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£10 congestion charge for city to be discussed by Greater Cambridge Partnership

Motorists could face a daily congestion charge of £5 or £10 to drive into Cambridge under proposals unveiled this week.

The ‘flexible charge’ could be applied from 7am to 7pm, or just in the morning peak hours of 7am to 10am, it has been suggested.

Congestion in Cambridge
Congestion in Cambridge

The measure is one of a number being assessed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) as efforts to get the city moving again step up.

Its consultants also examined the potential impact of a new blanket increase to parking charges of £5 or £10 in a defined zone for non-residents. And they looked at pollution charging, a clean air zone, closing roads to cars or imposing a workplace parking levy.

But the flexible charge would have the most positive contribution, the study suggested.

It has “significant” potential to fund improved, subsidised public transport.

The evidence detailing the impact of parking and road pricing measures was published for the first time by the GCP this week.

It takes into account the technical and analytical work as part of the body’s City Access strategy, alongside the findings of last year’s Citizens’ Assembly and other public engagement programmes.

The work will be presented to the GCP’s Joint Assembly on January 30 to be examined.

The charging zone, on which the evidence is based, covers most of the city, and is loosely defined by the ring of Park & Ride sites.

This kind of charging, however, could take three years to bring into force.

The alternatives, such as road closures or parking changes, would vary in timescale from 18 months to 24 months.

Edward Leigh, of Smarter Cambridge Transport. Picture: Keith Heppell
Edward Leigh, of Smarter Cambridge Transport. Picture: Keith Heppell

The study found a workplace parking levy would have limited impact and would only fund relatively small improvements.

Edward Leigh, of the Smarter Cambridge Transport group, said: “We believe that GCP should take a more positive view of a workplace parking levy, as it could provide a vital income stream to fund improved bus services with less controversy and upfront investment than a congestion charge.”

Peter Blake, the GCP’s transport director, said: “The politicians will be considering a report that asks what other things we need to do in the city to tackle the problems we’ve got with air quality.

“The centre of Cambridge is not desirable from a walking and cycling point of view because there’s an awful lot of cars in it.”

Cambridgeshire County Council leader Steve Count has previously accused the GCP of “overstepping the mark” in relation to congestion charging plans.

The GCP work also explores how other cities have approached congestion, air quality and public transport issues and the impacts, alongside the options for a future bus network.

The study shows that conditions are “bad, and worsening”. It says that air quality is a concern, and contributes to 106 deaths annually across Greater Cambridge, and high levels of car usage mean carbon emissions per capita in the county are 150 per cent of the national average.

The report states: “City Deal funding offers the GCP a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘front-fund’ new service provision that may not yet be commercially viable, but an ongoing revenue source will be needed to ensure those services can be sustained in the longer term.

“To deliver substantial improvements in the medium to long term, a new funding source beyond the period must be identified.”

Peter Blake, transport director for the Greater Cambridge Partnership, with Michelle Hargreaves, managing director of Stagecoach East. Picture: Richard Marsham
Peter Blake, transport director for the Greater Cambridge Partnership, with Michelle Hargreaves, managing director of Stagecoach East. Picture: Richard Marsham

It adds: “The evidence demonstrates that delivering the road space and the funding for a transformed public transport network that is competitive with the car will require some form of demand management.”

The GCP has a target of 10 to 15 per cent reduction in city centre traffic flows over 2011 levels, as part of the £500m devolution funding resulting from the City Deal negotiations.

Only a flexible charge could meet this reduction, according to the evidence gathered by the GCP.

This target now equates to a reduction of more than 20 per cent over today’s levels.

In addition employment is forecast to rise by 30 per cent by 2031, which could result in a 50 per cent increase in car-based commuting without intervention.

The report also sets out improvements that could be considered to build up a full bus network.

These include the standardisation of the existing network, enhancements to existing routes, and the provision of additional ones. It also suggests improving the rural bus network.

The potential future bus network proposed by the GCP
The potential future bus network proposed by the GCP

The report promotes increased Park & Ride capacity, through additions to existing sites and early delivery of new sites where feasible.

“If recommendations were implemented by 2026, there could be 417,000 people living within a five-minute walk of the new bus network and 752,000 within a 10-minute cycle, and those routes will have substantial journey time and frequency improvements as well,” the report states. “An additional 55,000 people will live within a 10- minute drive of a Park & Ride site.”

Mr Leigh said: “At long last we are seeing GCP focus on improving the availability, affordability and sustainability of bus services, for instance by funding extensions of operating hours, fare incentives, electric buses and charging infrastructure.

“There is also now a clear recognition of the benefits of smart traffic signals for buses as well as people walking and cycling. Smarter Cambridge Transport’s ideas for regulating traffic flow and routing buses could complement these measures well.”

He added: “We are less pleased to see recommendations for further expansion of Park & Ride locations close to the city, when the GCP should be investing in a network of rural hubs, each readily accessible by foot and cycle from local villages and village schools.”

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