Where is the funding for the Sustainable Travel Zone coming from?

The package of proposals comprising a transformation of bus services, improvements to walking and cycling infrastructure, and a road charge within a new ‘Sustainable Travel Zone‘ have been created by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) as part of its City Access programme. The GCP evolved from the City Deal which was an agreement between the Government and Greater Cambridge that set out to enable growth by investing in infrastructure, housing and skills. 

Initial funding of £50 million

An initial £50 million of funding will come from the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s City Deal funds and will be sunk investment (i.e. non-recoverable). This will be used to begin the programme of bus services improvements, which would start from mid 2023 onwards. The GCP says it will build up the bus improvements first to ensure that there are ‘reliable, competitive and sustainable alternatives to travelling by car’ before road charging starts. This is in line with the recommendations of members of the GCP Citizens’ Assembly who said that ‘improvements in public transport need to come first’.

Ongoing improvements funded by the road charge

The funding that is forecast to be required over and above this £50 million in the first three years will also come from the GCP’s City Deal funds, but will be recoverable from the income generated by the proposed road charge.

The GCP estimates that the road charge could generate income of about £50 million per year. This will provide the crucial ongoing funding required to support the bus services and other sustainable travel improvements (e.g. infrastructure for cycling, walking and wheeling) in the long term.

Could the funds be raised another way?

Local authorities have limited choice when it comes to transport funding. In the current climate, there is a suggestion from the Department for Transport (DfT) that only funding applications that are ambitious in their proposals to tackle major transport challenges such as congestion and carbon emissions from transport are likely to be approved.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is the strategic transport authority for the area and their proposal for a ‘Bus Service Improvement Plan’ which included franchising and an overhaul of rural services failed to gain funding from the DfT earlier in the year. One of the reasons given during a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee was that it was believed our region had an “insufficient commitment to road charging, active travel, and bus priority schemes“. The Combined Authority also missed out on walking and cycling funding due to a lack of ambition. It seems that central government wants to see commitment to the prioritisation of sustainable transport before committing any significant investment. 

Government also caps local council tax increases at 2%, so while that might be another option to raise funding it’s fairly limited. The Combined Authority is currently consulting on its financial plan which includes a proposal for a ‘Mayoral precept’ to fund buses, but this probably wouldn’t cover all the funding needed. No steps have been taken by any government since buses were privatised in the 1980s to bring buses back under public ownership, although the Combined Authority has said that it wishes to pursue bus franchising.

The GCP has the money through its ‘City Deal’ investment package to start to get the bus improvements in place, if the public and local politicians agree.