I wrote in March 2023 about Cambridge's ambitious proposal for what it was calling a "Sustainable Travel Zone", but which was actually a congestion charge, and how it was not going well.
Well the BBC has reported that it has been cancelled, less than two weeks after revised plans were suggested that ought to have been the original plans in the first place.
I criticised the original proposal because its scale and scope were too ambitious, and because it offered little for those who would pay, as it was primarily designed as a revenue raising scheme, which had its scope defined by the amount of money local politicians wanted to raise to uplift the quality of its bus service. £50 million was to be spent enhancing services.
As a revenue raising scheme that was also described as being intended to "reduce traffic" it is hardly surprising that those who faced paying didn't see what they would benefit from, especially as few could envisage how the proposed improvements to bus services were "better" than their own cars, and there was next to no effort made to sell the proposal on the basis that it might improve travel times for those who still drive.
From that objective came a scheme design that was blunt and ill-focused. Why?
- It was designed as an area charge, like central London's congestion charge, so there could only be a single charge per day regardless of how much driving was undertaken. Those who undertook a single trip would pay the same as those driving commercially throughout the day.
- The area charge encompassed ALL of Cambridge. It effectively made the entire city into a congestion charge zone, regardless of how busy any streets were at any time, it priced the city for access, so those who drove towards the central city (who likely had other transport options for their trip) paid the same as those crossing from one side to the other (which would typically involve a less direct public transport trip).
- The charge would apply all day, from 0700-1900. So there was no effort to focus on peak charging at all, or focus on congestion. Although it would initially only apply in the AM peak in 2025 to commercial vehicles it would expand to all day operation from 2027 for all vehicles that would not be exempt.
- HGVs would pay exponentially more than cars, at £50 per day (perhaps £25 if zero emission) compared to £5 for cars. It's unclear how Cambridge expected to function effectively by treating HGVs as if they take up 10x the road space of cars (and have no modal substitute) when they actually take up 2.5-3x the road space of cars.
- What travel time savings and improvements in trip reliability will the system be designed to achieve?
- Can some of the revenue be used to improve the road network, whether by addressing deferred maintenance or improving some bottlenecks or safety issues in the network?