And what else did we learn about the Sustainable Travel Zone proposals in the associated Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) statements and the papers for the 8 June GCP Joint Assembly meeting?
The GCP’s representative poll on Making Connections shows that there is a fairly even distribution of opinion on road charging in the form of a STZ, with around a third for, a third against and a third selecting ‘neither’ or ‘don’t know’ as their response. Many of those surveyed in the GCP’s representative poll who opposed or were unsure about the road charge said there were changes that would encourage them to support the Sustainable Travel Zone. Overall, only about 17% of those polled were against road charging in any form. According to the consultation survey, young people in particular are very supportive of the proposals for road charging in the form of a Sustainable Travel Zone, with 61% of those aged 16-24 in favour. There is a high level of support for the bus improvements proposed in Making Connections, with 70% in favour. Around half of those opposed to a road charge are in favour of the bus improvements. The improvements to walking, cycling and public spaces proposed in Making Connections are also popular, with 75% in favour.
The GCP received more than 24,000 responses to its Making Connections consultation, which closed in December 2022. Making Connections put forward proposals to transform the bus network in the Cambridgeshire area, as well as improve infrastructure for walking and cycling, all funded in the long term (after an initial investment of £50 million) by the phased introduction of a road charge in the form of a Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ). The Making Connections proposals themselves were informed by four previous consultation exercises, including a Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly.
On Friday 26 May, the GCP published a report outlining the results from its Making Connections public consultation. The GCP’s summary of key insights from the report is in section 12 (pp 125-129). The Cambridgeshire Sustainable Travel Alliance’s initial statement on the report can be read here. The GCP Joint Assembly will meet on 8 June to discuss the consultation and possible next steps.
What were the objectives of the consultation report?
The GCP says it wanted to “provide a barometer of public and stakeholder opinion on the Making Connections proposals” and help “scope and refine the proposals to maximise potential benefits and minimise any adverse impacts, particularly on protected characteristic groups”.
Feedback was gathered from the online survey, stakeholder group meetings, outreach events and a demographically representative poll of 1,000 people in the travel-to-work area.
Who responded to the online survey?
The online survey had the highest response rate the GCP has ever achieved and a larger response from those under 25 than in previous surveys.
Respondents were broadly similar to the population in sex, gender identity, ethnicity and disability, however they were more likely to be employed than the population as recorded by the 2021 Census. Those aged 36-74 are over-represented, those of older and younger age groups are under-represented. Most consultation responses came from those living in Greater Cambridge.
Respondents were asked about their modes of travel (and could pick more than one). On a weekly or more frequent basis, the most common modes of travel were sole car use (65%), walking (65%), shared car use (60%) and cycling (53%). Walking and cycling were the most frequently-used daily modes of transportation. Bus use was much lower – only 3% of respondents to the online survey used the bus daily and 19% weekly. A third of respondents said they never used the bus. This suggests that the GCP survey methodology failed to reach out to bus users, as a group.
What percentage of people supported road charging as a means of funding improvements to buses, walking and cycling?
58% of respondents to the online survey were against the introduction of the STZ as the means for improving buses, walking and cycling. 34% were in favour. The parallel demographically representative poll conducted on behalf of the GCP found a similar level of support (35%), however there was a much lower level of opposition (36%) and higher rates of ‘neither’ / ‘don’t know’ responses.
Younger people expressed more support for the STZ than older people, with 61% of those 16-24 in favour. Opposition increased with age from 35 to 64, with those aged 55-64 showing the most opposition (64%) and the lowest level of support (28%). Support began to increase again from 65 onwards, with 36% of the age group ’75 and above’ in favour of the STZ.
According to the online survey, those living in Cambridge were more likely to support the STZ road charge (46%) than those living outside (with the greatest level of strong opposition in South Cambridgeshire). The poll, however, showed greatest levels of support for the STZ outside Cambridgeshire.
Greatest opposition to the STZ was from those who travelled by motorbike frequently and greatest support was from those who take the train and cycle frequently.
What did people say about buses?
Support for the proposed bus improvements in the online survey was high, with 70% in favour (22% against). The poll, in comparison, showed 69% in favour, but only 9% against.
Support for the bus improvements was very high among those in favour of the STZ proposals (98%). Around half of consultation respondents who were against the STZ proposals were in favour of the bus improvements. Levels of support for the bus improvements were as follows:
- Those unsure about the STZ: 81%
- Those opposed to the STZ: 76%
- Those ‘strongly opposed to the STZ: 46%
Nearly half of those who filled in the online survey were in favour of bus franchising; 29% said they didn’t know. In the representative poll the percentage of respondents who said they didn’t know was much higher, at 42%.
What did people say about improvements to walking, cycling and public spaces?
The consultation asked for opinions on improvements that would encourage the take-up of other forms of travelling (e.g. walking, cycling, car clubs) and improvements to accessibility and the public realm. Overall, 75% of those who filled in the online survey were in favour of this basket of measures.
Those who were against the STZ road charge in the online survey were still supportive of improvements to sustainable travel measures. For example, 77% of those who said they ‘opposed’ the STZ and 51% of those ‘strongly opposed’ supported funding maintenance and improvements to footways and cycleways.
What did people say about fairness for groups with protected characteristics?
Results from the online survey show that people were most concerned about the impact of the proposals on the elderly, the mobility-impaired and low-income groups. Parents, young people and people with hidden disabilities were also mentioned, but less frequently.
