I wrote a couple of months ago about how poorly plans for a blunt congestion charge for Cambridge (UK) were going, in terms of public response, and this seems to be continuing following publication of the results of formal public consultation into what is being called a "Sustainable Travel Zone".
The Sustainable Travel Zone would be a single area charge (£5 for cars but much more for trucks) across virtually all of metropolitan Cambridge, which would operate 12 hours a day weekdays only. It would legally be a congestion charge, and would effectively emulate London, except for its scale of operation. Whilst the London congestion charge only affects a tiny proportion of greater London (separate from the Ultra Low Emission Zone), the Cambridge Sustainable Travel Zone would affect all of Cambridge. Why? It would appear to be to ensure that it would raise enough money to pay for the significant increase in bus services.
Rarely have congestion pricing schemes ever been publicly accepted if sold on the basis that it is about raising money (effectively a sophisticated form of tax) rather than reducing congestion. The record in the UK is that several cities have attempted to progress congestion charging on the basis that it would raise a lot of money for public transport (see Manchester and Edinburgh), and been rejected by the public.
By contrast, congestion pricing has been successfully advanced in Stockholm because it was about reducing congestion, whereas it saw considerable opposition in Gothenburg because that is about raising revenue. It is difficult, although not impossible to get support for such a scheme as a revenue raising instrument, but it would appear to be that people in Cambridge are not warm to the idea.
Cambridge News reports that although 70% of the population supported the transport improvements, 58% opposed the Sustainable Travel Zone/congestion charge. Only 34% supported the Sustainable Travel Zone as proposed.
Another report breaks down the results in more detail:
61% of those aged 16-24 who responded to the consultation were in favour of the charge
64% of those aged 55-64 opposed the charge.
Of those living within the proposed zone boundary, 49% were opposed and 46% in favour.
Those living outside the boundary were 60% opposed, 32% in favour.
Key concerns expressed were those wanting more exemptions, thinking the £5 charge was too high and thinking residents should have an exemption. Many wanted Addenbrooke Hospital excluded from the zone.
So what now?
29 June is the date when the Greater Cambridge Partnership meets to consider what to do next. It could just plough on, but it may be better to think about some of the ideas I wrote about before on how to phase in charging.
- Just introduce it in the AM peak only at first, in part to demonstrate the effects, but also to encourage some time-of-day shift in travel (which many would rather do compared to shifting mode). It would also give some idea of the elasticity of demand in the AM peak for driving to better inform forecasts for revenue. Sure it won't be enough revenue longer term, but then the improved public transport package can be focused on the peaks instead. Expand it to the PM peak later, as that would capture more traffic likely to mode-shift, rather than inter-peak traffic.
- Replace the blunt area charge with two cordons. One in the city centre (whether it is a tight city centre or one bounded by the effective ring roads of the A1303, A1334, A603), one at the proposed outer boundary. This means people won't be charged for simply moving their cars short distances, and will focus attention on entering Cambridge and then central Cambridge.
- Have a shoulder charge (at half price) for the first and last half hour to encourage time of day shift and provide more options for motorists.
- Dedicate some of the net revenues to some improve road infrastructure this means fixing substandard intersections, and although there will be resistance to using the money for maintenance (as it would reduce funding from other sources), some of what motorists pay should benefit them.