How might businesses be affected by road charging?

Under the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP)’s Sustainable Travel Zone proposals, motor vehicles would pay a daily road charge to drive inside the city. The cost would be £5 for cars, £10 for LGVs (e.g. vans) and £50 for HGVs (e.g. lorries). Businesses vehicles would be charged as well as private ones, and the scheme would operate on weekdays from 7am to 7pm.

The scheme could benefit businesses overall, due to the reduction in time spent stuck in traffic and the increase in capacity for shoppers to journey to central Cambridge. The overall impact of the London Congestion Charge on business performance was neutral.

How does congestion cost businesses?

Wasting time stuck in congestion currently comes at a significant cost to businesses. The INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard 2021 lists Cambridge as the second most congested city in the UK (after London), with drivers losing on average 75 hours per year in gridlock, costing the city £11 million.

The GCP estimates that traffic would fall by up to 50% under its proposed scheme. Many businesses who charge for their time and/or make deliveries around the city would greatly benefit from the reduced congestion, because they would be able to complete journeys quicker, increasing productivity. Those accessing the city for appointments would also be much more likely to arrive on time.

Some tradespeople travel to more than one client per day in Cambridge and so are particularly badly affected by the congestion. Those that make multiple trips across the city per day will benefit the most from the reduction in gridlock. They will also be able to spread the cost of the daily road charge among their customers.

How will the scheme benefit city centre businesses and shoppers?

If the package of measures the GCP is proposing were put in place, there would be increased capacity for people to access Cambridge (e.g. for shopping and leisure) using the transformed bus network, improved walking and cycling links and extra car parking spaces at the Park and Ride.

Bus operating hours would be longer and fares would be cheaper, which could be especially beneficial in terms of recruitment and access for nightlife.

An increasing number of people would travel by cycle or on foot to their local shops. Research has shown that people walking spend up to 40% more each month on the high street than drivers and people who cycle make more trips to their local town centre over the course of a month than people who drive. Evidence from similar European schemes shows improved conditions for the hospitality industry when levels of congestion decrease and cities become more pleasant spaces to spend time.

Ian Sandison, CEO of Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID), recognises the potential benefits of the Sustainable Travel Zone proposals and has made a statement as follows:

“I have read the ‘Making Connections’ documents and I regularly speak to my fellow residents who live in the city and to many businesses and the general feeling is that something must be done about congestion and air quality and that this scheme, in principle has lots of merits”.

Ian Sandison

How did the Congestion Charge affect businesses in London?

The London Congestion Charge came into effect in 2003. TFL produced annual impact monitoring reports from 2003 to 2008, some of which were audited by independent organisations. The sixth monitoring report states:

“There has been no discernable impact – positive or negative – on overall business performance as a result of congestion charging in central London. This does not preclude the possibility that certain businesses in specific sectors may have been affected. However, any aggregate impacts from charging have not been detectable in terms of business and economic output”.

TFL, Central London Congestion Charging Impacts Monitoring: Sixth Annual Report (2008)

Could I switch to doing business by bike?

With more road space allocated to cycling, it would be easier for businesses to switch to using cargo bikes, rather than cars and vans. Cargo bikes are cycles that have been adapted to carry heavy and bulky loads, sometimes as much as a small van. Many businesses in Cambridge already operate by cargo bike. Find out about how and why Bespoke Cambridge operates by bike in the video below. Hear more Cambridgeshire Cargo Bike Stories here.

Support for local businesses to adopt cargo bikes is already available. Income from the proposed road charging scheme could also be used to support the adoption of cargo bikes by businesses.

What about deliveries?

The proposed road charge would be per day, not per trip. Since vans delivering supermarket shopping and packages from online shopping make multiple journeys within the city, it is reasonable to assume the delivery cost (if passed on to the customer at all) would be split between all those receiving deliveries in a day.

There is a possibility that a small number of one-off deliveries or services could cost more, in cases where lorries are making a single trip into the city (e.g. house removals, delivery of large items for a renovation), but these are not everyday events.

Local authorities are also looking into (compulsory) consolidation of deliveries as a way to reduce the congestion and carbon emissions resulting from fulfilment of online shopping orders. The UK ranks first in Europe and third worldwide for online shopping and home deliveries. Much as this has brought many benefits to consumers in terms of lower prices, convenience and access to a wider range of goods, roads have become busier as a result.

Under a consolidation scheme, deliveries would arrive on the outskirts of the city, then be sorted by postcode for last mile delivery by van or cargo bike, thus reducing carbon emissions, air pollution and congestion.

Zedify, headquartered in Cambridge, already works to decarbonise local freight using a consolidation hub and low emission electric vehicles, mainly cargo bikes. You can find out more about its operations here. Income from the proposed road charging scheme could be used to increase the use of consolidation hubs and electric cargo bikes to facilitate last mile deliveries. The Greater Cambridge Partnership is already engaging with local businesses on plans for a consolidation hub trial.