Consultation guide: Mayoral precept increase to expand bus services

Name of consultation: Your Say Your Future (Corporate Plan, 2024-25 Medium Term Financial Plan and Mayoral Precept)

From: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA)

Format: Online survey OR download a printable copy of the survey OR email your views OR request a paper copy (for yourself or on someone’s behalf) by emailing the name and address to comms@cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk

Deadline: 1pm on 15 January

What happens next: The consultation findings will be reported to the CPCA Board before the Corporate Plan, Medium Term Financial Plan and Mayoral Precept are discussed at the next Board meeting on 31 January 2024

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority subsidises certain bus routes which connect communities to employment, education and essential services, but are not viewed as commercially viable by bus operators.

In April 2023, CPCA introduced a new Mayoral precept (a section of council tax for the CPCA’s work) to support the bus services it subsidises. As part of its 2024-25 financial plan, the CPCA is proposing to increase this precept in order to run new bus routes and increase service frequency on existing routes. It also wants to reduce the cost of bus fares for under 25s.

CPCA is asking for feedback on its plans for transport, as well as other key areas. Read more about CPCA’s proposed 2024-2025 priority activities on the consultation webpage. Find out more about CPCA’s plans for better buses here.

Share your views before the consultation closes on 15 January 2024 at https://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/yoursayyourfuture/#have_your_say

Summary of Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance’s views

Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance (CSTA) strongly supports CPCA’s proposals to increase the Mayoral precept to fund new bus routes and more frequent bus services on existing routes. As funding for buses from central government is insufficient and sporadic, CPCA will be unable to reverse the sharp drop in bus service provision our region has experienced and put in place the bus network our region requires for the future without additional funding from a long-term source such as their council tax precept. We believe that the proposed increase in the Mayoral precept is the best first step towards reversing bus service cuts and starting to create the regional bus network we will all need for a sustainable future. CSTA also strongly supports the proposal to reduce the cost of bus fares for under 25s. This will be particularly important for 16 to 24-year-olds, who have the highest rates of bus use and lowest levels of car access of all age groups.

Consultation guide

We suggest that you fill in the consultation survey through this link, following our recommendations. We think it will take around 3 minutes to respond. You need to answer all the questions, but we’ve tried to make this as easy as possible using visual guides for the sections that contain transport-related questions.

Achieving good growth

A lack of sustainable transport infrastructure currently impedes good growth in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough region. However, from the way the questions in this section are phrased, it seems that the CPCA primarily aims to collect views on transport in section 2 ‘Improving connectivity’.

Where we have not made a recommendation, we suggest you respond according to your own views, selecting UNSURE if you are unfamiliar with the activity in question or do not hold a view on it. 

Proposed priority activitySUPPORTUNSURENOT SUPPORTIVE
Lobby National Government to tackle current infrastructure issues such as water shortages and not generating enough electricity to power future homes and businesses
Build more affordable homes across the region (600 by 2025)
Explore plans to get the Fens designated as a special area
Increase commercial space to allow businesses to grow, including exploring opportunities for future Enterprise zones
Develop and deliver masterplans for our Market Towns to support communities and businesses thrive
Invest in social enterprises and community interest companies through a new social investment fund
Develop an Infrastructure Delivery Framework and lobby for funding to deliver against it
Develop a framework and large-scale investment fund to remove infrastructure barriers to good growth, like flood risk management and provision of utilities
Promote the region at a national and international level to attract new businesses and investment

Our reasoning:

Market town masterplans (such as the one developed for St Neots) assess existing transport infrastructure, alongside other aspects such as housing and industry, then suggest what new infrastructure is required for good growth.   

Improving connectivity

Proposed priority activitySUPPORTUNSURENOT SUPPORTIVE
Improve transport links in rural areas to reduce isolation and make it easier for people to access work, skills and leisure activities
Reform the bus network, including investing in new and more frequent routes, providing more reliable and better buses, simpler ticketing and better passenger information
Explore options for bring the bus network under the control of the Combined Authority
Find the money to build new roads across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
Invest in actions to make roads safer for all road users 
Continue to campaign for better rail infrastructure to enable more reliable and more frequent rail services
Campaign for reduced fares for young people, care leavers and those on Universal Credit
Improve digital connectivity for residents and businesses through the delivery of the region’s digital connectivity programme
Invest in, and promote, active travel schemes that highlight the public health and environmental benefits of active travel
Ensure our transport system is high quality, reliable, convenient, affordable, safe, and accessible as well as moving to net zero

Our reasoning:

Rural connectivity: Many people in rural areas of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have very limited transport choices due to poor bus and rail links and a lack of high quality cycling infrastructure. Some households will not be able to afford to run a car at all, leaving them at risk of isolation; others will end up spending a large percentage of their household income on their running and maintaining a car. They would benefit greatly from better sustainable transport options. 

