their new route from London to Oxford. The line between Oxford and Bicester Town via Islip will close in February 2014 in order for a major upgrade to take place. The line is due to be completely relaid, and the section from Wolvercote to Bicester will be upgraded to double track. Bicester Town station (which also confusingly serves the Bicester Village outlet mall) is going to be completely rebuilt. A new piece of line (a “chord” in railway jargon) will be built in Bicester to link the line from Oxford with the main line to London. A brand new station, to be called Oxford Parkway, will be built next to the Water Eaton P&R site near Kidlington, with the car park site being expanded considerably. Oxford Parkway will open in the summer of 2015 as the temporary terminus of the line, with the line connecting to Oxford’s main station in the spring of 2016. Chiltern are planning to offer an Oxford – Bicester – High Wycombe – London Marylebone rail service with a journey time of 66 minutes. This compares favourably with the current 58 minute journey time to Paddington via Reading. Chiltern’s service will undoubtedly be cheaper to compensate for the slightly longer journey time.

Electric services to Paddington

On the main line to Paddington services are also being improved – the line will be electrified by the end of 2016, and the existing 90mph Class 165 trains will be replaced with 100mph Class 319 electric trains. This should shave a few minutes off the journey time and result in a much quieter ride. Trains from Paddington to Bristol will be electrified at the same time, and the wires will eventually reach Cardiff and Swansea.

Oxford station improvements

Oxford station will undergo a thorough remodelling. Extra platforms will be provided next to the short-stay car park for Chiltern’s service from Marylebone, and it seems likely that another new platform will be built on the south side of Botley Road (in what’s now the long-stay car park), with a new connecting footbridge to the station building. It seems likely that the exisiting rail bridge over Botley Road will need to be made wider to accommodate additional railway lines, and I’ve heard rumours that the span will be widened to make more space for vehicles, cycles and pedestrians passing beneath it. These improvements are due to finish in 2016.

East West Rail – Oxford and Bicester to Milton Keynes and Bedford

The East West Rail project, currently in the advanced design stage, will open in December 2017. The abandoned line from Bicester to Bletchley will be reopened as a double-track, 100mph line, meaning that Oxford will have a direct rail service to Milton Keynes in 40 minutes, and to Bedford in 60 minutes. It is likely that some of these services will start from Reading or Didcot. Only one new station will be opened on this line – at Winslow in Buckinghamshire. This line is due to be electrified – the Oxford to Milton Keynes route will be electrified during construction, but the section between Bedford and Bletchley will be electrifed by 2019. The line did used to carry on to Cambridge, but this section has been built on, and early feasibility studies are underway to consider building an entirely new line between Bedford and Cambridge. However, travel to Cambridge will get much quicker, as a 60 minute train ride to Bedford can then be followed by a 60 minute coach ride to Cambridge. This compares with a 3.5 hr coach ride on the X5 at present, and a 2.5hr journey time by train via London. An additional part of this scheme is a connection to Aylesbury (and onwards to Marylebone) from Milton Keynes.

Electric services to Banbury, Leamington and Coventry

The line north of Oxford will be electrified by 2019, with the wires continuing to Banbury, Leamington, Coventry and Nuneaton. This is being done mostly to allow freight trains from Southampton Docks to run to the Midlands, Northern England and Scotland under electric power. It’s likely that the CrossCountry passenger services that pass through Oxford will switch to electric trains once this is completed.

Other bits and pieces

There’s a strong possibility that there will be a new service running from the South to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, using the new Oxford-Bedford line. This might start at Southampton or Reading and run to Leicester, Derby or Sheffield, as all these routes will be electrified by 2020.

A project is in the design stage to construct a west-facing connection to Heathrow Airport. This will give Reading a direct service to Heathrow (replacing the execrable RailAir coach) and could potentially allow services to Heathrow from further afield, including Oxford. It’s most likely that the service will operate as  a Reading-Heathrow shuttle, or possibly a Reading-Heathrow-Crossrail route.


  • Feb 2014 – Oxford-Islip-Bicester Town service replaced by buses
  • Summer 2015 – Oxford Parkway opens. Oxford Parkway – Islip – Bicester – High Wycombe – London Marylebone service starts
  • Spring 2016 – Oxford – Bicester – High Wycombe – London Marylebone service starts
  • December 2016 – Oxford – Reading – Paddington electrification complete, introduction of electric services on this route. Oxford station remodelling complete
  • December 2017 – Oxford-Bicester-Milton Keynes and Oxford-Bicester-Bedford services start
  • December 2019 – Oxford-Bedford service electrified. Oxford – Banbury – Leamington – Coventry electrified

Border control on Eurostar

October 11th, 2012

I’ve just been to Dresden by train, to attend a work-related conference. This, in many ways proved remarkably simple: travel down to London, take a 4pm Eurostar to Brussels, connect to a convenient Thalys train to Cologne, have dinner in Cologne and then take an overnight sleeper to Dresden, arriving at 7am the next morning.

