It’s all happening on the buses

WE VE had one birth and two deaths so far, explains Brian Ashwood, park-and-ride team leader. Eh? One birth and two deaths? In a park-and-ride depot? Maybe it s been the site (or should that be sight?) of a few conceptions, but births and deaths seem a

WE'VE had one birth and two deaths so far," explains Brian Ashwood, park-and-ride team leader.

Eh? One birth and two deaths? In a park-and-ride depot? Maybe it's been the site (or should that be sight?) of a few conceptions, but births and deaths seem a touch extreme.

However, it's all there in black-and-white. 'Baby born in bus depot', reads the imaginative headline in one of our more downmarket regional dailies.

I'm clearly missing out being stuck in a newspaper office. What am I doing here when there are so many juicy stories in the naked city? I need to travel on buses more.

There's plenty of them to travel on at least. A total of 224 buses per day pass through Trumpington alone, one of five sites for the park-and-ride scheme.

These include National Express coaches - if you ever feel like you want to visit Liverpool, you can get there from Trumpington - and what is known as the 'H1 shuttle', which travels to Addenbrooke's Hospital and is paid for by the NHS.

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The other sites used by the park-and-ride scheme are: Madingley Road, Newmarket Road, Cowley Road and Babraham Road.

The scheme itself is fantastic - if you want my opinion, there's no easier, cheaper way to get into Cambridge - and it runs from 6.30am in the morning until the last bus back at about 7.30pm six days a week.

Park your car for free and then ride in on the bus - simple. Of course, you'll have to put up with the seething mass that is the working classes, but once you're safely ensconced in Starbuck's with your frappuccino, you won't have to think about them. At least until you get the bus back.

If you think I'm giving the park-and-ride scheme a puff because they gave me a free glass of blackcurrant squash, you're wrong (so there). The scheme has won the Government's Charter Mark for customer service the last three times it has been awarded, which is a sign of a true benchmark initiative.

It's widely acknowledged as the best park-and-ride scheme in the country, and the model for schemes of a similar type which have been introduced in cities across the UK.

The Trumpington site has even had visitors from as far afield as Milan, Korea, Cork and Dublin, from eager delegates keen to see how such a scheme could be a success.

Customer satisfaction is the key. "It's a matter of professional pride for us that every query is dealt with by us here," says Shaun Harrison-Fuller, park-and-ride co-ordinator.

One such case is the example of the woman who wanted to get to Sydenham, on the London commuter belt. She got every bit of information she needed and got home safely.

Safety is another important aspect of the operation. The site is monitored by CCTV camera and Shaun, who mans the controls with the vigilance of a Bond villain, can pin-point any area of the car park at the touch of a button and the waggle of a joystick.

Even my car is not safe from his all-seeing eye. "H-reg? Don't they pay you enough?" he jokes, as my Honda Civic is parked neatly in one of the bays, proud to be my mode of transportation.

At least he helped me find it. I would have been wandering around forever, among the site's 1,300 bays (getting lost in car parks remains one of my specialities).

There's even library books available for those waiting for a bus, as part of the county council's 'park and read' concept. Or a so-called 'granny' trolley if you prefer. These are not trolleys to put your granny in (surely it's only a matter of time) but trolleys the elderly folk can use to put the shopping in.

Tube maps are available. Every bus timetable for buses which serve Cambridge is available. A glass of blackcurrant squash is available (well, for thirsty journalists anyway).

All of which raises the rather thorny question - and I can hear the postbag filling as we speak - can such a scheme work in Ely?

I'm going to firmly sit on the fence here, but what I will say is that it is a roaring success in Cambridge (even though the drink's machine can be a mite temperamental).

Will Ely ever see it? Who knows? As has been well-publicised in these pages, some are for it and some against. I will tell you this though: there are far worse ways to get around a city.

Like in a H-reg Honda Civic.........