As the population and economy of the Greater Cambridge area has grown, so has the problem of traffic congestion.

Significant levels of population growth are planned for the period up to 2031 and beyond, which poses a risk of congestion becoming chronic. This could create a number of threats to the green setting and heritage of the area as well as to quality of life and long-term prosperity.

Cambridge’s international competitiveness in a global high-tech market-place will be eroded unless the inter-related problems of affordable housing and traffic congestion are addressed.

Maintaining Cambridge as an attractive compact historic city in its green setting, with corridors of countryside reaching into the city centre, can only be achieved if new large-scale development is located outside the Green Belt. The sustainability of this development strategy requires that people can move effectively between these new residential developments and places of employment in and around Cambridge.

Inappropriate or ineffective infrastructure projects can damage the area’s environment and heritage without solving the congestion problem. Providing an effective solution to Cambridge’s traffic congestion that does not cause unnecessarily harm to the environment and heritage is one of the area's greatest challenges.

In CambridgePPF’s opinion, the approach adopted to date has lacked clarity about its long-term goals, comprising a piecemeal approach of disjointed projects to improve public transport and deter car drivers – new bus-lanes, improved cycling opportunities, restricted street parking, and the like.

Whilst some of these initiatives are welcome and are likely to make a positive short-term difference, they lack a coherent strategic framework to provide the necessary integration and mutual reinforcement to produce an effective long-term strategy. It is our concern that without a strategic framework of what we want our transport policy to deliver, we will continue with individual short-term measures that will fail to generate the step-changes we so urgently need.

We are actively involved in trying to influence the type, scale and location of transport infrastructure in order to minimise the impact on the environment, heritage and quality of life.

We have produced a suite of Principles for a Transport Strategy for the Greater Cambridge Area. They provide a basis for us to assess the merits and shortcomings of potential transport initiatives. It is our hope that these will also stimulate debate about what is required for a coherent and consistent approach to transport planning for Greater Cambridge.

1. The Fundamental Principle – Modal Shift

The long-term goal of any transport strategy for the Greater Cambridge area must be modal shift – to get drivers to use other modes of transport instead of private cars or to car share. This requires more than just making available an attractive public transport alternative for it will also require active measures to discourage car use – there is no point in creating new bus-ways if the buses continue to run half empty and the roads remain congested. Disincentives to drive can include both passive measures, like road closures, bollards, and restrictions on parking, as well as active demand management, including financial measures.

The approach to date appears to be based on an assumption that make improved public transport available and the public will use it in preference to their cars. Experience from other cities shows that people are reluctant to change their travel behaviour, and will do so only when it involves a direct personal cost or motivational trigger.

All measures proposed to improve city access and alleviate congestion must be able to demonstrate the direct contribution they make to the basic goal of generating modal shift.

2. Secondary Principles

i. Provide a Real Choice of Transport Mode:

The travelling public should be provided with a real choice of transport options to meet their individual needs. With the squeezing of services, especially in rural areas, many people now do not have this choice and have no option but to use the car. Public transport options can include heavy and light rail as well as buses but there needs to be connectivity and integration between modes, including walking, cycling, and the car. Rather than routing services through the city centre, people want options linking where they can leave their car (at home or Park & Ride sites) with their place of work.

ii. Secure a Sustainable Long-Term Source of Revenue Funding:

The travelling public will switch transport mode only if the alternative is safe, reliable, convenient, and cheap. This will inevitably require a substantial level of subsidy, so where will this come from when Local Authorities are in no position to provide? One option is through financial demand management so that those who chose to drive rather than use upgraded public transport contribute directly to the cost of that alternative. Obviously any such charge must be applied in a way that is equitable and fair, and does not discriminate against any one section of the travelling public.

iii. Adopt a Sub-Regional Approach:

Whilst the primary focus of the congestion problem may relate to access to Cambridge, the alleviation measures must be developed in a much wider sub-regional context covering the surrounding rural areas, where bus services are declining, and links to the nearby market towns

iv. New Innovative Thinking:

Cambridge has an international reputation for innovation and this could be reflected in its transport systems. New technologies in the transport sector are rapidly coming on-stream, like high speed mass transit systems, electric buses, driverless vehicles, and zero polluting engines.

