Greater Cambridge Partnership sets out plans for £5 road user charge and bus network shake-up with £1 fares
A £5 road user charge to drive into and around Cambridge is being proposed as part of a “once in a generation” plan to shake up how people travel.
Alongside the charge, the Greater Cambridge Partnership is setting out plans for one of the largest ever investments in a UK bus network to provide £1 fares, and more frequent services with longer operating hours.
The ‘Sustainable Travel Zone’ road user charge is proposed by the GCP for private vehicles between 7am and 7pm on weekdays. The charge will fund an improved public transport network in the future, with passengers paying £1 to travel in the city and £2 for journeys in the travel to work area.
The proposals follow the Making Connections consultation run by the GCP, which says the public was supportive of improvements to the public transport network, as well as its aims to reduce pollution and congestion.
It also said that people who responded to the consultation were more in favour of road based charges to fund the changes, as opposed to parking based charges.
The GCP said the consultation showed a “preference” for the charge covering a larger area, but at a lower cost.
The proposals, which will be discussed by the GCP’s joint assembly on September 8, set out plans for private vehicles driving into, out of, or within the travel zone to pay a £5 daily charge between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.
Exemptions and discounts are being considered for some, including a reimbursement scheme for a number of groups and workers, including clinically ill NHS patients, NHS staff, social care and care home workers, as well as minibuses and LGVs used by not-for-profit groups.
The details of how the charge zone will be operated have not yet been fully developed, but the GCP has said it is expected that ANPR cameras would be used. The authority has said that enforcement of those who do not pay the charge would follow usual traffic enforcement practice with an appeal process put in place.
Alongside funding the public transport improvement, the GCP is hoping the charge would also cut the number of people driving in the city. Any charge will ultimately need to be approved by the highway authority Cambridgeshire County Council.
The public transport improvements under the proposed City Access package includes new bus routes, additional orbital and express services, and a huge increase in rural coverage, with buses supported by Demand Responsive Transport.
The plans also include longer operating hours from 5am to 1am Monday to Saturday and 5am to midnight on Sunday and more frequent services – up to eight buses every hour in the city, six from market towns, and hourly rural buses.
Alongside the increased services, the GCP has set out plans for passengers to pay a flat fare of £1 to travel in the city and £2 for journeys in the travel to work area.
The authority also set out ambitions for the entire bus fleet to be zero-emission by 2030.
A tap on and tap off system and fare cap is proposed, and there are also plans for additional ticket types to provide discounts for group travel and for specific groups, such as students and apprentices.
Under the current proposed timeline, the GCP is hoping to start delivering the bus improvements from next year, and is planning to look at introducing the travel zone charge from 2026 to 2027.
GCP transport director Peter Blake stressed that there was a “clear demonstrable commitment” that the public transport improvements would come first.
Income from the proposed charge would be ring-fenced for public transport.
Mr Blake said the upgraded services could continue to be funded in the future, saying they had ‘done the maths and it added up’.
He continued: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to create a world-class transport network for Greater Cambridge and the wider area to drive a real step change in the way we travel.
“We’ve listened to the views of the public to create a future bus network with cheaper fares, more services to more locations – including rural areas – and faster, more frequent services with longer operating hours to make public transport a reliable and competitive choice for everyone.”
Mr Blake said logistically doubling the bus network was “quite challenging”, which is why he said the hope was to start “as soon as possible”.
He said: “There are some things we can do that are relatively straight forward, you can reduce the fares, literally at the flick of a switch, and that would make it attractive to an awful lot of users within Cambridge, even if they continue to experience congestion.
“We can make park and ride services in Cambridge much earlier and much later in the evening.
“We can’t flood Cambridge now with more buses because it is busy, but what we can do is incrementally make these changes.”
The GCP added that lower traffic levels would also provide the opportunity to create more “people-centric” spaces in the city, and said the plans also confirmed its support to deliver 13 cross-city cycling routes.
The proposals would be put to a final statutory public consultation before any decisions are made. This would be held in the autumn if approved by the GCP executive board on September 28.