Congestion charging – support shown if transport improvements in place

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 78.

The County Council has issued the results of its four-month consultation on proposals for congestion charging coupled with an up-front investment in public transport and cycling of around £500m.

On 6th May 2008, the County Council hosted an event to release the findings of the consultation into proposals for tackling congestion that took place between November 2007 and March 2008. The findings were delivered directly by two market research companies responsible for collecting and collating people’s views. Each organisation produced a presentation for the event and a report. There was also a report presenting the findings from the responses received directly by the Council.

Figure 30: Extent to which respondents support or oppose congestion charging in Cambridge (In-home survey)
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The County Council will be considering the results and preparing a report for Cabinet – the main decision-making body – later this year.

Consultation results

The full reports have been published by the County Council on their website at

Main report Table 33: To what extent respondent supports or opposes the principle of congestion charging (All methodologies)
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The first set of figures are those which have been leapt upon by opponents of the scheme, because they show the least support. They indicate a base-line support for the principle of congestion charging of 31%.

In our view, however, those results should not be given much prominence, because they assume no additional expenditure to improve alternatives to the car. When this taken into account, support for congestion charging actually becomes positive.

When expenditure on improving public transport and cycling are included – as the County Council’s scheme clearly proposes – there is overall support in favour of congestion charging.

The County Council’s scheme makes clear that:

  • All revenues would be spent on improving transport (as is required under law anyway)
  • The charge proposed is only between 7.30 am and 9.30 am, Monday to Friday
  • That massive expenditure to improve non-car transport is proposed, roughly 10 times the level of current investment

These results have been broken down into per-district figures in a supplementary report, reproduced below.

(We have chosen not to reprint the figures for East Cambs, Fenland, and Hunts in this Newsletter as these are less relevant to our readers, but the ‘All Cambridgeshire’ figure is shown, to demonstrate the lack of significant deviation from the district figures.)

Supplementary report Table 30: To what extent respondent supports or opposes the principle of congestion charging (East Cambs, Fenland, and Hunts not reproduced here)
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Table 31: To what extent respondent would support or oppose congestion charging in Cambridge if all revenues raised were spent on improving transport in Cambridgeshire (East Cambs, Fenland, and Hunts not reproduced here)
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Table 32: To what extent respondent would support or oppose congestion charging in Cambridge if the congestion charge was only introduced between 7.30 and 9.30am, Monday to Friday (East Cambs, Fenland, and Hunts not reproduced here)
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Table 33: To what extent respondent would support or oppose congestion charging in Cambridge if attractive alternatives were in place for travelling in Cambridge (East Cambs, Fenland, and Hunts not reproduced here)
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Political reaction

At the 6th May meeting, several members of the audience spoke in response to a request for any questions seeking factual clarifications, though naturally that did not deter many speakers from presenting their own opinions. The general tone of the questions was one of scepticism about the County’s consultation.

The Leader of the City Council Labour group spoke. He felt that the positive support for congestion charging when key conditions were in place, as shown in the results presented by the market research companies, contrasted with a survey done by the Cambridge Evening News (CEN). The CEN survey the week before had found that 60 per cent of people rejected congestion charging. However, the (then) Leader of the County’s Cabinet, Cllr Keith Walters, pointed out that the CEN survey was a self-selecting survey of only 180 people so was hardly a more reliable source of public opinion, especially given the negative bias consistently shown by the CEN on this issue.

The CEN immediately ran headlines highlighting the baseline 31% support rather than the raised level of support for when the scenarios were in place. Reading further on into the article, however, it did admit “when asked about how they would regard congestion charging “if attractive alternatives were in place for travelling in Cambridge”, 59 per cent of at-home interviewees said they would support it, with 24 per cent saying they would be opposed”.

We challenge every politician making statements on this issue to be honest with the electorate, including the key facts that massive up-front investments in public transport and cycling are proposed, that 47,500 new houses will seriously worsen existing congestion, and to state what their alternative proposals would be, and where the money would otherwise come from. So far few have done so.

The post-election leaflet issued by Cllr Ben Bradnack, Labour (Petersfield), reiterates opposition to the proposals, but again completely fails to state that massive up-front investment would be in place. Ironically the statement about congestion charging was next to a picture of the need to improve bus services! In these conditions, which we can assume are repeated in other political leaflets from various political parties in the City, it is hardly suprising that there remains significant opposition to a congestion charge.

The Liberal Democrats have stayed relatively quiet on this issue, but their position in the elections appears to have been one of tacit support for the proposals as long as there are discounts for residents, that there is more support for environmental objectives such as CO2 reduction, that any surplus is ring-fenced (this is required by law anyway) and that there are improvements to public transport (which clearly form part of the scheme).

The funding arising out of the TIF scheme would pay for the Chisholm Trail, which would use spare arches under Mill Road bridge.
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May’s local elections saw a candidate from each of the Conservative Party and Green Party and an Independent elected to the City Council. The City Conservatives seem to be fully against the scheme. The Greens seem to support the proposals, and the Independent (John Hipkin) spoke on Radio 209 to the effect of giving support if alternatives were in place.

Upsides and downsides for cycling

Our own submission was basically our previous two Newsletter articles (see Newsletter 73 and Newsletter 76) on this topic. We broadly welcome the proposals, but have sought reassurances on various aspects. We recap these briefly here.