Old polluting buses are likely to become obsolete in the near future so whilst they may play a short-term role, they do not represent an attractive long-term option. Should Cambridge to be at the forefront of implementing new transport solutions?

v. Social and Environmental Considerations:

New transport infrastructure can be socially and environmentally damaging so transport planning should seek the least disruptive option. Transport development should be subject to the same sustainability assessment as any other development, and such analysis should be undertaken early in the planning to eliminate options that are clearly damaging. Making maximum use of existing infrastructure by locating future growth where infrastructure for sustainable transport already exists, or can be easily upgraded, will minimise damage. The potential of tunnelling to move large numbers of people around the city without impacting on the medieval streets, historic buildings and countryside setting, should be explored.

vi. Tackle Air Pollution:

Cambridge’s air quality not infrequently breaches European and UK legal limits for NO2 emissions from vehicle, particularly bus, emissions. Less polluting transport options need to be considered, including the creation of an expanded Air Quality Management Area with an Emissions Charge to drive within the zone. If more buses are to be routed into the centre of Cambridge, these must be hybrid or electric to minimise the impact on air quality.

vii. Timescales, Planning, and Future-Proofing:

Some practical measures can be taken to alleviate traffic congestion in the short-term whilst others will take many years to prepare and consult, but this longer lead-in time should not preclude their inclusion in a comprehensive transport strategy for the future. What is needed is the clarity of a long-term plan that sets out the full picture incorporating all measures rather than just a basket of short-term projects. All measures should have a timetable showing when they will be implemented and for how long they may be expected to run. Significant investment in short-term measures should clearly be avoided if such actions are likely to be quickly superseded by more ambitious longer-term initiatives. However, the complete strategy, including both short-and long-term measures, is needed and needed now.

CambridgePPF Position on Congestion Charging

We have advocated some form of road-use charge since 2009. We have consistently argued, and continue to do so, that Cambridge’s traffic problems can be alleviated only through a clearer understanding of the dynamics of the supply and demand for road use. Simply throwing government money at engineering projects will not work.

The congestion problem is the direct result of an imbalance between demand and capacity - demand by drivers to use the roads, and the capacity of the road network to absorb that demand. Resolving the problem means addressing this imbalance. The engineering approach is to increase capacity – more busways, bus lanes, dual carriageways, revamped intersections, junction upgrades, etc. Such reliance on infrastructure engineering is a 1980s approach. If effective, it merely encourages more drivers to use their cars so the problem re-emerges or it simply shifts the bottleneck further down the road. This approach is also often damaging to the environment and heritage.

Demand can be reduced by both passive and fiscal means. Passive measures have already been tried through the Core Traffic Scheme – tidal-flow bollards, bus-lanes giving priority to public transport, ramped up car parking charges, restricting car parking space etc – but all this has done is to shown how resilient the average car driver is in the face of such pressure. Passive measures alone do not work.

An approach that has been shown to work effectively in other cities is through the direct payment of a user charge. If you want to use your car, then you pay, and your payment goes directly into subsidising an efficient cheap public transport system.

We recognise that any scheme must be as equitable and fair as possible. It should not penalise commuters while city dwellers benefit from free-flowing streets. Just as important, there must be an element of social equity with those who can least afford, paying less.

We have been lobbying the County Council and Greater Cambridge Partnership for investment to be made into researching the options and operational details of introducing a road-charging scheme, for example how much income this might generate to support improved public transport and how issues of equality and fairness can be overcome. Once these details are known then there would be an opportunity for informed public debate about whether or not such a scheme should be introduced and when.

This should be progressed alongside proposals for improved public transport not afterwards.