Stakeholders also frequently raised concerns about the impacts on low-income groups, those with disabilities and mobility challenges (especially those who do not qualify for a Blue Badge), the elderly, carers and families.
What changes would encourage people to support the STZ?
The poll (but not the online survey) asked this question directly, suggesting possible changes. Many of those surveyed in the GCP’s representative poll who opposed or were unsure about the road charge said there were changes that would encourage them to support the STZ. Overall, only about 17% of those polled were against road charging in any form.
Participants in the online survey, stakeholder group meetings and outreach event reported the following as their key concerns about the STZ proposals:
(Agenda pack for the 8 June GCP JA meeting)
- Whether Addenbrooke’s and other hospitals should be in the zone
- Whether the zone should be as proposed or just cover the city centre
- Need for discounts or exemptions for residents
- Impact on businesses, especially small ones and the self-employed who use vans
- The charge amount being too high and whether motorbikes should be liable to pay
- Hours of operation being too long; a peak(s) only scheme might be preferable
- Impact on older people, those with mobility issues, those who find using public transport difficult and those on low incomes
- How the discounts and exemptions were defined and how they would operate
- Impact on informal and unpaid carers
- Whether electric vehicles should be exempt from the charge, or receive a discount
- Concerns about the difficulty of ‘trip chaining’ on public transport e.g. dropping children at childcare on the way to work.
- Whether an alternative means of funding buses, walking and cycling might be considered alongside or instead of road charging
Those opposing road charging to fund improvements in the online survey most frequently suggested increasing council taxes, passing the cost onto businesses or the University, or using central government funding/general taxation as alternatives.
What have the GCP Board and Assembly said about the consultation report?
The key message is that the GCP is listening to those with concerns about the Making Connections proposals:
“From our perspective, we want to understand the elements which people say are important to them and explore how we can deliver them…our hope is with the benefit of your support and insight, we can work together to find the solutions to the challenges we face.”(GCP Executive Board)
In the press release accompanying the publication of the report, the Chair of the GCP’s Executive Board also says that the GCP will work with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on franchising bus services.
What are the next steps?
The next key date will be the meeting of the GCP Joint Assembly on Thursday 8 June, where the report will be discussed. The papers for this meeting outline possible next steps for Making Connections. Decisions have not yet been taken on the way forward, but technical work is ongoing to “consider ways of responding to the consultation feedback”.
The Joint Assembly will shape any changes to the proposals which might be recommended to the GCP Executive Board. Any revisions to the proposals will be assessed on how much they reflect public feedback, but still reduce traffic and improve buses, walking and cycling They will also be judged on impacts on equalities, cost, complexity, deliverability etc.
On 8 June, the Joint Assembly will be invited to “Give a view as to whether and how the Executive Board should proceed with the Making Connections proposals”. At their meeting on 29 June, the GCP Executive Board will then “consider options and decide on next steps and timelines for decision making”.
How could the scheme be altered to address these concerns?
“The next step would be to identify one or more packages of potential changes that could be assessed and compared in more detail”(Agenda pack for the 8 June GCP JA meeting)
The potential changes to the Making Connections scheme are summarised below. The papers for the 8 June meeting make it clear that it will not be possible to make all of the changes, so decisions will need to be made. You can read about the potential changes in more detail, including their likely impacts on congestion, in pp 99-104 of the papers.
Potential changes to core parameters
- Reducing the hours of operation (potentially to morning peak only, or morning and evening peak when congestion is greatest).
- Phasing in the road charge over a longer period. The scheme could operate with peak hour charging for more than two years, before all day charging is implemented.
- Making smaller revisions to the hours of operation e.g. finishing the charge at 6pm rather than 7pm.
- Reducing the charge rates. HGVs and motorbikes are mentioned; it is also noted that reducing the charge too much might not deter car use sufficiently
The papers explain that it would be more difficult to reduce the zone to city centre only, remove the Addenbrooke’s Hospital site from the zone (however a ‘virtual removal’ through exemptions is being considered) or have a flexible charge.
Potential changes to scheme rules
- Free days for account holders or a percentage discount on all days
- Exemptions for all hospital patients and their visitors
- Exemptions for unpaid carers
- Exemption for charity volunteers as well as charity vehicles
- Exemption for out-commuters near the boundary
The papers explain that a low-income discount was already part of the original proposals, but that its design will be considered further. They also indicate that the latter three potential changes might be trickier to deliver than numbers 1 and 2.
The document explains that it would also be possible to ‘phase in’ the STZ, so a scheme starts small (e.g. charges, zone) and ramps up over time.
The papers also note that the Making Connections proposals are part of the GCP’s wider City Access programme, which includes other projects to improve public transport and discourage car use, including a project on parking (both city centre and residents’ parking) and one on Cambridge’s road network hierarchy (consultation results expected later this year).
They also explain that Making Connections complements the GCP’s corridor schemes so buses can get across the city more reliably and efficiently than at present (proposals for e.g. Newmarket Road would be undeliverable without a reduction in car traffic).
What can you do to campaign for a positive outcome?
Please consider applying to ask a question (as either an individual or an organisation) in support of the Making Connections proposals at the 8th June meeting of the GCP Joint Assembly. P.16 of the agenda pack describes the protocol for submitting a public question. Questions need to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 10am on Monday 5 June.