CambridgePPF Chairman – letter to the Cambridge News re congestion charge

20th Jul 2015Planning

Dear Sir

The proposal in your article dated 29th June for a congestion charge as a way to resolve the chronic traffic problems in Cambridge is welcome – and overdue. CambridgePPF has for long advocated that some form of road pricing was the only realistic way to reduce the numbers of cars in the city. It is good to see that this realisation is at last beginning to gather momentum.

Cambridge’s traffic problem is a result of the imbalance between capacity and demand. Recent plans to address the problem have focused on enhancing capacity by alleviating traffic bottlenecks – such as junction up-grades, re-aligned road intersections, new bus lanes, bollards, and the like. Such improvements typically have only a short-term benefit either because the congestion is just shifted elsewhere, or because they merely encourage additional traffic that overwhelms the improvement. A substantial amount of money has been invested in up-grading the infrastructure but with little long-term benefit. With another 35,000 new homes planned for the Greater Cambridge area, things will only get worse unless we adopt a more radical approach.

CambridgePPF urges that demand must also be addressed, and the most effective means of reducing demand is through some form of charge for entry into the city. Our support for a congestion charge comes with two fundamental conditions – that the income it generates is ring-fenced to subsidise a fast, efficient, and reliable public transport service that is sufficiently attractive to persuade drivers to give up their cars; and secondly, that the public transport alternative is up and running at the time the charge is introduced.

Our recommendation is that the Park & Ride system should be up-graded to provide a high quality frequent service using low emission hybrid or electric buses with both free parking and a bus fare that is heavily subsidised though the congestion charge. The introduction of the P&R parking charge has been a backward step in that it has discredited the system at a time we should be trying to boost it.
Any debate on congestion charging rapidly degenerates into an argument about how much and who pays. Clearly the details must be subject to extensive public consultation. We believe the coverage should be as inclusive as possible, including not just those entering the city, but also those starting their journey within the city.

At the moment, CambridgePPF is more concerned with getting the principle of road charging accepted than with the details about how it might operate. We believe there is no realistic alternative to a congestion charge, and that until traffic congestion can be reduced, the continued success of Cambridge is at risk.

Demand management through a socially equitable system of road pricing must form part of a balanced transport strategy. The City Deal is currently considering how best to allocate its £1 billion to support economic growth in and around Cambridge. Rather than spend the money on yet more short-term infrastructure improvements, we urge that a relatively small sum is allocated to examining how a congestion charge might be developed specifically for Cambridge. It might just turn out that much of the road expenditure proposed by the City Deal could be re-allocated to other deserving infrastructure projects if traffic flows were substantially reduced by an entry charge to drive into the city.

Robin Pellew, Chair
Cambridge Past, Present & Future

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