Cambridge congestion charge of £15 a day mooted
A congestion charge for vehicles travelling within or through Cambridge city centre could be priced at £10 to £15 a day.
Alternatively, motorists could be charged £5 a day to drive within a wider zone covering the area inside the ring of the current Park & Ride sites.
More bus gates and ‘modal filters’ prohibiting private motor vehicles could also be introduced, alongside greater pedestrianisation of city centre streets.
But critics have warned congestion charging is a “regressive tax that will unduly impact the most vulnerable”.
The details were revealed as part of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s “bold” Making Connections consultation, which launched on Monday (November 8), and was described as a “once-in-a-generation chance to make real progress”.
The consultation sets out ambitious plans to improve public transport across Greater Cambridge including cheaper, faster and more frequent bus services, plus improved cycle and walking routes to reduce congestion and improve air quality.
The proposed expanded bus network could cost up to £40million each year and lower traffic levels would be needed to run “regular, reliable and fast” bus services at a frequency of up to every five minutes in some parts of the city, with fares as low as £1.
GCP chair and county councillor Elisa Meschini (Lab, King’s Hedges) said: “We have a real challenge in Greater Cambridge to sustainably meet the needs of our area in a way that keeps people moving while cutting congestion and pollution.
“Our proposals for improving the way we travel will help to give people real choices in how they get around, while freeing up road space and enabling people to make the shift to public transport, walking or cycling.”
Cllr Tim Bick (Lib Dem, Market), chair of the GCP joint assembly and city councillor, added: “New leadership at the county council and Combined Authority makes this a once-in-a-generation chance to make real progress and do so in sympathy with our area’s values. Aimed at encouraging a switch from car use to public transport and cycling and walking, it supports the fight against climate change and pollution; but it also aims to make it easier for us all to get around without gridlock.
“It is the jigsaw piece needed to complement the other projects the GCP has initiated to improve public transport access into the city.
“The GCP has been urged to be bold. This consultation provides bold solutions. They need to be bold to be effective. In my personal opinion car use can’t be banned out of existence in a complex modern city; but a new equation is needed which changes the nature of the choice and reduces the frequency of use. For that, we must really transform the alternatives to the car and generate the funding and the highway space to achieve that. And we must make sure the new deal works fairly for those on low incomes and those who have no options at all at present.”
South Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP Anthony Browne added: “These new proposals are, on the whole, welcome. It is good to see the GCP finally planning to use our existing infrastructure to greater effect rather than concrete over swathes of our countryside, and I inherently support their goal of reducing congestion and making our transport system greener.
“Unfortunately, I can only be cautiously optimistic about the plan as a whole. I would urge them to look again at any plans for congestion charging, which is an extremely regressive tax that will unduly impact the most vulnerable. We need to see much improved, far cheaper public transport before this can even be considered.
“I welcome their ambition and strongly support the proposals for improved bus services in general, provided they are not linked to the damaging proposals for concrete car parks dotted around our open countryside.
“I’m also glad to see an increased interest in cycle lanes, although I am aware of the concerns all road users have about narrow cycle lanes being shoe-horned in next to bus lanes or key transport routes in the city – if the GCP is to do this right, road safety must come first.
“With a bit of fine-tuning, the GCP has a plan that should be implemented sooner rather than later.”
The GCP says there are two main ways to free up road space and raise money to invest in better bus services and more cycling and walking infrastructure – a road charging zone, or additional parking charges.
The former could be a pollution-based charge for road use based on vehicle emissions, with cars, vans and other vehicles that do not meet a set emissions standard charged to drive within a specific area.
A flexible charge for road use, however, would charge all private vehicles to drive within an area, which could potentially vary by time of day or day of the week.
It is estimated that this charge would lead to a 15 to 20 per cent reduction of congestion, and could potentially raise £20m to £60m per year. It could work alongside a low/zero emission zone for buses.
But the GCP warns that if the area covered by the charge is too small, there would be a risk that instead of reducing traffic “people would still drive, but on a different route causing congestion and pollution elsewhere”.
A pollution charge is expected to cut congestion by 10 to 15 per cent, but that could decline to less than one per cent by 2030 as more people switch to ultra-low and zero-emission cars.
This option is believed to have the “most positive impact” on air quality in the city, as it is could accelerate the take-up of cleaner vehicles.
A pollution charge could raise £20m to £40m per year in revenue at first, depending on the cost and emission standard, and it is forecast that the income and impact on congestion would decrease over time as people swap to driving cleaner vehicles.
There are also concerns that people on higher incomes will find it easiest to upgrade their car, but lower income households would benefit from public transport improvements, with mitigating measures being considered including discount fares and phasing in charges for some groups.
Higher charges could be applied to existing car parking, or in more streets, and a workplace parking levy is under consideration. This levy is a yearly fee charged to businesses per parking space at their premises. Businesses can pass on the cost to employees, reduce or remove their parking spaces or absorb the cost themselves. This measure is expected to cut congestion by between five and 10 per cent and would raise £15m to £25m per year, but would have limited impact in reducing congestion.
The GCP will also explore measures such as bus lanes, cycle lanes and wider footways, as well as removing parking spaces. Modal filters and bus gates that prevent through movements by private cars are also being considered along with more pedestrianisation of city centre streets.
Comment by December 20 at visit Greater Cambridge Partnership website.