My return journey went pretty well, too – I had an hour in Cologne to have some breakfast and then took a train back to Brussels in order to get the Eurostar. The border crossing between Germany and Belgium happens between Aachen and Liege, and the only thing that you notice is the beeps from people’s mobile phones as they switch to a roaming provider! If you’re a train nerd like me you also notice the brief flicker of the lights in Aachen station as they switch from German to Belgian electrical supplies (there’s a change of voltage AND frequency, how exciting!)

At Brussels South Station, I joined the queue for the Eurostar terminal. You queue first to scan your ticket on the automated gate, and then immediately join a queue for baggage security – there’s the usual bag x-ray and metal detector. Following this is outgoing Belgian border control, quickly followed by British border control. Just before the border control point, a door marked “Lille” allows passengers travelling to that city to skip the unnecessary border control – this is because Belgium and France are both in the Schengen Area which allows free movement without border control.
Finally, you reach the Eurostar lounge, which is actually a bit pitiful – a coffee shop, an expensive chocolate shop and some seating. But you only need to check in 30 minutes before departure, and the train usually boards 15-20 minutes before departure, so most people needn’t wait in the lounge for long.

Upon arrival at the still-fairly-shiny terminal at St Pancras, passengers queue down the platform and then onto a long escalator. At the bottom of the escalator the huge horde executes a brisk u-turn and joins… a British immigration queue! “But hang on”, I thought, “didn’t we do border control in Brussels?” I asked the border control officer (politely but firmly!) why they needed to check everyone’s tickets and passports again on arrival. It turns out that this is to do with Lille. I dimly recall a media hoo-hah a few years ago about immigrants getting into Britain on Eurostar, and this is the result. If you buy a ticket from Brussels to Lille, you are very likely to travel on Eurostar. Passengers travelling to Lille avoid border control, but no-one can actually guarantee that they leave the train at Lille –so some took advantage of this loophole to enter the UK without the necessary visa documents. The British press (predictably the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph) kicked up a fuss about this, and so the British border control agency attempted to close the loophole. Now, the problem is that the British authorities can’t legally interfere with passengers travelling between France and Belgium (in fact, an attempt to do this provoked a brief diplomatic row between the UK and Belgium, and the threat by Belgian authorities to arrest British border control officers in Brussels that attempted to do this!) and the Eurostar system was designed to make the border crossing as painless as possible when it first started. In fact, when Eurostar first began, the border checks were conducted on the train – but since a 2004 agreement, UK border staff have been stationed in stations in France and Belgium. The reason for this change is the perceived problem of political asylum. Under the terms of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, and the 1950 European Declaration of Human Rights, persons persecuted by foreign governments may claim asylum when they arrive in a foreign country. This is a headache for the UK government, as it means that they’re obliged to decide whether such persons are genuine refugees or “undesirable” economic migrants. Because the asylum rules kick in as soon as your feet touch the soil, the UK government tries hard to keep potential asylum-seekers out – even more so because they could (and should) be claiming asylum in France or Belgium. So, in order to maintain the “fortress Britain” idea and appease domestic political audiences, the UK now perversely has decided engage in extra border checks at St Pancras. The joys. As I said to the German couple ahead of me in the border control queue at Brussels – “I’m terribly sorry that we didn’t join the Schengen Agreeemnt, but it’s politically unacceptable!”.

On time and on budget

January 23rd, 2012

I’ve just seen some of BBC1’s Panorama programme, “Taken for a ride?”, which is about the rises in train fares and the costs of railway infrastructure. Now, the segment I saw (the last fifteen minutes) consisted of the journalist talking to various figures in the rail industry about the cost of project work, and in particular the large overspends on some rail infrastructure projects. He kept asking “will the project be on time and on budget?” and using phrases like “is our money being wasted?”. Now, this is the standard stuff of all projects, so let’s examine this in more detail. What do we mean by “on time and on budget”?

