Consultation launched over bus improvements and road charging as campaigners against the plans hold public meeting
The public is being invited to have its say on plans to create a faster, cheaper and more reliable bus service funded by road charging.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership has launched a consultation today (Monday, October 17) on its proposals which would also mean buses running from earlier in the day to later at night.
But the move to introduce a daily charge to fund the bus improvements has been branded a ‘new tax’ on the city.
Some say they will be forced to move away or quit their jobs because they won’t be able to afford the potential £1,100 annual cost.
The GCP says proposals to transform the bus network through more services to more locations, with cheaper fares at £1 or £2 per journey could start from as early as 2023.
It says the improvements would be phased in over four years before the proposed introduction of a Sustainable Travel Zone with a road user charge.
Cllr Elisa Meschini, chair of the GCP’s executive board, said: “Shaped by extensive consultation over many years, the proposals out to public consultation today would be one of the largest investments in a UK bus network.
“We want to create a London-style service with more cheap buses to more locations and faster, more frequent services across the region. Alongside this are proposals for more walking and cycling links, better cycle parking, and the repurposing of public space to create a city that prioritises people over cars.
“This would change all our lives. We would cut car journeys in half, double bus services, create space for cyclists and walking. Cambridge would also have cleaner air and safer spaces.
“With the City Deal in place to pay for these improvements up front, we have a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform how we travel around Greater Cambridge. I encourage everyone to engage with the proposals online, in print, or through public or online events and have your say.”
Nearly 20,000 people have signed petitions against the idea of road charging, and there are also calls for a referendum.
A number of community groups have also launched to campaign against the proposals and fight for other options to be explored.
A public meeting organised by Cambridgeshire Residents’ Group, a non-political organisation fighting the proposed congestion charge, was attended by hundreds of people on Sunday (October 16).
“We believe the only fair and transparent way to settle this is to demand a referendum. This will ensure all residents, and businesses, impacted by the extra expenditure can have a say and those for whom bus travel, no matter how regular and cheap, simply cannot meet their needs,” said a statement released by the group.
The group continued: “We have asked that the residents of Cambridge put forward ideas that will enable a reduction of traffic rather than resorting to this sledgehammer method of securing an endless source of revenue at the expense of the population of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire most of whom simply cannot afford it.
“The response has been overwhelming, the list of ideas extensive and still growing. These are only some of the many good ideas that we are collating and intend to share.”
The GCP says the key features of the London-style bus network and active travel improvements that it is proposing include:
- New bus routes, additional orbital and express services to key sites across the city, and a huge increase in services for villages and towns across the travel to work area.
- Buses supported by flexible services known as Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) – which you can book that picks you up from near your home, such as the popular Ting service currently being trialled in West Huntingdonshire.
- Longer operating hours from 5am to 1am and more frequent services with six to eight buses every hour in the city and from market towns, and hourly rural buses.
- Options for new cycling routes in the city and connections between villages and the wider active travel network, including the 12 Greenways routes.
- Improvements to public spaces to make Cambridge more ‘people-centric’.
- All vehicle movements into, out of and within the proposed Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) would pay a flat daily charge between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.
- There would be discounts, exemptions and reimbursements for some, including those on low incomes and blue badge holders.
The money generated by the zone, which would not be fully introduced until 2027/28, would be ring-fenced to provide better buses and other improvements to the transport network.
Dr Nik Johnson, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, said: “We are at a turning point when it comes to transport in the Greater Cambridge area. With rising fuel costs, a growing population and congested roads, and bus services being cut, we need to transform our transport system and give people better travel options.
“A shift away from cars can only happen if we have fast, reliable, affordable and frequent buses. That’s why these proposals from the GCP set out a bus system which aims to be world class, which is the ambition needed to make the positive change we all want.
“The Combined Authority is continuing to work on a strategy that aims to reform our bus system. Franchising is one future option being reviewed, alongside ways to attract funding and investment.
“This consultation looks to that future, presenting lower fares, extended services and new routes that include rural communities, and moving us towards the joined-up network we all need.”
The GCP says its plans would result in 20,000 extra journeys made by bus and an additional 60,000 trips would be made by active travel every day.
It adds that the number of car trips in Cambridge would also be cut by 50 per cent and reduce carbon emissions from transport by about five per cent.
To view the proposals and have your say visit: greatercambridge.org.uk/mc-2022. The ten-week consultation closes at midday on December 23.
The GCP will be holding public meetings and drop-in sessions – both in person and online – as well as attending community events, transport hubs and employment and leisure hubs around the region to hear people’s views.
The findings will be used to put together a detailed business case that would be put to the GCP’s executive board next year to decide whether to go ahead with the proposals.
Cambridgeshire County Council, as the Highway Authority, has ultimate responsibility for any proposals around charging policies and would make the final decision.