Congestion metering, congestion charging and peak-time congestion control points: a quick history of road pricing proposals in Cambridgeshire

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Previous road charging plans haven’t featured heavily in recent discussions about the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP)’s Making Connections proposals, so it might come as a surprise to many that Cambridgeshire’s elected officials have debated congestion charging projects on previous occasions.

Proposals for road charging were advanced by Conservative-controlled County Councils in the early 1990s and the late 2000s to tackle the same problems we face today: significant growth, high traffic volumes and limited space in a medieval city.

Since 1990, as a result of fast paced economic and housing growth, car use in Cambridgeshire has increased at more than twice the national rate. With plans for further major housing and employment growth, this growth in use of the private car, if unchecked, is possibly the single greatest risk facing the county

Cambridgeshire Transport Innovation Fund, Package Outline Proposal for Funding (2007)

The proposals from the late 2000s were similar to Making Connections, comprising bus service improvements, better infrastructure for cycling and walking and a £5 zone-based congestion charge for driving in the city boundaries, however the Council was bidding for a much larger amount of funding — nearly £500 million (£50 million of initial funding is available today). Given the large sums potentially available and (eventual) cross-party support, it seems unfortunate that the proposals from the late 2000s did not come to anything.

The GCP has also been engaging with the public and developing the current Making Connections proposals for several years, through a citizens assembly and two public consultations.

The current Making Connections proposals therefore follow years of research and debate about how to tackle the unique challenges our region faces. We summarise the history of Cambridgeshires’s road pricing proposals below.

DateOutlineComparison to the Making Connections proposals
1990Following a review of transport policy, Cambridgeshire County Council (then under Conservative Control) became the first UK Transportation Authority to adopt ‘demand management by road pricing’ as part of its overall policy in the form of ‘congestion metering’.

Aside from road pricing, the policy framework also included:
– City centre pedestrianisation
– A new edge of centre car park
– An extension of existing park&ride
– Extending residents’ parking
– New outer distributor roads
– Bus lanes
– Traffic and safety measures
– A tow-away scheme
– A rapid transit system.

You can read more about the scheme in this book chapter [paywall] written by Brian Oldridge OBE (formerly Director of Transportation, Cambridgeshire County Council).
The 1990 proposals envisaged that all cars within 15 miles of Cambridge would have been fitted with a meter that detected when the car moved slowly or stopped on the city’s roads (you can see a photo of the meter here).The metering system would therefore have been dynamic and responsive to actual conditions, with cars charged when travelling on roads with congestion or high traffic volumes. The Making Connections plans, in contrast, propose a flat charge for journeys within the Sustainable Travel Zone.

The 1990 policy framework mentions bus lanes, traffic and safety measures and Park&Ride, which also are key aspects of the Making Connections proposals. Outer distributor roads, entirely new car parks, tow-away schemes and a rapid transit system, however, do not feature in Making Connections.

1993A trial of the congestion metering system [paywall] was held in October 1993 in Cambridge. This was the first time that any form of road pricing had been demonstrated practically in the UK. At that point, though, local councils did not have the powers to implement road charging schemes, so the proposals were not taken forwards.
1994 onwardsFrom at least as early as 1994, successive governments discussed bringing forward legislation to give local councils the powers to implement road charging.

The Conservative Transport Secretary tabled new legislation in Parliament to give councils the power to implement road charging, as outlined by Antony Carpen on his Cambridge Town Owl blog.

Under a Labour Government, the Transport Act 2000 was passed. This contains the primary legislation for local road charging schemes in England, outside London, and Wales. You can read about the genesis of the legislation and further reforms under subsequent administrations here.
2007-2010In July 2007, Cambridgeshire County Council (then under Conservative Control) launched a bid to the Labour Government’s Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) for a package of measures worth around £500 million to address congestion in Cambridge. You can read how Conservative Councillor Shona Johnstone supported the proposals here in October 2007.

The vision was to improve both the availability and quality of public transport so that it becomes a realistic first choice for many people, and to deter car use through a peak hours congestion charge.

You can read the proposals here. The measures included:

– A peak hours congestion charge (two hours in the morning rush hour) at a cost of between £3 and £5 a day for cars travelling into, out of or within the congestion zone
– A transformation of the region’s bus services, including an expanded Park&Ride (increased investment in city services so all buses in Cambridge ran at least every 10 minutes; increased investment in other services so that major towns and villages could have buses into Cambridge every 15 minutes; new bus lanes created by reallocating road space and a one-way bus system in the city centre; real-time information at bus stops and a smart-card ticketing system; thousands more parking spaces at the Park&Ride sites; a new Park&Ride facility near Hauxton, extended Park&Ride operating hours)
– Major investment in cycling and walking infrastructure (a network of off-road and on road routes, connecting all major areas of Cambridge as well as schools and community facilities; improvements on the inner ring road, major junctions and at river crossings for cyclists; links to villages and recreational areas; more secure cycle parking)
– New link roads and more capacity on existing routes to join major new developments to the road network, as well as improved flow and safety at key junctions
– A new rail station in Chesterton and more train services on existing routes.