Well, a typical project, be it the construction of a garden shed or a high-speed railway line, starts with a proposal. In that proposal, the promoter of the project sets out the benefits the project will bring, the risks associated with doing it, and their estimate of how long it will take and how much it will cost. Note the crucial word there – estimate. The proposal is scrutinised by some decision-maker, and (all being well) the project is authorised on the basis of the estimated budget and timescale contained within the proposal. Of course, as the project runs, some tasks will turn out to be easier than estimated, and others will be harder. So the project cost and timescale may change as a result. So, when we talk about the “ability of an organisation to deliver on time and on budget”, we really mean, to a large extent, their ability to estimate the project in advance.

Now, let’s assume for a moment that we’re going to put this project out to competitive tender, as all public sector projects are. A number of engineering firms will bid on the project, and that means that they have to spend their own time and money researching and estimating the cost and timescale of the project. There will, of course, be pressure on the engineers to produce a low bid, as the company wouldn’t want to lose the business to a cheaper competitor. There will also be pressure not to spend too much time doing detailed research into the cost of a project, as the cost of the engineers’ time is at the company’s own risk – if they lose the bid, all that effort will have been wasted. So the tendering process is likely to produce optimistic estimates of the project outcome. If a bidding company has done a project like this before, they will make a better estimate – but a rival with less experience is more likely to make a low bid, particularly if they need the business badly. So the tendering process needs to evaluate the companies’ bids clearly, and not just look at the price. There’s always temptation for companies to bid low to secure the project and then ask for more money once the project is beyond the point of no return.

Well, what about making the job a “fixed price contract”? This transfers all the risk from the buyer to the supplier. Great for the buyer? Well, everyone bidding on a fixed-price job will include an additional contingency for unforeseen circumstances. Depending on the nature of the project, that “risk premium” could be enormous. Most companies taking fixed-price work will insure themselves against it, so now you’re paying an insurance premium and asking an insurer to take the risk, for which they charge a considerable markup! The fixed-price job works well when the job is well understood, but for big, risky projects, the fixed prices become ridiculously high.

So, perhaps we should be more circumspect before we condemn projects that run late or “overbudget” – how well can you estimate?

Missing the misguided bus

August 17th, 2011

I went on a training course today, and chose to take the train to the venue instead of driving. I arrived back at Cambridge station at 1740, and went in search of a bus. As I came out through the station entrance, I saw one of the new guided buses on the roundabout – it was snarling up the traffic as it was waiting for temporary traffic lights on the new access road that leads to the guideway. In my transport-fanboydom, I set off at speed down the footpath to the new bus stops for the guided busway, only to miss the said bus by about a minute. Bother. I looked at the timetable: this is peak hour operation, but the frequency on the southern part of the busway (which goes to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Trumpington) is only one bus every 20 minutes. I walked back to the main bus stops and checked the timetable there. Normal, non-guided buses run to Addenbrookes every 5 minutes, and to Trumpington every 10 minutes. This begs the question: what is the southern section of the guided busway actually for?

Let’s have a look at the timetables. Only one of the four busway routes uses the southern section at all: route A, operated by Stagecoach. This operates one bus every 20 minutes right through the day, stopping abruptly in the early evening: the last buses are at 1830 from Cambridge and 1839 from Trumpington. A note hidden at the bottom of the timetable shows that there are an extra hour’s worth of bus services between Trumpington and Addenbrooke’s after the main service finishes.

The journey times on route A are as follows:

Trumpington – Addenbrookes: 6 mins
Trumpington – Rail station: 13 mins
Trumpington – City centre: 22 mins
Addenbrooke’s – Rail station: 7 mins
Addenbrooke’s – City centre: 16 mins.

Okay, so how does this compare with the conventional bus services? The guided buses have a dedicated route from the railway station to Addenbrookes and Trumpington, but going into the city they are on the road.

Let’s take the Trumpington – City case first. On this route, the guided buses compete directly with the Park & Ride shuttle bus, which makes no intermediate stops between the P&R site and the city. The P&R buses run every ten minutes (twice as often as the Route A buses) and take 16 minutes for the journey. So they are 5 minutes faster than the guided buses, despite being on the road the whole way! As they run twice as frequently, the average journey time for a passenger arriving at the P&R site is 21 minutes (5 mins avg wait + 16 mins journey) for the P&R buses and 32 minutes (10 mins avg wait + 22 mins journey) for the guided bus.

How about Addenbrookes – Railway station? This bit is on the guideway, and so should be faster. And so it is – 7 minutes for the guided bus, as against 10 minutes for the conventional service. However, as the guided bus is only every 20 minutes, whereas the Citi 1, Citi 7 and Citi 8 services combine to provide a bus every five minutes. If you walk out of Addenbrookes at some randomly-determined time and go to look for a bus, you would on average wait 2.5 minutes for a conventional bus, followed by a 10 minute journey time – i.e. 12.5 minutes total journey. However, your wait time for a guided bus will be an average of 10 minutes, followed by a journey time of 7 minutes, making 17 minutes average total journey time. So the guided bus is not much use for going to the station from Addenbrooke’s. The same argument applies to taking the bus to the city from Addenbrooke’s.

