On 25 August, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) announced revisions to its Making Connections scheme, which includes a road charge in the form of a Cambridge Sustainable Travel Zone. Details of the amended package of measures can be found in the Keeping Greater Cambridge Moving brochure published by the GCP. Full details, including an Outline Business Case for Making Connections, have been published in the agenda pack for the 7 September meeting of the GCP Joint Assembly.
What are the key changes proposed to the road charge?
The key amendments put forward to the road charging element of the scheme are:
- Peak hours charging only. The road charge would apply from 7am-10am and 3pm-6pm (a reduction from twelve hours a day to six). It would still only apply on weekdays, so travel at weekends would not be chargeable.
- Charge-free travel after 6pm. The charge would end at 6pm, rather than 7pm.
- 50 free days a year for car users who are account holders. Car users who have set up an automatic payment account (i.e. pre-registered their vehicle registration and payment details with the STZ payment system) would be offered 50 days of charge-free travel a year (in addition to weekends, which would be charge-free). Details of the scheme rules for free days would be worked out at a later stage, but at this point it is assumed it would apply per household and for any address, not just those in Cambridgeshire.
- No charge for motorcyclists. Motorcycle users would receive an 100% discount on the road charge, rather than paying a £5 daily charge.
- 50% discount for locally-owned SMEs. Locally-owned SMEs who sign up for a business account would receive a 50% discount on the road charge for HGVs, vans and coaches. Again, details of the scheme would be worked out at a later stage, but at this point, it is assumed it would apply to SMEs and self employed workers registered or resident in the Cambridge commuter area.
- 50% discount for car users who receive certain benefits. Account holders who receive Universal Credit, Pension Credit and Carers benefit would receive a 50% discount on the £5 road charge for cars. This would reduce for 25% for two years if their income increases to the point they are no longer eligible for benefits.
- Further hospital exemptions and discounts. There is an existing system in place to provide discounted or free parking at Addenbrooke’s and Papworth hospitals to certain patients, visitors and staff with particular medical and social needs. The revised Making Connections scheme proposes to mirror this system with equivalent discounts on the STZ road charge for the same individuals. This would be implemented without incurring additional administrative costs to the NHS. The exemptions in the consultation proposal (for those with complex medical needs who travel frequently to hospital, those attending A&E and those giving birth) would also remain in place.
- Eligibility for 100% disability discount expanded. The GCP is recommending this is expanded to include those claiming the mobility component of PIP, as well as blue badge holders.
- No early charging for large vehicles. The consultation scheme proposed charging LGVs, HGVs and coaches at peak times from 2025 onwards). The adapted scheme envisages road charging coming into force at the same time for all vehicle types. This would be in 2026 or 2027.
Why have these changes been proposed?
The GCP has amended the proposals to take into account the findings of the Making Connections consultation. There were concerns in particular that:
- the proposals were unfair or that the exemptions wouldn’t be sufficient
- the STZ would negatively impact businesses
- residents living in the STZ should be exempt from the road charge
- people shouldn’t have to pay the charge to access health services or get to work.
Why peak hours? A scheme that only charged at peak hours would still reduce traffic at the busiest times of day, so would have a similar impact to all day charging in terms of freeing up road space for sustainable transport infrastructure such as cycle lanes and wider pavements. Moving to peak time charging only, however, would give more opportunities for individuals (including carers, those attending healthcare appointments and the self-employed) to drive without charge. Businesses would also be able to make and receive deliveries by motor vehicle in the middle of the day without charge.
Why the 6pm finish? Finishing charging earlier in the day would give people more opportunities to use their vehicles to travel to evening social, leisure, volunteering and caring activities without paying the road charge.
Why free days? An annual budget of free days would enable account holders to make a certain number of trips by car each year without incurring the road charge. This responds to the consultation finding that it would be unfair to ask people to pay to drive on the occasions when a trip cannot reasonably be undertaken by public transport or active travel. The budget of free days would also give more opportunities for access to healthcare without charge.
What would the changes mean for improvements to bus services and infrastructure for walking, wheeling and cycling?
The GCP estimates that the adapted proposal could generate £26 million to spend per year for bus services and £5 million per year for walking, wheeling, cycling and public realm enhancements from 2030 onwards. This would make a total of £31 million per year to spend on sustainable transport. The consultation scheme, in contrast, was forecast to generate a total of around £75 million per year or more.
Under the revised STZ proposal, there would therefore be less money available to spend on transforming the bus network and supporting active travel. £31 million is still a substantial amount, however.
Detailed proposals for bus service improvements are not available at this stage, however the intention remains for these still to include cheaper fares (£1 single for all trips within Cambridge or £2 single for all trips within Cambridgeshire), longer operating hours (including evening services), faster and more frequent services to market towns and villages and improved services into the city from areas that are growing.
The GCP will put forward a recommendation in December of what the early bus service improvements should include. It would then be up to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) to determine the final shape of the improved bus services – including bus routes, fares, timetables and fares – from 2025 onwards.
What are the next steps in the decision making process?
Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) committees will discuss the adapted Sustainable Travel Zone proposal in public meetings on 7 September and 28 September. The GCP Executive Board will also vote whether to take the proposals forward to the next stage on 28 September.
Should the Executive Board vote to proceed, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways & Transportation committee will then discuss and take a vote on the Making Connections proposals on 3 October 2023. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority will also decide later this year whether to hold a public consultation on bus reform.
The GCP Board will then vote on 14 December whether to release the non-recoverable £50 million of investment the GCP has set aside to fund improvements to bus services before a Sustainable Travel Zone comes into operation. A Full Business Case for Making Connections would be submitted in Summer 2024. A final decision on the proposals is not expected until Summer/Autumn 2025.
What does the Travel Alliance think of the scheme?
The Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance has published an initial statement on the revised Making Connections scheme. We consider that the new proposals are a good start, but caution that more will still need to be done to make transport in Cambridgeshire truly world-class. In particular, we note that the revised package of measures will generate less money for sustainable transport than the consultation proposal, so it will be important to seek supplementary funding sources to fill this gap. For bus services, additional sources of revenue will be explored by the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) as part of their proposals for bus reform across the whole region.