In general we felt key benefits included:

  • General traffic reduction, creating a real opportunity for reallocation of roadspace for cycling – this is the top of the ‘hierarchy of solutions’ which is frequently difficult to achieve
  • The Chisholm Trail, our long-proposed ‘cycling superhighway’ joining the Science Park to Addenbrookes, which is amongst the proposals, and which would cost several million pounds
  • Hybrid cycle lanes, which seeks to balance the needs of different cyclists (on-road / off-road preference), are proposed, which we have pushed for.
  • Dedicated, off-road bus provision could mean the elimination of the ‘Milton Road effect’ in key areas.
  • Removal of the excuse for doing things ‘on the cheap’
  • Fixing lots of junction problems, and cycle parking, city-wide
  • Clearing the maintenance backlog

The principal downsides and areas on which we wanted reassurance were:

  • There is scope for things to be done badly.
  • Danger of increase in shared-use pavement cycleway provision.
  • The question of whether new, on-road bus lanes could cause new problems
  • An assurance that the cycling aspects would not suffer if the money received from the government turns out to be much less than is being bid for.
  • The suggestion that part of the up-front money that would come with any congestion charging scheme would be used for an Ely bypass. We have received a clear statement by e-mail from a senior figure at the County Council that that is no longer proposed, as of several months before the formal consultation opened.

Why should Councillors support the proposals?

In our view, Councillors now need to get behind the proposals, because:

  • If hundreds of millions of pounds are thrown away, people will look back in 10 years’ time and ask why Councillors failed to exercise a leadership role and take this money, despite the short-term pain it might have for some of their electorate.
  • The amount of up-front money which the County would likely receive would be enormous. It is clear that levels of transport investment of some ten times the current amount would be available in the four or five years before any scheme comes into effect.
  • The level of housing growth in the city is not going to be stopped by Councillors saying they dislike it. Assuming there is no massive economic downturn, or the Government decides that the Eastern Region shouldn’t be a growth area any longer, this housing growth IS going to happen, whether local Councillors like it or not. And this growth will cause real congestion problems.
  • The hundreds of millions of pounds that would likely come forward will not be received any other way.
  • Cycling is not going to be significantly improved by the current levels of money spent on it, which are tiny by continental standards. Members of the public want to be given real alternatives to the car, and poor-quality shared use paths will not achieve it. Real money is needed.
  • Bus services would be massively improved, with increased frequencies. (As cyclists, many of our members would be concerned about increased numbers of buses, but the alternative to this would be increased numbers of individual vehicles, which is surely worse. With better bus provision, sometimes dedicated off-road provision, the worst effects can be mitigated.)
  • Despite a long period of consultation, no Councillors have come up with any serious alternative how to solve the congestion problems of the city taking into account the new dwellings, or where the money would come from.
  • Issues like road maintenance, and slow progress on implementing local crossings, disabled parking spaces, etc., all caused by current funding shortages, would all start to disappear pretty quickly.
  • The scheme offers the ability to kill several birds with one stone: less congestion, money for alternatives, freeing up of road space for alternatives, money to deal with maintenance backlog and better air quality.
Traffic reduction, of the sort a congestion charge would bring, is top of the ‘hierarchy of solutions’ which is usually difficult to achieve in practice.

Councillors need to take on a leadership role, and the County needs to improve the quality of the information being given out, thus working together to demonstrate the real benefits that the up-front improvements to transport would bring. Councillors who continue to oppose the scheme must say where they would otherwise find the money for the levels of investment Cambridge needs.

Next stages

Officers at the County Council are no doubt considering whether the apparent level of public support – once key conditions are put in place – should result in taking things forward.

The County Council will be considering the results and preparing a report for Cabinet – the main decision-making body – later this year. This, we expect, will effectively decide whether the proposals for the charge plus £500m investment should be dropped, or whether the next stage – asking the Government how much they are really prepared to put forward – should continue.

If that happens, the amount pledged by the Government IF a scheme is taken forward will be key. The County would then embark on a second, more detailed consultation on the facts of the scheme, in advance of a formal decision by the County Council’s Cabinet to proceed or not proceed.

Key facts from the County Council

  • Between 1999 and 2016 at least 57,400 new households are planned for the county; approximately 33,000 of these homes are still to be built, mainly in the Cambridge area.
  • In the Cambridge sub-region there would be an additional 33,500 car trips per day (there are currently 273,000 car trips per day). In addition to this, there would be, on average, a 23% increase in travel time and a 16% increase in distance travelled.[presumably this is if nothing is done?]
  • In the Cambridge area, there would on average be a 46% increase in total travel time and significantly more on many roads, an 11% reduction in average speeds and an 84% increase in delay at junctions.
  • The British Chambers of Commerce estimates that congestion currently costs the UK economy approximately £17 billion per annum. In addition, 1.2 billion hours are lost to congestion every year.
  • The County Council have submitted a bid for over £500m of transport improvements to the Transport Innovation Fund. This is a pot of money from the government to entice local authorities into trying out congestion charging schemes.
  • The congestion charge itself would be a one-off charge for anyone driving into, out of, or within the congestion charge zone (basically all of Cambridge), between 7.30 and 9.30am, weekdays only. The proposed charge would be in the range of £3-5 per day and all the Park & Ride sites would be outside the zone.
  • If the bid is successful, implementation of the proposed transport improvements could commence from 2008 onwards, though this timescale is now thought to have been moved back at least 6 months or so. Congestion charging would be a further three years away (at least).
  • It is important to note that a decision to introduce congestion charging has not yet been made, despite the County having submitted a business case in autumn 2007. Submitting a business case to government does not commit the Council to introducing it.
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STOP PRESS A new website, is being launched in support of the congestion charge proposals.