We all need cleaner air, better buses and fewer cars
Opinion | Cllr Lewis Herbert, Labour leader, Cambridge City Council
In my Cambridge Independent article last month, I wrote about sorting out public transport. The Cambridge area and city has had a massive traffic congestion problem for years, particularly at peak times. Traffic levels are now back to pre-Covid days again. The Greater Cambridge Partnership and local council objective is not just to cap traffic, but to reduce it by 15 per cent compared to 2011 levels. At the heart of tackling that problem are three objectives - cleaner air, better buses, and fewer cars.
We need to develop a package of public transport improvements and options, and win public and travelling public support on sorting this out. No one is saying there are easy choices, but it’s a central challenge Greater Cambridge needs to solve. It is central also to protecting what is best about our local environment and improving it. It is central to achieving net zero carbon locally by around 2030, not 2050.
On ‘cleaner air', air pollution from vehicles is a challenge as the pollution map shows. We need cleaner air for residents along major traffic routes in and through Cambridge particularly near the hot spots. Dirty air is currently breathed in by pedestrians and cyclists young and old, many with health conditions. People travelling inhale it too. We all need cleaner air.
The worst hotspots are on radial routes close to the city centre, our travel hubs, the inner ring road and radial junctions. Where queues form with concentrations of dirty diesel and older petrol vehicles, including older buses and HGVs. Worst pollution is at peak times with long queues at 7am-9.30am and 4.30pm-6.30pm weekdays, and peak weekend shopping times. We also need a smaller area city centre Zero Emission Zone and greater pedestrianisation there too.
Some measures are already under way, including a phased switch for city hackney cab taxis to electric or ultra-low emission vehicles, plus electric charging points provided by the city council working with taxi operators. Local measures help, particularly the ‘city centre cordon’, but a citywide approach is needed. This builds on our City Council 2018 Air Quality Plan (see cambridge.gov.uk/media/3451/air-quality-action-plan-2018.pdf), including our defined city centre Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).
Buses are currently under-funded. Achieving ‘better buses’ requires more frequent and, even more importantly, more reliable bus services, not just in the city but on the main routes into the city, throughout South Cambridgeshire and way beyond into neighbouring districts each way, and across Cambridgeshire. It needs to give people travelling currently by car a better option to driving, particularly for city journeys. It needs to improve transport for those without a car, including people on low incomes and younger people who have no option currently but an inadequate bus service.
It will be strong partnership, working with our fresh-thinking Combined Authority mayor Nik Johnson and his extensive public transport powers. It will provide everyone a say and recognise the vital role of bus and public transport providers plus integration with rail. It is a commitment the Mayor and county council share. There has to be a step change in bus services for longer journeys, plus further GCP investment to expand shorter cycling and walking.
We need to create the essential missing link between the off-road bus/public transport routes recently agreed by the GCP, and build on those to Babraham, Cambourne and Waterbeach, and existing busways to St Ives and Trumpington.
The tougher bit - there will need to be an extra funding mechanism to expand bus services, along with increased fare income, focusing initially on dirty vehicles travelling at peak times. As recent history and debates show, this is the hard end of this issue. But we need initial funding to develop reliable, expanded bus services, a carrot plus a bit of stick to incentive people to switch from cars to better journeys particularly at peak times, and clean up our air.
This outline shows what needs now to develop in detail. Acting on them will be vital ahead of giving everyone in three groups an even say - city and South Cambridgeshire residents, travellers and partners. The new system needs to tackling inequality. The whole Cambridge area badly needs cleaner air, better buses and fewer cars. We need an informed and open discussion, led by the Greater Cambridge Partnership, starting this autumn.
For a background summary, see this February 2020 Greater Cambridge Partnership report: cambridgeshire.cmis.uk.com/ccc_live/Meetings/tabid/70/ctl/ViewMeetingPublic/mid/397/Meeting/1423/Committee/26/SelectedTab/Documents/Default.aspx .