Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Greater Cambridge transport is not working well - that’s why we must change our behaviours

Cllr Tim Bick, chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership joint assembly and leader of the Lib Dems on Cambridge City Council, writes on the Making Connections consultation.

Traffic in East Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Traffic in East Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Whatever your situation, the local transport system is probably not serving you well. If you want to get somewhere efficiently by car, you are often mired in slow-moving traffic queues. Your public transport option is unreliable, expensive and inaccessible. If you cycle, you’re starved of safe space. We all suffer from public areas designed less for people, than for domination by vehicles and their fumes. Unsurprisingly, transport remains the biggest single contributor to climate change in our area.

Hopes that new behaviour patterns as a result of the pandemic would sort all this out for us seem already forlorn. Steps towards recovery are marked by steadily increasing travel – and that travel is predominantly car-based, with congestion already back.

The costs in terms of health, social isolation, the environment, our time, and our household and business finances are huge. The biggest losers are those who don’t have vehicles of their own and find public transport expensive, infrequent or completely absent. Our growing local population and otherwise thriving local economy will make all of this even worse - unless we collectively do something.

It’s been understood for some time that the route out of this predicament is to replace as much car use as we can by bus and bike use, and to make these alternatives more practical and attractive to many more people. Until recently, there has been less agreement over how to get there and how seriously to try. But the results of this year’s local elections seem at last to present an opportunity to face this challenge in a fair and open-minded manner without taboos or sacred cows.

This is why the current consultation exercise Making Connections from the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is so important to all of us. It is well worth taking a few minutes to participate.

The GCP wants to transform the bus services. To do so, buses need road space to let them flow efficiently and reliably, and the funding to enlarge the network, so it’s much more accessible with more frequent services across longer hours at potentially less expense. Making Connections outlines what this might look like for journeys from where you live. Have they got this right for you?

Cllr Tim Bick, chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership joint assembly
Cllr Tim Bick, chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership joint assembly

They also want to create a more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly environment. For this, highway space again needs freeing up from the current volume of motorised traffic, but in a comprehensive way so that it isn’t just displaced to make a different area worse. And funding is needed to continue the programme of cycleways that the GCP has started with cross-city cycle routes and greenways.

To make this possible, the GCP puts forward a number of measures for comment. Each has the combined effect of discouraging car journeys (creating road space) and raising income (paying for extended bus services and investing in cycling infrastructure). The proposed measures involve a financial charge for car use, but in different ways: on car movements at times of day when roads are congested; on vehicles which create pollution; on vehicles just when they park - applying any of these only within the city centre or across the whole city.

Such charges would change the terms of car use for many people. For those who choose not to use the car, the GCP’s aim is to provide a public transport alternative which works better for them. The consultation invites us to consider what issues each approach would throw up for each of us. This will help to select an overall approach and to design it in detail.

What this is not, is a scheme to charge everyone more money for carrying on their daily lives. Instead, it invites us to change our behaviour, so that a lot of the time we avoid paying any new charge. If everyone just carried on travelling as before and paid these charges, the whole initiative would have failed. The underlying question is not, as some try to put it: “would you like to pay one of these charges?” – but, looking at the improved alternatives, “could you change your travel choices to avoid paying it at least some of the time?”

Considering the current transport short-comings we are trying to remedy, a ‘get out of gaol free card’ which doesn’t need significant behaviour change is not on the horizon. We’re at a point where that means you and me and not just someone else: so it’s important to respond to the consultation questions with that in mind.

The GCP is keen to tune the alternatives to car journeys to make them easier choices and to design a charging scheme which is as fair as it can be. But it is obvious that the less effective and less productive the charging scheme that is chosen, the less game-changing the alternatives to the car will be.

The Making Connections consultation provides more information to help you consider where you stand. I strongly urge you to take a look and give your views before it closes next Monday (December 20). Help define the type of place you want to live in and how bold you are willing to be in changing the way we get around.

Read more

Have your say on plans for improved Greater Cambridge bus service paid for by congestion charge

Area-by-area: Greater Cambridge bus routes proposed under public transport plans

Cambridge congestion charge mooted

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More