The agenda packs for the 26 June and 29 June GCP Committee Meetings suggest potential alternatives to the original Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) road charge proposal, drawn up in response to the findings of the Making Connections consultation survey.
Three ‘illustrative scenarios’ are put forward as a basis for further discussion (see p.111 of the agenda pack for the 29 June meeting). These scenarios are tested against the Making Connections policy objectives and equalities, as well as the consultation response.
The papers for the 29 June meeting make clear that the three scenarios are ‘neither exhaustive nor final’ and that there would be scope to ‘mix and match’ elements of these proposals or to ‘think of alternative proposals altogether’.
What are the three ‘illustrative scenarios’?
Scenario 1 ‘Peak hours only’
“Scenario 1 is…likely to have the quickest roll-out of widespread benefit. However, key workers and shift workers may be relatively less likely to be able to either alter their hours or work from home to avoid peak-hour only charging”(Agenda Pack – 29 June 2023)
Under Scenario 1, vehicles would only be charged to drive in the Zone during morning and evening peak times (vehicles would pay once per day, whether travelling in one or both peaks). It’s unclear in which year charging would start. The charge rate for ‘smaller vans’ (what would qualify as a ‘smaller van’ is undefined) would be reduced from £10 to £5 and the road charge would be void for visitors, patients and staff who park in a hospital car park (presumably only an NHS hospital car park). The road charge would not be payable at weekends.
This scenario would reduce the estimated sum available to spend on buses and sustainable transport by approximately half. The bus proposals and other improvements to walking, wheeling and cycling would therefore need to be scaled down compared to the consultation proposals.
In terms of impacts on equalities, the agenda document states that, of the three scenarios, this one provides the ‘quickest roll-out of widespread benefit’, with passengers across the region able to benefit from cheaper bus fares, and many from improved services in the near future (compare the different figures for income generated in 2028 by the three ‘illustrative scenarios’ in the table above). The agenda document goes on to say, however, that the package might be unfair on those who cannot work flexibly and need to drive, as they would not be able to avoid peak-hour charge.
The GCP gave this scenario a score of 17 in terms of meeting scheme objectives, whereas the consultation proposal scored 30 (see table 8 on page 122).
Scenario 2 ‘Free days for account holders’
“a slower roll-out, though still widespread benefits. Scenario 2 is likely to have similar benefits to the consulted programme, with the addition of free days for those that need them. However, those travelling from villages further away may not enjoy as many benefits as quickly, if the bus improvements take longer to be implemented. This could disproportionately impact those who do not qualify for any of the proposed discounts, exemption or reimbursement but are on lower incomes or have other disabilities…”(Agenda Pack – 29 June 2023)
Under Scenario 2, account holders (both residential and business) would be given a certain number of free days per year, starting at around 3 per week (in addition, the road charge would not be payable at weekends). The number of free days could potentially taper to zero by 2030 (and there would remain no road charge payable at weekends). In addition, in this package the road charge would only be payable in the mornings in the first year.
This scenario would reduce the estimated sum available to spend on buses and sustainable transport in 2028 from £50-£55 million to £19-£24 million. The estimated sum available to fund public and active travel would potentially remain the same as the consultation proposals in 2031, however, if the number of free days were reduced to zero. The agenda document explains that this scenario would produce similar effects in the long-term to the consultation proposal, but would have a longer phasing-in period.
The agenda document explains that, under this scenario, people would have longer to get used to road charging, however since it would take longer to build up the bus improvements, those who need to travel within the STZ by car may be may have no alternative but to pay the STZ charge until the full bus service improvements are in place.
The GCP gave this scenario a score of 31 in terms of meeting scheme objectives, whereas the consultation proposal scored 30 (see table 8 on page 122).
Scenario 3 ‘Minimalist proposal’
“if the fare subsidy were maintained there would be little or no residual money to improve services (or vice versa)”(Agenda Pack – 29 June 2023)
Under Scenario 3, the charge for cars would be reduced to £3, vehicles would only be charged to drive in the Zone during morning and evening peak times (vehicles would pay once per day, whether travelling in one or both peaks) and the road charge would be void for visitors, patients and staff who park in a hospital car park. Account holders would also have 100 charge-free days in 2027 and 2028 (and the road charge would not be payable at weekends) .
The information in the agenda pack shows that this scenario would reduce the estimated sum available to spend on buses and sustainable transport by more than half compared to the consultation scenario (by about two-thirds in 2028 and by just over half in 2031), with the sum available to spend on walking, wheeling and cycling potentially reducing to as little as £0-£5 million (table on p.351). It goes on to explain that since the proposed £1/£2 bus fare subsidy would cost around £16-£20 million, if this were maintained, very little could be done under this scenario to improve bus services in other ways.
The GCP gave this scenario a score of 12 in terms of meeting scheme objectives, whereas the consultation proposal scored 30 (see table 8 on page 122).
What other changes are under discussion?
A tapered low income discount was proposed in the original consultation, but the details were not defined. The GCP has now identified two possible options, which are outlined in section 9.13 of the 29 June agenda pack.
Further to the changes outlined in the three scenarios above, the agenda pack also states that some issues will be considered further in the next stage in response to consultation feedback:
- Charges for mopeds and motorbikes
- Impacts on businesses, especially whether the charging of HGVs and LGVs should be reviewed
- Support for unpaid carers in receipt of benefits
- Support for charity volunteers or community groups
- Finishing the charge period at 6pm rather than 7pm
- Whether ‘free days’ should apply per car, per household, or per address
- Residents near the edge of the STZ boundary who commute out of the zone.
Might there be alternative revenue sources that could be considered at a later stage?
“These could be explored separately from this decision on how to proceed on the STZ and are not a matter for GCP directly”(Agenda Pack – 29 June 2023)
All three scenarios would reduce the amount of revenue available to invest in the bus network (at least initially in the case of scenario 2). The agenda document explains that there are alternative sources of revenue that could be considered at a later stage to bring about the full vision for sustainable transport set out in the original consultation, but that these are not a matter for the GCP directly:
- Operational efficiencies in the use of the home to school transport budget
- A Workplace Parking Levy (which would be the subject of a separate consultation, should there be a desire to go down this route)
- Council tax and/or council tax mayoral precept.
What are the next steps?
Committee members will discuss the three potential ‘illustrative scenarios’ at the Extraordinary Meeting of both the GCP Joint Assembly and Executive Board on Monday 26 June.
Then, at the 29 June meeting, the GCP Executive Board will be asked to comment on the range of ways in which the original STZ road charge could be altered, then give a view whether the GCP should move to the next stage of developing an Outline Business Case for road charging to be presented to the GCP and the County Council in the autumn of 2023.
The agenda pack for the 29 June meeting reiterates the intention to use £50m of City Deal funding to put bus improvements in place before any charging begins. A decision in principle to implement an STZ road charge subject to final business case approval (or a decision to seek an alternative long term secure funding source) would be required before bus improvements can go ahead. The papers indicate, however, that consideration is already being given to ‘the early introduction of a bus and sustainable travel package’, possibly starting as soon as early 2024 (see sections 11 and 15 in the agenda pack). A decision could be taken on this at the GCP Executive Board meeting in December 2023.
Decisions on other parts of the wider City Access Programme, such as the Road Network Hierarchy, Integrated Parking Strategy and Freight Consolidation Pilot, will take place after an autumn 2023 decision on the STZ road charge, since the next steps for those projects are dependent on the outcome of the road charge decision.