Reforming the bus network: Recent research by the University of Leeds on behalf of Friends of the Earth suggests that bus services in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have declined by 59% since 2008. New and more frequent bus routes would clearly boost public transport connectivity. In our 2023 survey of Cambridgeshire bus users, 44% of those we interviewed described their bus services as unreliable. People also told us how they struggled to use the bus due to poor passenger information, from a lack of printed timetables to incorrect real-time data at bus stops.

Local control of bus services: CPCA is planning to start consulting the public in the spring about plans to bring the bus network under its control (potentially through franchising or an enhanced partnership). Depending on the framework adopted, CPCA might then, among other benefits, be able to choose which bus routes should run based on their importance to the community, rather than just commercial viability, set its own bus fares and allow passengers to use the same tickets regardless of which operator is running the bus they catch. These changes would improve bus services for passengers.

Road building: Transport accounts for two-fifths of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s carbon emissions. An Independent Commission on Climate highlighted the need to reduce car miles across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough by 15% by 2030 in order to meet existing net zero commitments and CPCA has agreed to this target. The priority should therefore be increasing access to public transport, walking and cycling, rather than new roads. 

Road safety: The number of casualties killed or seriously injured on the region’s roads remains well above targets. Cambridgeshire County Council’s indicator for this target currently has a red rating, with the latest data showing just over 300 killed or seriously injured in a year against a target of just over 200. Urgent action is required to improve safety for all road users. 

Rail: More frequent and reliable rail services would improve transport connectivity for rural communities, reduce congestion in urban areas and reduce carbon emissions from transport. 

Reduced bus fares: 16 to 24-year-olds have the highest rates of bus use and lowest levels of car access of all age groups. A study published last month found that 16-24 year olds make around 20% fewer trips compared to other adults of working age, and this gap has widened over the past two decades, leaving them at risk of missing out on key life opportunities. Reduced fares for young people would improve access to employment, education and essential services among this age group, including care leavers. In recent years, bus fares have also risen faster than average wages. This has had a disproportionate impact on low income households, who use the bus more than other transport modes. In a cost of living crisis, it is essential that bus transport remains affordable. 

Improving digital connectivity will facilitate homeworking and improve online access to public services, thus reducing their need to travel. This will help to reduce congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions from transport. 

Active travel: The environmental and health benefits of active travel are well researched, but could be communicated more widely.

High quality transport: People will only make the switch from driving to public transport and active travel if it is easy to travel by those means. Sustainable transport must also be accessible for everyone to benefit.

Ambitious Skills and Employment Opportunities

This section is not concerned with transport. We suggest you share your own views.

Since it is mandatory to respond to every question, we suggest you select UNSURE if you are unfamiliar with the activity in question or do not hold a view on it.

Enabling Resilient Communities

Where we have not made a recommendation, we suggest you respond according to your own views, selecting UNSURE if you are unfamiliar with the activity in question or do not hold a view on it. 

Proposed priority activitySUPPORTUNSURENOT SUPPORTIVE
Better understand how climate change is impacting the condition of the region’s roads
Support sustainable agriculture in the Fens and other agricultural areas
Improve Infrastructure for electric vehicles and develop a local electric vehicle strategy
Supporting the delivery of the Local Net Zero Programme 2022-2025
Support businesses to transition to a low carbon economy
Retrofit homes, care homes and community buildings to reduce energy bills and emissions
Improve biodiversity through the development of a Local Nature Recovery Strategy
Develop a Local Area Energy Plan for Cambridgeshire, that will set out how our region can be supplied with the power and water it needs
Encourage Creative Industries to thrive
Use culture to connect local communities and celebrate our heritage
Create vibrant high streets to attract more visitors

Our reasoning:

Climate change impacts on roads: Our region’s roads are deteriorating increasingly quickly due to extreme weather conditions. The damage impacts people walking, wheeling and cycling, not just people driving. This is particularly a problem in the Fens, where roads sit on peat soils, which expand and contract a lot when the weather is particularly wet or dry. More work needs to be done to understand the scale of the problem and identify solutions. 

