'Significant' changes for bus services in Biggleswade and surrounding villages

'I'm pleased that there have been improvements made to a number of services...however, many routes still have later start up times'

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 4:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 4:36 pm

Significant changes are in motion for bus services in Chronicle country, with claims that some timetables show improvement while other areas will miss out.

From Tuesday, August 31, Bedford firm Herberts Travel will take over the operation of the 188 and 190, with benefits of the revised service including a regular link between Biggleswade town centre and villages to Biggleswade Retail Park, new journeys via Cockayne Hatley and Kings Reach, and additional journeys via Everton.

Due to Centrebus staff shortages, Herberts Travel has now taken over the operation of Biggleswade town services 85 and 85A to the existing Centrebus timetable, while there will be a new 72/73 service (Bedford/Sandy/Potton/Biggleswade) operated by Stagecoach from August 31.

Photos: Bedfordshire Transport Watch.

Commenting on the changes, Central Beds Cllr Dr Hayley Whitaker wrote on social media: "The revised services [ 85/85A and 188/190] will maintain and improve the service by strengthening links between the villages, Biggleswade Retail Park and Biggleswade town centre as well as providing an opportunity for student travel to Stratton Upper School. The new service will re-introduce a bus service to Cockayne Hatley and will also offer services later on Saturday afternoons.

"Service 72 will incorporate school movements between Potton and Stratton Upper School. Pupils eligible for transport assistance from CBC will travel between home and school on the new 72 service from September 2021, instead of on a contracted school bus. This service will operate via Eagle Farm Road at school times. The service can also be used by students who do not qualify for transport assistance travelling to Stratton Upper School who can purchase daily or weekly tickets from the driver, or season tickets from Stagecoach."

She added: "Routes 72/73 are operated on a commercial basis by Stagecoach and so are not dependent on any council funding. CBC have confirmed that the contract for services 85, 85A, 188, 189 and 190 has been awarded for at least five years."

Julian Vaughan, who runs Bedfordshire Transport Watch, said: "There are some significant changes to bus services serving Biggleswade and the surrounding villages. These will impact current users, as well as those who would use public transport, but are currently prevented from doing so by the significant cuts to services across the region over the last decade.

"I'm pleased that there have been improvements made to a number of services, particularly with the introduction of a direct route from Potton to Bedford and a new service for Cockayne Hatley.

"However, many routes still have later start up times than just a couple of years ago and buses on Sundays and Bank Holidays are virtually non-existent.

"Further improvements to services will need to take place before a bus is seen as a viable alternative to the car for both commuter and leisure passengers."

Mr Vaughan added that not all areas will benefit from the changes, noting that the first service from Gamlingay to Sandy will now be at 8.52am, a "much later start" than the current 7.33am, and that the first bus through Blunham will be 10.36am, which is later than the current 10.12am service.

However, the changes also bring benefits, too.

The first service from Gamlingay to Biggleswade will be earlier - 7.44am rather than the current 8.18am - benefitting Dunton with an earlier first service of 8.12am, compared to the current 8.44am. Meanwhile, the last service from Biggleswade to Potton will now be at 18.20pm, instead of the current 17.32pm.

Mr Vaughan said: "Overall, with some disappointing exceptions there is a significant improvement to services.

"However, looking at timetables from just two years ago, even with the upcoming changes some villages in our area will still have a poorer service. In 2019 the first bus from Potton to Sandy left at 5.40am, the first bus from Gamlingay to Sandy left at 6.13am and Blunham village had an 8.12am service."

To combat climate change, Bedfordshire Transport Watch is keen to know what would encourage more people to use their local bus services. Email [email protected]

Cllr Whitaker added: "All buses have been required to be fully accessible since 1st January 2017 in order to comply with the national public service vehicle accessibility requirements so if anyone experiences any problems with accessibility on the new services please let me know."

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokeswoman, added: "Central Bedfordshire Council has been working hard with local bus operators to introduce new and enhanced bus services throughout east Bedfordshire at the end of the month, as well as ensuring that existing services are maintained. We are working on a bus service improvement plan, as part of the government’s national bus strategy, ‘Bus Back Better’, and will be publishing more information around this soon, where communities will have the chance to have their say.”