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Road charging is ‘out of date’ solution to Cambridge’s transport problem

Proposals for public transport improvements in Greater Cambridge funded by road charging are “just not good enough”.

Councillors say the Greater Cambridge Partnership proposals are an “out of date” solution that will hit the least well off the hardest.

Anna Bailey, East Cambridgeshire District Council, Council Leader and Conservative Group Leader . Picture: Keith Heppell. (61125369)
Anna Bailey, East Cambridgeshire District Council, Council Leader and Conservative Group Leader . Picture: Keith Heppell. (61125369)

East Cambridgeshire District Council held a special meeting to decide its response to the GCP’s Making Connections consultation.

The council agreed not to support the proposals, which it says do not sufficiently benefit the people of East Cambridgeshire.

Conservative council leader Cllr Anna Bailey, said: “Cambridgeshire is a rare net contributor to the Treasury; Greater Cambridge is a world-leading centre for high-tech and innovation. What’s on offer from the GCP is an out-of-date 20th century solution for our 21st century county town, and it’s just not good enough.

“The frequency of rural services and key corridor services is inadequate. Under these proposals users would spend considerably more time travelling, leading to lost productivity and a reduced quality of life.”

The GCP’s proposed bus service improvements will be funded via a daily charge for vehicles entering, leaving and travelling around Cambridge of £5 for cars and motorbikes, £10 for vans and £50 for HGVs, payable between the hours of 7am and 7pm on weekdays.

Cllr Bailey (Con, Downham) said: “We are especially concerned that the proposals will hit the least well off the hardest, those that work in manual, retail, frontline or face-to-face roles, who often work unsociable hours.This is an unfair tax on the people of East Cambridgeshire who need vehicle access to Cambridge.

“We need a solution that provides cheap, attractive turn-up-and-go travel. We can and we must do better.”

Concerns have also been raised by Huntingdon District Council, which said in its draft response that it welcomed the proposed improvements to public transport to try and reduce congestion and air pollution,

but raised concerns about people facing a charge to drive to Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

In East Cambridgeshire, the GCP is proposing to operate two buses an hour between Ely, Little Thetford and Stretham to Cambridge, including an hourly service from Littleport and hourly services between Ely, Stuntney, Soham and Fordham. One new rural bus service between Soham and Mildenhall will also run hourly and there are also plans for a demand-responsive service for some villages.

Councillors agreed that they supported the GCP’s aim of making public transport, cycling and walking the obvious choice for most people, but said the public transport offer is not sufficient.

The council’s response said it believes the proposals for scheduled bus services to access locations within the charging zone, which includes Addenbrooke’s and Papworth Hospitals, will not be frequent enough to be of practical use for residents, adding that thousands of residents using the service will face multiple changes of bus to get to their destinations.

Councillors also raised concerns that the impact of road charging on businesses and the local economy did not appear to be undertaken.

The reponse also states demand responsive services are an “unrealistic option for reliable connections for scheduled bus services”.

The Liberal Democrat opposition at the council proposed an amendment to the authority’s response, but this was defeated.

Opposition leader Cllr Charlotte Cane (Lib Dem, Bottisham) called for the council’s response to reflect that the authority had declared a climate emergency and that there was a need to provide drivers with public transport alternatives.

She said the need for rail improvements should also be reflected in the council’s response.

Cllr Cane continued: “Too many of our residents struggle to travel to work to GPs, to hospitals, cinemas, sports centres, and many other services and leisure activities. Whether it’s the car commuters stuck in endless traffic jams at the entrance to Cambridge, students paying over £1,000 a year to get to college, and then often being late or left stranded in their villages when the bus doesn’t come.

“The residents along our major roads suffer the noise and air pollution and fear letting children cross the road to school or to play and can’t enjoy sitting in their garden because the sounds of nature are drowned out by the traffic. As we build more houses, the amount of traffic will increase and these problems will get worse. Nobody thinks this is sustainable.

“Residents have told us that the proposals do not go far enough. So this amendment seeks to add further improvements such as transport hubs on the main bus routes. We also ask for student tickets so young people pay no more to get to school or college than Cambridge residents. The amendment also unequivocally supports the proposed improvements bus is seven days a week from 5am to 1am for some routes, and to two buses an hour for other routes and hourly service transport on demand for those residents not on a bus route. I cannot understand why the Conservatives want less.”

In its submission, the council says it would like to see the GCP work with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to investigate fully a more transformational alternative, including reconsideration of autonomous vehicles and tunnelling under Cambridge and light rail.

Councillors also called for immediate further investment into cycling infrastructure in Cambridge city and beyond, including rural cycle routes to onward transport locations.

They also want the Combined Authority to make quick progress on the business case for an enhanced bus partnership or bus franchising to help get the current bus network working properly, with a focus on the rural areas for public subsidy.

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