A £5 road user charge proposed for Cambridge.

Above – the model for Greater Cambridge Transport that was mapped out by Thomas Sharp back in 1931. Expect a huge uproar against this proposal which will reflect the huge problems societies will face as we wean ourselves off the fossil fuel economy. Unless the climate emergency gets us first.

The announcement was made today…and all hell broke loose online. You can read the article featured above here. The full details are in the Greater Cambridge Assembly meeting papers here (pages 30-63) – which really should be a separate document front and centre. If you have a strong view either way, email any of your local councillors and start a conversation with them. (Raise other issues with them too – that’s what they are there for).

Anyway, here’s Phil with the summary.

It’s not just congestion charging

They GCP states:

Key features of the proposed City Access package published today are:

  • New bus routes, additional orbital and express services, and a huge increase in rural coverage, with buses supported by Demand Responsive Transport (DRT).
  • Longer operating hours from 5am to 1am Monday to Saturday and 5am to midnight on Sunday with more frequent services – 6-8 buses every hour in the city and from market towns, and hourly rural buses.
  • Flat fares to make public transport cheap and accessible; with passengers paying £1 to travel in the city and £2 for journeys in the travel to work area.
  • Options for new cross-city cycling routes to encourage more active travel, enhancing Greater Cambridge’s reputation as the UK’s leading cycling city.
“So they’ve had ***eight years*** to come up with something and all we’ve got are more buses and a congestion charge?”

You’ll have to put that question to your local councillors.

This is where the exemptions will be critical. Will it be possible to provide exemptions based on income levels? Esp for low paid workers who cannot use public transport because there simply is no reliable provision? Again, it’s essential people get in touch with their councillors on how the proposals will affect them.

Are these the bold proposals the Citizens’ Assembly called for in 2019?

The Citizens Assembly told us ‘to be bold’ and the ambitious proposals we are putting forward would work in tandem with our other schemes to create a truly sustainable transport network for Greater Cambridge.”

Peter Blake, Transport Director of the Greater Cambridge Partnership

For those of you around in 2019, the Greater Cambridge Partnership commissioned Involve UK to run a Citizens’ Assembly on congestion, air quality, and public transport in & around Cambridge.

“Participants developed and prioritised their vision for transport in Greater Cambridge, with the following outcomes commanding the highest support:

  • Provide affordable public transport;
  • Provide fast and reliable public transport;
  • Be environmental and zero-carbon;
  • Restrict the city centre to only clean and electric vehicles;
  • Be people-centred – prioritising pedestrians and cyclist;
  • Be managed as one coordinated system (e.g. Transport for Cambridge);
  • Enable interconnection (e.g. north/south/east/west/urban/rural).

“The citizens’ assembly voted on a series of measures to reduce congestion, improve air quality and public transport. Of the measures they considered, assembly members voted most strongly in favour of road closures, followed by a series of road charging options (clean air zone, pollution charge and flexible charge).

In addition to these measures, assembly members developed and prioritised a number of other supporting measures:

  • Mayor to franchise buses;
  • Plant trees and hedges to absorb carbon;
  • Encouraging the use of electric bikes;
  • Introduce a lollipop bus service with low emission electric vehicles;
  • Explore the viability of long-distance buses using the Park & Ride;
  • Establish a heavy-duty depot outside of Cambridge, with last-mile delivery through electric van / pedal-power;
  • Optimise traffic signals

You can read the full report from the Citizens’ Assembly here.

Above – the front page of the full report

“Hang on – can we go back to the very start? Where did all of this come from?”

From George and Nick – the ex-Chancellor now making a mint somewhere, and the ex-Deputy PM – also making a mint somewhere. The latter with the firm that owns ‘Visage Livre.’ It wasn’t just them though. As the press release of 20 June 2014 states:

In January 2015 the GCP General Assembly met for the first time. And I was there! I wrote about it here. How does it read today, over seven years later?

“To be fair, the setup we have is the result of successive failure by Whitehall to give Cambridge the local government structure it needs to deal with the problems it has. This assembly is the next best thing to a much needed unitary authority (in my opinion).”

Antony Carpen (me) 13 Jan 2015

So there was me calling for a unitary authority instead of the GCP ***at the very start***. Oh well. Note The Cambridge Green Party had selected Dr Rupert Read as their MP-candidate for the general election 2015 – who was scathing. This to the then Cambridge News Local Government Correspondent Jon Vale.

Dr Read would go on to poll the best ever result for The Green Party in Cambridge, with over 4,000 votes at the 2015 general election – a record that still stands..

People were not happy then, and by the sounds of things they are not happy now.

I won’t go into the detail of what happened between then and now. Have a browse through my old blog from 2015 onwards to see the fun and games everyone had.

“Were there alternatives?”

Of course – the Cambridge Connect Light Rail proposals. The first of these came about in 2016. Here’s the brains behind the plan, Dr Colin Harris, speaking to the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations back in 2017 – the latter commissioned me to film this.

(Above – the presentation starts at 25 seconds in)

The plan was straight forward. A light rail off-road link from Cambourne to Haverhill with a short underground section and stops in the centre of Cambridge. Unlike the guided busway, no motor traffic in the city centre to get stuck in. One challenge the GCP had to deal with was that ‘last mile’ traffic.

Above – you can download the map from this link

“So, what happens now?”

The Greater Cambridge Partnership officers will drive it through. They have to. Otherwise all of the money gets surrendered back to ministers and the political fallout will be huge – and everyone will have failed. Myself included. In fact, I already have. Because we didn’t persuade the GCP to undertake the light rail scheme.

That does not mean the proposals will automatically fail. It also does not mean that the end of GCP funding in 2030 means that will be the end. It won’t, and it cannot be. The Climate Emergency will force the hands of politicians to take more radical action. It’s just a shame they could not have been more radical earlier on.

It also does not mean that everything that the GCP has funded has been a failure.

The Chisholm Trail and the Greenways are helping get more people out on two wheels and not just in urban areas.

“Will the congestion charge work?”

Depends on what the success criteria are.

The multiple crises that Conservatives in Westminster have foisted upon the country – mainly their failures to prepare for a whole host of things that many people warned them about repeatedly over the years – the climate emergency, the cost of living crisis, the spike in energy wholesale prices (and the lack of storage capacity for gas and oil) combined with only a limited capacity of renewables, much reduced home insulation programmes and more, mean that any additional costs of living will not go down well with the electorate. And understandably so. Furthermore, we’ve not seen anything on the response to the chronic shortage of bus drivers in our still-privatised bus system. Like many essential city workers, bus drivers cannot afford to live independently in Cambridge – their salaries are far too low.

“Well if you know everything, what’s your alternative?!?!?”

A unitary council for Greater Cambridge and a light rail at the heart of its public transport system. Amongst other things.

But for those of you interested in transport-specific things, see:

You don’t need to join them all (or any of them). But if the future of transport in and around Cambridge is an issue for you, my advice is to pick one – eg one that is the one you are the most dependent on, interested in, and/or could be better/best served by if only services and infrastructure were improved. (And advise those around you to consider similar). Because one of the things I’m learning from the study of Cambridge’s past is the importance of civic education in underpinning local democracy and local decision making. Have a look at this from over 100 years ago in a book titled Cambridge Essays on Adult Education. It still reads well today.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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