Congestion Charging Commission for Cambridgeshire

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 83.

The County Council last year set up an independent Transport Commission to look at the proposals for Congestion Charging with £500m of up-front investment. As we reported last year, and despite the spin that the Cambridge Evening News attempted to give them, the proposals are far from dead in the water.

The Transport Commission was set up after a year of (often ill-informed) debate on congestion charging, the main consultation exercise on which nonetheless found:

  • Only 31% supported the principle of a congestion charge, but …
  • 55% would support a charge if revenues were spent on improving transport in Cambridgeshire [which is a legal requirement anyway]
  • 44% would support the congestion charge if it only operated between 7.30 – 9.30 am Monday to Friday [which the County Council proposed anyway]
  • 59% would support a congestion charge if attractive alternatives were in place for travelling in Cambridge [which £500m – ten times current funding levels – would surely help provide!]

Our view on the County’s proposals

Unclog Cambridge cartoon

Our view, which was reached after several monthly meetings and ongoing debate, is that the proposals for a congestion charge in conjunction with massive up-front investment should broadly be welcomed, although we have concerns about some of the details, which could be addressed as work progresses.

The up-front investment could at last enable continental-quality provision, whilst the charge would bring about the traffic-reduction needed to provide more road space for cycling and public transport. (For instance, it’s no good investing in buses if the roads they use are blocked by queuing cars.)

Recognising that there was considerable misunderstanding of the £500m of benefits (which the media have almost completely failed to cover), we launched a website which gained some media coverage from this. This remains online and tries to explain these benefits – in clearer terms than the County Council seem to have managed so far.

As we said back in 2007:

‘It is now over 40 years since the first major Government report on road pricing. In other forms of transport, including local trains and buses, demand is managed by varying the charge. Doing so in congested cities will reduce congestion and hence pollution. If people switch to walking and cycling for shorter journeys, not only will they save money and improve their health, but the road space will be available for those whose trip by motor vehicle is essential.

‘For a Congestion Charge to work it will be important for many of the incentives for motorists to switch modes to be available well before charging even starts. We believe there are several schemes which could be implemented relatively quickly, showing commitment by the County, and giving early benefits to those who choose to cycle.

‘The proposals are radical, balanced, necessary, and will benefit everyone by ensuring the future health of Cambridge as a city. The County has heeded our message that increasing levels of cycling requires much more of a focus on quality. The proposals make real space for cycling, rather than just fitting it in or putting cyclists onto pavements.’

Articles setting out our views were published in Newsletters 73, 76, 78 and 80 (survey results).

Public meetings and survey

Traffic reduction is needed to provide more road space for cycling and public transport.

Cambridgeshire’s independent Transport Commission has started a series of public meetings, at which they are grilling experts on particular issues. Anyone who attended the first meeting could not accuse the panel of being soft on the County Council officers present.

The Transport Commission has been inviting views, and we will have responded by the time you read this. We are pushing for many of the ideas set out in our Cycling 2020 brochure (contact us if you don’t have a copy yet, or see our website) to be funded and implemented.

We also intend to appear at one of the public hearings and will present our expert knowledge and detailed visions for what could be done to improve transport if a charge and the accompanying investment were not blocked.

We will keep you updated as this issue progresses.

Martin Lucas-Smith