There was a consultation on the proposals, some of the results of which can be found here. 59% said they would support a congestion charge if attractive alternatives were in place for travelling in Cambridge.

In 2008, the county council set up an independent Transport Commission to look at the proposals. The Commission was broadly in favour.

The TIF bid, in particular the congestion charging aspect, was the subject of fierce debate and dominated the April 2009 local elections. The proposals were opposed by the City Council’s Labour Group but supported by the city’s ruling Liberal Democrats (provided that that alternatives to the car were in place before congestion charging started and there was a ‘fair deal’ for residents, according to TransportXtra magazine), but in October 2009, a majority of county councillors voted in favour of making a bid to the Department for Transport (DfT) for the funding.

The plans were dropped in 2010, however, after the Labour Government wound up the Transport Improvement Fund (TIF), from which the Council had sought funding. Cambridgeshire therefore missed out on potential funding worth nearly £500million (contrast with the £50 million of initial investment on offer as part of Making Connections).
The 2007 proposals were put forward to deal with the challenges the region faced due to Cambridgeshire’s high levels of growth, increasing congestion and high traffic volumes – the same issues that need to be addressed today.

They also have the same core components as the Making Connections proposals: a transformation of the bus services, major improvements to walking and cycling infrastructure to promote sustainable transport and a zone-based congestion charge (a daily flat fee irrespective of the number of journeys undertaken; all travel into, out of or around the zone would have been subject to the charge).

The charging zone put forward in 2007 was also very similar in scope to the proposed Sustainable Travel Zone. Park&Ride sites were outside the zone and the cordon was city-wide (not just around the inner ring road). The Addenbrooke’s Hospital site was not included in the zone, however.

There are some key differences to the current proposals, however. Improvements to the road and rail networks were part of the proposals, including a new rail station in Chesterton (which now exists as North Cambridge station), more train services on existing routes and funding for roads. The congestion charging element of the scheme would only have operated for two hours every morning and wouldn’t have included exemptions, or higher fees for larger vehicles.

2016-2017In 2016, the Greater Cambridge City Deal (now known as the Greater Cambridge Partnership) proposed a system of Peak-time Congestion Control Points (PCCPs) to tackle congestion at peak times in Cambridge on the busiest roads as part of its City Access programme. The scheme envisaged control points enforced by ANPR cameras on either side of the road (‘virtual bollards’), which would permit only buses, cycles and taxis to pass during congested periods; other motor vehicles would need to find alternative routes. The aims were to reduce delays to bus services caused by congestion, make cycling and walking conditions safer and more pleasant beyond the control points, and encourage modal shift away from driving.

A public consultation was launched, which received 10,000 responses (in contrast, the Making Connections consultation received 24,000 responses), and a protest was held against the proposals. The plans were eventually dropped in 2017.
2017 to 2021
In the Big Conversation in 2017, the GCP asked the public about their current challenges, hopes and ideas for the future. This was to help prioritise long-term investment plans.

In March 2019 the GCP ran the Choices for Better Journeys public survey. Over 5,000 residents and transport users took part. They were asked to choose the best way of funding public transport and reducing traffic jams. 

Citizens Assembly for Greater Cambridge was created in 2019 where members of the public were brought together to consider public issues and make a recommendation on what action should be taken on each issue.

In 2021 the GCP held the first Making Connections consultation which asked for thoughts on transforming the bus network and reducing traffic in the city, while raising money to pay for transport improvements. You can read the report on that consultation here.
2020 to 2023MPs on the cross-party Commons transport select committee launched an inquiry into road pricing in December 2020, exploring whether it could be the system to replace fuel duty when revenues decline due to the transition to electric vehicles.

In February 2022, the cross-party Commons transport select committee said it saw “no viable alternative” to road pricing and recommended that work should start immediately on creating a replacement for fuel duty before it dwindled away with the transition.

In January 2023, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt responded to the Transport Committee, saying the Government did not currently have plans to consider road pricing.
2022The Greater Cambridge Partnership consulted on its Making Connections proposals, including road charging in the form of a Sustainable Travel Zone for Cambridge. The road charge would provide ongoing support for better bus services in Cambridgeshire and reduce traffic volumes, freeing up road space for sustainable transport. You can read about the proposals here. A report including the consultation feedback and recommended next steps is expected to be published by 1st June.
2023One of the recommendations of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Commission on Climate was to reduce the car miles driven on Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s roads by 15% to reduce carbon emissions associated with transport. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has accepted this recommendation; it now forms part of its Local Transport and Connectivity Plan.

The Combined Authority has modelled solutions to this goal to reduce car miles by 15% and concluded that “avoid measures” (e.g. improved digital connectivity, spatial planning) and “demand management” (e.g. pricing strategies and physical measures) were shown to have the greatest influence.