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Buses proposed every 10 minutes in Cambridge – paid for by city congestion charge

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A dramatic increase in bus services and cheaper fares have been proposed to transform how people travel around Greater Cambridge – but a city congestion charge will be needed to fund it.

ULEZ (Ultra low emission zone at all times) and C (Congestion charging zone) signs in London, UK. (50846216)
ULEZ (Ultra low emission zone at all times) and C (Congestion charging zone) signs in London, UK. (50846216)

A future bus network has been drawn up that envisages a bus every 10 minutes in Cambridge between 5am and midnight, and from larger towns and villages – plus a new hourly service from rural areas – to increase opportunities for people living and working in the area.

The strategy from the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) also declares that “prioritising road space for sustainable transport is essential” with modal filters, a clean air zone, measures to reduce on and off-street parking, higher parking fees, and a pollution or congestion charge.

A ‘preliminary impact assessment’ suggests these measures “could be combined to work together in a complementary manner”. Used in isolation there would be the “potential for negative effects to simply be displaced, rather than reduced”.

Other improvements could include bus services being available for longer and more direct services to reduce circuitous routes, improve reliability and cut journey times.

Lower bus fares and a comprehensive walking and cycling network would provide flexible travel options, the GCP suggests, while cutting congestion, reducing emissions and improving air quality.

Greater Cambridge Partnership future bus network map with rural connections Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership (50845914)
Greater Cambridge Partnership future bus network map with rural connections Picture: Greater Cambridge Partnership (50845914)

The measures are set out in the GCP’s Public Transport Improvements and City Access Strategy, which will be presented to its joint assembly on September 9.

The assembly is asked to consider a “comprehensive package of measures” to promote sustainable transport to be presented to the executive board.

The report acknowledges “many more buses will be needed and cannot get stuck in congestion” and so “prioritising road space for sustainable transport is essential”.

It says: “Tackling these issues is more important than ever – the pandemic has demonstrated the benefits of lower traffic levels for our health, environment and community. However, data suggests there is a clear risk of a car-based recovery without action.

“There is both a need, and a real opportunity, for the GCP, working with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, to deliver a City Access programme that refocuses the transport network away from the private car, promoting healthy and attractive, sustainable and active travel solutions.”

Subject to agreement from the joint assembly and executive board, the GCP will launch a public consultation on the proposals this autumn, with a more detailed scheme likely to include the costs of any road charging not expected until next year, followed with a further consultation.

In November, the GCP discussed proposals for polluting vehicles to be charged £5 a day to drive into a new ultra-low emission zone. And consultants suggested in January last year that a daily congestion charge of £5 or £10 could be applied from 7am to 7pm, or just in the morning peak hours of 7am to 10am.

Stagecoach electric bus (50846206)
Stagecoach electric bus (50846206)

The report reveals the public transport improvements are not expected until 2023, with a date for the road space management scheme not yet specified.

The cancellation of the £2bn Cambridge Autonomous Metro plan by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson has had a “profound impact” on the proposals, with the GCP noting the need to “significantly increase the level of intervention and bring forward delivery timelines”.

The metro had been promoted by James Palmer, the Conservative mayor ousted in the May elections, as the world-class, long-term solution to the region’s transport woes. It would have created tunnels beneath Cambridge for vehicles that would have driven above ground to link surrounding towns and villages. But Dr Johnson argued it was not deliverable or desirable and cancelled work on the metro, with £10million already sunk into the project.

The report from the GCP – which had numerous public disputes with Mr Palmer – notes: “The government’s agenda has also changed significantly over the recent period: the National Bus Strategy, Decarbonation of Transport Plan, National Walking and Cycling policy all have a significant impact in this area, and support the proposed interventions under the City Access proposals.”

It adds: “Whilst the possibility of tunnelled CAM network by the mid-2030s was the subject of assessment, no matter how unlikely delivery of such a scheme seemed, taking forward measures to address the challenge of the city environment was clouded with uncertainty.”

