Air quality, pollution and congestion will be “much worse” as Cambridge continues to grow, as if we didn’t live in a world that is “self-correcting” when it comes to car use, a meeting has warned.
Chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership Joint Assembly, Cllr Tim Bick, said that while car use had declined during the pandemic, it was now “rising very rapidly”.
Cllr Bick (Lib Dem, Market) spoke as part of a debate on whether to seek advice on GCP’s proposals to introduce £1 bus fares in the city and £2 fares for travel in the work area.
The proposals detail how the improvements will be funded by collecting vehicle movements into, out of and within a proposed sustainable travel zone at a flat daily fee of £5, with some exceptions.
Cllr Bick argued that consultation should continue. He pointed out that in the context of discussions surrounding the cost of living crisis, the proposals would see reductions in bus and park and ride fares.
He said this “gives a lot of people more hope to leave a car at home because it’s becoming increasingly expensive to run”.
Cllr Alex Beckett (Lib Dem, Queen Edith’s) advocates bigger changes, stating: “We’ve grown by around 30 percent over the last 20 years – despite the last census, which took place during a pandemic – and we’re projected to grow another 30 percent. All of this increases traffic and delays at peak times will increase by 30 percent in 10 years.
“The simple fact is that traffic causes misery. In my own everyday life, I take my daughter to kindergarten in six minutes by bike. The same trip takes 15 by car. Currently it is impossible by public transport.
“Moreover, we have a climate emergency and an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. While electric cars can help, they’re not the complete answer either. They use a lot of energy to generate and release a lot of fine dust pollution.
“They also need energy to run. Unfortunately, too much of this energy comes from burning fossil fuels — some even comes from coal.”
According to GCP, there were 121 deaths in 2020 alone attributed to poor air quality in Greater Cambridge.
Cllr Beckett added: “Residents spend their lives not only breathing in pollution, but also having their lives and sleep disrupted by noise. 69 people are killed or seriously injured on the streets of Cambridge every year. About 80 percent of these are cyclists or pedestrians who are killed or seriously injured by heavy chunks of metal we call cars.
“Car ownership is also very unequal across the county, with 40 percent of the lowest-income households not owning a car and 90 percent of the highest-income households owning at least one.
“Cars are simply not affordable for the less well-off.”
He continued: “Firstly, public transport needs a big boost. We need bus franchising like in London with TfL.
“We need cheaper fares, but more importantly, we need reliable services that get people where they really want to go. We need regular connections to all parts of the city, not just in and out of Drummer Street. We need better and safer ways to walk and bike, so people can get around without fear of being hit by a giant lump of metal.”
He added: “That’s never going to happen though, is it? Buses have been cut for years due to austerity measures and central government policies.
“It is highly unlikely that the new government will give us more money for buses.
“So how do we get people to believe? Well, we can pre-finance public transport for a few years, but that gets expensive very quickly. The central government is cutting public transport subsidies, so we need something long-term. London subsidizes TfL with a congestion charge.
“In the longer term, this leads us to an indictment as soon as public transport is operational and credible. £5 a day brings in around £40m a year and massively reduces traffic. This allows us to implement all the revolutionary things mentioned above and give people options.
“It saves the poorest from the time they already spend waiting for public transport and those who rely on a car from the time they often spend in city traffic jams.”
Camcycle, a Cambridge cyclist charity, said it supports the Sustainable Travel Zone but said all road charges must be implemented fairly, with proceeds going towards public transport and active travel improvements “being rolled out at speed”. would have to.
MP Anna Williams told the gathering: “A 50 percent reduction in car traffic would be a game changer for urban cycling and a positive step towards a greener, more people-centric region.”
She told the meeting that “many of its members” support the zone, but added: “It’s clear from all the conversations we’ve had that there’s a certain lack of confidence in the alternatives that are good enough, before road tolls are introduced.”
Support for the Sustainable Travel Zone also came from business leaders Claire Ruskin and Christopher Walkinshaw.
Ms Ruskin said: “I think it’s appropriate to bring it to public consultation.”
But she added that “another aspect of listening” is needed.
She continued, “I think it’s a strong suggestion. I think we need to do something like this for the good of the planet first and there are two ways Cambridge is contributing to this; On the one hand we are setting an example of the thinking the world needs to do and leading the way by actually delivering it, and on the other hand we need to keep Cambridge and Cambridgeshire growing to develop some of the technical solutions that will go into the future come.”
Marshall’s Mr Walkinshaw added: “I think it’s ready to go to the consultation.
“If we want to make this place a very special place, then it has to work and work.”
GCP has conducted a series of in-depth public consultations on the City Access program – beginning in 2017 with Our Big Conversation, Choices for Better Journeys in 2019, and Making Connections in 2021.
Helen Valentine, retired Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Anglia Ruskin University, said the proposals build on work over the last few years and consultations to support change.
She said: “For those who seem to think we’re projecting it onto people without prior consultation, I just don’t think that’s a fair reflection of what happened. The status quo in Cambridge is not an option. It’s pretty bad now and getting worse. We need to improve public transport and we cannot do that without a source of income to fund it.”
Cllr Claire Daunton (Lib Dem, Fulbourn), Member of Cambridgeshire County Council, pledged her support for a consultation on the proposals, but added that GCP “needs to listen to people who live far out of town but in and having to travel through and through the city”.
But Cllr Heather Williams, Tory Leader of the South Cambridgeshire Borough Council, told the Assembly the proposals were not bold enough: “I don’t think that was bold. I think we’re relying on 20th-century ideas to solve a 21st-century problem.”
She said an improved bus network is “not the solution for everything”.
“I think if we don’t have a really broad view of other things, including light rail and things like that, then it’s not brave. It just puts more rubber-wheeled buses on the streets instead of cars,” she added.
Cllr Williams (Con, The Mordens) also said the proposed consultation is “ill-timed” as people worry about the cost of living crisis.
Cllr Katie Thornburrow, Deputy Chair of the Joint Assembly and Labor Cambridge Councillor, said the next consultation was very important and ensuring fairness was paramount. Cllr Thornburrow (Laboratory, Petersfield) said Cambridge must lead the way in meeting carbon reduction targets and the development of car clubs will be important. Buses and trains would also have to be integrated.
Following a question about the potential introduction of national road user charges once petrol, diesel and hybrid cars stop being sold in the UK and taxes fall, the GCP said the government had made it clear that local schemes would retain their own revenue.
Cllr Thornburrow pointed out that any consultation must reach all people. She referred to young people, people with disabilities and people on low incomes.
Cllr Williams asked GCP what it would do to ensure there was no “consultation fatigue.” She said it’s important that people realize they need to participate in the consultation, even if they’ve responded in previous exercises.
Cambridge Councilor Simon Smith (Lab, Castle) said it was “easy to resist” road charges, referring to the two petitions which have garnered more than 18,000 signatures. He said the consultation must be accessible to people who don’t have internet access.
The consultation was intended to give people a chance to see how the proposals would affect their own travel, Cllr Bick added.
The comments from the Common Assembly will be sent to the Executive Board for a decision on whether to continue the consultation at the end of the month.