Okay, so what about Trumpington – Addenbrooke’s? Maybe the idea of the southern section is to act as a P&R service for the hospital? Well, firstly the every-20-minutes frequency is not exactly encouraging. Secondly, parking at Addenbrooke’s for hospital visitors is not astronomical: £3.50 for 2 hours costs the same as a Dayrider ticket on the guided bus. Thirdly, Addenbrooke’s has a nice new access road that connects it to Trumpington P&R site and the M11, so if a hospital P&R service was required, there was no real need to build a fancy new busway – the buses could just as easily use the new access road.

So, to summarise: the guided buses only offer faster journey times on certain parts of their route (and even then we’re only saving three minutes) but their low frequency means that most people will be better served by the conventional bus service. Providing a P&R service between Trumpington and Addenbrooke’s could have been easily done without the guideway. So what exactly is the southern section for? I still don’t know…


June 26th, 2009

If you’re a regular passenger on the railways, you’ll probably have seen adverts for PlusBus, which is a scheme that allows you to purchase discounted bus tickets if you need to continue your rail journey by bus. It’s a great idea but has suffered somewhat from implementation issues. PlusBus is run by a consortium of bus companies (most of whom also own train companies) but as a consequence the railway staff aren’t always very clued up about it.

The biggest problem with it is actually buying the ticket in the first place. Most self-service ticket machines can’t currently sell a PlusBus ticket, which isn’t much help if you travel from an unmanned station. When I lived out at Waterbeach I would buy an ordinary return ticket to Cambridge and then upgrade to PlusBus at Cambridge station, but if there was a huge queue at the booking office it wasn’t worth it. My worst PlusBus experience was one time I tried to go to Leicester. I wanted to buy a ticket in advance, with both Cambridge and Leicester Plusbus upgrades, so that when the tickets arrived in the post I could get the bus to Cambridge station, train to Leicester and the bus to the university. At that stage no online ticketing company would sell you a PlusBus. I had to ring about five different people at different train companies before I finally found someone who could sell me a ticket.

Today, PlusBus has come back into my attention. I had a hire car to drop off this morning at Hertz, which is by the railway station, and then needed to get to work on the bus. Because I have to take two buses to do this, I’d need a Stagecoach Dayrider ticket, which now costs £3.30. However, since I’m going to London this evening, I went into the station and asked the booking clerk for a return to London with a Cambridge PlusBus. He said I could only have a PlusBus for arriving in Cambridge, and not for departing from it. I told him this wasn’t true, and I’d done it before. He went off and referred to a colleague, before returning to sell me the ticket. After I’d paid, I realised that he’d forgotten to give me a railcard discount on my PlusBus, so I’d paid £2.70 for it instead of £1.80. Oh well, but still better than £3.30! Interestingly, the PlusBus ticket covers a much bigger area than the Dayrider (more or less equivalent to the £5.00 Dayrider Plus ticket) so if you have a railcard, it’s actually cheaper to buy a single ticket to Shelford (the next station south of Cambridge) and a PlusBus (total cost £3.30) than it is to get a Dayrider Plus.

One other thing – each PlusBus ticket is only valid for 24 hours, so if you buy a period return and want to use the buses on both days you travel you need to buy two PlusBus tickets, one for each day.

However, all this prompted me to look at PlusBus’s website again, and to discover that the tickets can finally be bought online. Unfortunately, only two providers can do it. One is Qjump who charge a booking fee depending on how you pay and how you collect your tickets, details here. The other is First Transpennine Express, who operate trains in northern England, but whose website is powered by Qjump. Happily, Transpennine’s website will sell you a ticket for any part of the country and doesn’t charge a booking fee. I shall be using them a lot more in the future! Nothing like making it easy, is there?

Car hire

June 12th, 2009

Cambridge is a rotten place to own a car. It has traffic congestion, pedestrianised zones, byzantine one-way-systems, limited parking, expensive car parks and is generally laid out to be got around on foot or bike. As a result, I haven’t bought a car but have instead relied on hiring one when I need one.

Car hire need not be expensive, but it requires a certain amount of knowledge and technique to get the best deal. I’m going to describe a few the techniques I use to get a good deal. Read the rest of this entry »