The Combined Authority’s Climate Change Commission also “supports an agenda that refocuses the city environment away from the private car”.

The GCP has previously stated its ambitions for a zero emission bus fleet in the central area by 2025.

Dr Nik Johnson the new Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority seen in Ely where the mayor's office is based. Picture: Keith Heppell. (50846246)
Dr Nik Johnson the new Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority seen in Ely where the mayor's office is based. Picture: Keith Heppell. (50846246)

A partnership of Cambridge City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council and the University of Cambridge, the GCP predicts that these changes will cost £40millon per annum, which would initially be funded by the body itself. It has been tasked with spending up to £500million of government City Deal money on infrastucture improvements, jobs, homes and apprenticeships.

Dr Johnson told the Cambridge Independent the GCP proposals “absolutely fit” with the Combined Authority’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) and franchising business case work.

He said: “The overall network and frequency of services proposed by the GCP are ambitious and we welcome this and look forward to partnership working on developing a financing and funding strategy over the coming months.”

In 2019, operator Stagecoach cautiously welcomed the Combined Authority’s strategic bus review, but said franchising would “not guarantee” better bus services or more use of public transport.

As the strategic transport authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the Combined Authority is responsible for ensuring that its chosen approach to bus services joins up with its wider ambitions, strategies and policies, including its 2030 growth targets.

Dr Johnson continued: “I welcome the proposals and, working in partnership with the GCP, I am sure we can jointly develop a raft of options that can be delivered for the improvement of active travel and public transport for the benefit of the people and businesses of Cambridge without it being to the detriment of those travelling in from other parts of the region.”

He added on road charging: “I am open to supporting any proposals that enable improvement in active travel and public transport options to enable individuals to have a real alternative to the car. The current proposals need further development and I look forward to my team working in partnership with GCP colleagues to explore this option.”

The proposals are part of the GCP’s strategic vision for a “world-class, sustainable and joined up transport network” that links the planned segregated busways and the Greenways active travel routes – and put the area on the path to net-zero carbon.

The GCP will work in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council and the Combined Authority to deliver this.

Lucy Nethsingha (50846249)
Lucy Nethsingha (50846249)

The former county council leader, Conservative Cllr Steve Count, had accused the GCP of “overstepping the mark” in relation to congestion charging. However, the new Liberal Democrat leader of the county council, Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, was more supportive.

“Residents of Cambridgeshire have been asking for better public transport for many years. I hope that with a new joint administration at the county, a new mayor and a new co-operative partnership at with the GCP, we will be able to deliver huge improvements to our bus network, as well as making it safer for more people to walk and cycle for at least some of their journey,” she said.

“If we are to tackle climate change, as well as improving quality of life, we need to reduce congestion and improve other forms of transport. This is the start of that process, and there is a lot of work to do to get the balance right, but I am excited by the possibilities for real change.”

Subject to agreement from the executive board, the GCP will launch a consultation in autumn.

More than 80 per cent of people who responded to the GCP’s earlier ‘Choices for Better Journeys’ consultation supported a significantly improved public transport network, with integrated transport routes, cheaper fares, reliable services and improved safety. The subsequent Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly looked in detail at pollution and transport issues, and set out their vision for reducing the number of cars on our roads to cut congestion and pollution.

It called for the GCP to “be brave, be bold and take action”. The public will soon be able to deliver a verdict on whether it has.

Read more:

‘Scrapping the Cambridge Autonomous Metro leaves us with no plan’

Cycling tsar for Cambridgeshire to be appointed as mayor Dr Nik Johnson eyes travel funding

Cambridge councillors: ‘We need a citywide transport strategy’

County council puts brakes on congestion charge plans

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough transport rethink is under way

Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro has cost almost £10m so far

Major effort to cut car use in Cambridge expected by GCP after mayor casts doubt on building tunnels

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