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Should we start by taxing congestion or workplace parking? Smarter Cambridge Transport delivers its verdict

Opinion | By Edward Leigh, Smarter Cambridge Transport

A workplace parking levy has been suggested for Cambridge (20415866)
A workplace parking levy has been suggested for Cambridge (20415866)

The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Making Connections consultation offers three options for raising money to pay for better bus services: new or increased parking charges, a congestion (“flexible”) charge or a pollution charge.

The survey question on this is confusing: it conflates increasing charges at city car parks with a workplace parking levy; and it doesn’t go into practical details, such as timescales, who might qualify for exemptions, or how options might be sequenced or introduced in parallel.

Here is what Smarter Cambridge Transport supports, and why...

Start with a workplace parking levy (WPL). This is the quickest option to implement because it requires no cameras; administrative overheads are minimal; and it’s easy to customise. It would incentivise businesses to assist their staff in finding alternative ways to get to work, and would help fund those alternatives.

To begin with, a WPL could exempt, or offer discounts or rebates, to small businesses and employers of key workers, including schools and public hospitals. It would be impractical to offer similar dispensations for a congestion charge, which individuals rather than businesses would be liable to pay.

There is popular support for a pollution-based charge (ULEZ) because people understand the connection between toxic pollutants and health – especially that of children and the elderly. This too can be introduced gently, as in Oxford, so it begins by targeting mainly commercial vehicles, incentivising businesses to invest in electric vehicles (as council policies on taxis are doing already).

The scope of a WPL and ULEZ may be expanded over time. Popular and political support for this will grow as people see new and improved travel options become available, and experience the benefits of less motor traffic. When the time is right, a ULEZ could be amended to include all vehicles, with the charge varying by time of day.

In short, start with a workplace parking levy that covers larger businesses, and a pollution-based charge that targets commercial vehicles. Gradually expand the scope of these as new travel options become available. Then turn the pollution-based charge into a congestion charge.

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