Electric vehicle infrastructure: While a cut in the number of miles driven by motor vehicles will be necessary to meet climate change goals, electric vehicles will also have a role to play in meeting net zero targets (albeit as part of a transport network in which public transport and active travel are also convenient and reliable options). It’s therefore important that the region develops a suitable electric vehicle strategy and puts in place electric vehicle charging points without obstructing footways, cycleways and bus stops.

Local net zero programme: The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Climate Action Plan 2022-2025 (the region’s local net zero programme) advocates more investment in walking, cycling, and low carbon public transport and supports the shift to electric vehicles. 4 in 10 adults (41%) reported the lack of reliable, regular or convenient public transport as a barrier to using greener forms of transport. 

Low carbon businesses: In 2021, an ONS survey found that only 38% of businesses reported they were taking action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Businesses account for around 18% of UK carbon emissions and will need more assistance to reach net zero, including reducing their transport emissions. 

Vibrant high streets: Reducing traffic levels and improving access by public transport and active travel are key to rejuvenating high streets. We would like to see low traffic high streets with clean air which are attractive and safe places for walking, wheeling and spending time.

The Bus Network

Qu 42 (5) How regularly do you use existing bus services?

We suggest you answer this according to your own experience

Qu 43 (6) Would any of the below improvements make you more likely to use buses more frequently going forward?

We believe all are important, but the online survey only allows you to select one option. We suggest you answer this according to your own views.

Qu 44 (7) The Mayoral precept is currently £12 a year for a Band D property. To improve buses services, including introducing new routes, the Mayor is proposing to increase this to £36 (£3 a month per household). Are you willing to pay that amount?

We suggest you select YES

Qu 46 (9) How well informed are you about the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority? (Who we are, what we do and our future vision)

We suggest you answer this according to your own experience

Our reasoning:

Buses play a vital role across our region, enabling people to get to where they need to go affordably, conveniently and sustainably. They connect people to jobs, schools, healthcare, leisure, family and friends, whether or not they can drive, and allow younger and older people to get around independently. Bus services are particularly important for those on lower incomes, as bus travel is cheaper than the expense of owning, maintaining and running a car. 

However, the bus network in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is inadequate for our region’s needs. Across England (outside London) bus services have suffered a sharp decline over the decades since deregulation (provision has reduced by around 50% on average since 2008 according to a recent study) and our region is no exception. According to CPCA, the bus network has reduced by around 20% since the Covid-19 pandemic. These cuts to the network have left bus passengers with less frequent services, shorter operating hours, a lack of weekend services, and in some cases, no bus service at all. 

A survey of bus users the CSTA carried out in July and August 2023 highlighted problems Cambridgeshire bus users currently face. 37% of users we talked to (excluding those using Park&Ride) said their bus services were too infrequent; 44% said their services were late or unreliable. Because of infrequent and unreliable services, people told us they struggled to get their children to school, whilst others had to rely upon lifts from colleagues to get to work, and some even needed to pay for taxis to get to medical appointments. The lack of Sunday and Bank Holiday bus services also left some people cut off from social events. 

As funding for buses from central government is insufficient and sporadic, CPCA will be unable to reverse the sharp drop in bus service provision and put in place the bus network our region requires for the future without additional funding from a long-term source such as their council tax precept. We believe that the proposed increase in the Mayoral precept is the best first step towards reversing bus service cuts and starting to create the regional bus network we will all need for a sustainable future. 

Far too many people currently do not have a genuine choice over the way in which they travel; an expanded bus network would offer more people an alternative, sustainable means of transportation. In addition, without a vastly expanded bus network, we believe the region will neither be able to meet its net zero targets, nor grow without Cambridge suffering even higher levels of motor traffic congestion. Finally, an improved public transport system would play a role in improving public health (both physical and mental), improving air quality and improving independence and quality of life, particularly for younger and older people.  

Follow-up email

If you have ALREADY FILLED IN THE SURVEY and have an additional 10 minutes to spare, we recommend you send an email to comms@cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk focussing on support for the Mayoral precept increase to expand bus services and reduced fares for under 25s. You may wish to draw on the information above, as well as adding your own personal thoughts and describing your own experiences of using buses.

You could also recommend that transport should be considered a barrier to good growth, alongside e.g. water shortages and lack of energy. You could recommend that the CPCA lobbies national government to tackle transport infrastructure issues, considers transport a priority area in the region’s Infrastructure Delivery Framework (it isn’t currently) and treats transport as an infrastructure barrier in need of support from its proposed large-scale investment fund to remove barriers to good growth.

Can you suggest new and enhanced bus routes?

There is also the opportunity to suggest new and enhanced bus routes to the CPCA. Fill in this questionnaire to have your say.