In early September 2001, Cambridge MP Anne Campbell brought together around thirty people who have an interest in transport in Cambridge, in a one day ‘summit’ meeting. Councillors, council and government officers, transport operators and interest groups like ourselves were there. The promised Government transport minister, John Spellar, unfortunately was not!
The taxi drivers’ speech was highly effective – in alienating most of the audience
There is a turnover of people in various organisations, so it was helpful to meet the ‘new players’. For example, three different people have managed Cambridge railway station since we first established contacts there and Stagecoach in Cambridge has a fairly new Managing Director. There were a few snippets of information and progress reports that we weren’t aware of before. But will the meeting change anything significant? I doubt it.
The transport operators’ favourite phrase was step change . Both Stagecoach and the Guided Bus consortium used it, and I have written about this separately. Even the rail operators were being fairly up-beat, looking at direct Norwich-Cambridge services from next year and more London trains. The capacity of Cambridge station beyond this is a problem though. The station area redevelopment has been slow. Spillers have announced that the flour mill will be closed and this means that plans will have to be rethought. This means that there will probably now be more space to fit the complex jigsaw of users into the area.
John Brown (from the Government Offices for Eastern Region) tried hard to dispel the widely reported notion that implementing the A14 widening proposals in the Cambridge to Huntingdon Multimodal Study report would lead to a 30% increase in traffic entering Cambridge on that corridor. What he told us was that 30% is a smaller increase than would occur if nothing at all was done. On the assumption that a £3 charge would be made either as a toll or as a parking levy, traffic would actually decrease. According to him, the 30% increase would only occur if the financial regime that the report recommends were not implemented.
Much of the afternoon was spent discussing the charging options. Cambridgeshire has expressed interest in moving forward with workplace parking charges, but the issue is clearly highly politically charged and a decision hangs in the balance.
The most depressing contribution came from the taxi drivers. The speech – addressed to the absent minister – basically amounted to ‘Cambridge should be organised for the benefit of taxi drivers’ livelihoods.’ Traffic lights should be abolished and roundabouts introduced; speed limits should be raised so that they can go faster and so that there’s nothing to get in their way; fuel costs are too high; taxis should be subsidised, and fares should not be set at the whim of the City Council. The speech was highly effective – in alienating most of the audience. It was an object lesson in how to shoot oneself in the foot.