02Policy priority 2: Cut congestion, clean up the air, and fix the local bus network
- Introduce a congestion charge in Cambridge. The mayor should aim to bring traffic in Cambridge 15 per cent under 2011 levels, improving the speed and reliability of bus journeys and create a revenue source for bus improvements. The funds raised should be used to help deliver transport enhancements.
- Introduce a toxic air quality charge for the most polluting vehicles in Cambridge and Peterborough. This would improve the air quality of people living and working in them both, replicating one smaller silver lining of the lockdown.
- Take full control of local bus services for all of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Franchising would enable greater investment especially if combined with congestion charging, bring in regulated competition between operators to serve bus users, and provide certainty about public transport accessibility. Doubling bus use within 10 years is feasible if this is done.
Cambridge has a serious congestion problem, and this has been previously acknowledged in CPIER and other work by the Greater Cambridge Partnership. In the decade up to the pandemic, traffic levels had grown by 10 per cent, and the morning and evening peaks have grown from 1.5 to 2.5 hours, trapping cars, commercial vehicles and buses and making life more expensive and frustrating for residents.10 Unfortunately, this is going backwards compared to targets in the 2014 Greater Cambridge Partnership deal to reduce traffic by 10-15 per cent from 2011 levels.
The mayor should introduce congestion charging within Cambridge city centre. Congestion charges work, and reduce congestion and raise revenues to support more and better public transport, including buses and transport enhancements such as the proposed Cambridgeshire Metro.11 In London, the congestion charge reduced traffic into the city centre by 21 per cent, and in Milan it reduced it by 28 per cent.12 The mayor should support the city’s local council and the introduction of one for the city of Cambridge. There are many ways this could be done, and local decision-makers could either decide to pursue a London-style congestion charge, or more modern road pricing schemes that use smarter infrastructure to calculate more accurate charges based on congestion caused.
The mayor should propose the most polluting vehicles pay a toxic air charge supplement in Peterborough and on top of the congestion element in Cambridge to get air quality back up to the levels during lockdown. Cambridge benefited from the sixth highest drop of any city in harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions during the first lockdown, falling by half as traffic fell.13 But this has already returned to previous levels even with the economy under Covid-19 restrictions. Air pollution is an urban problem as it becomes dangerous when there are local concentrations of pollution and people. Other cities such as Birmingham and Bristol are introducing clean air zones to clear up their dirty air, and both Cambridge and Peterborough should follow suit.
Buses should be franchised across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Taking buses under the control of the mayor would allow the mayor to better connect people to jobs, education and leisure activities. It would also unlock funding from the Government’s National Bus Strategy, and local revenues from congestion charging could be used to create a world-class service in the combined authority.
Franchising will allow revenues from busier profitable routes into Cambridge and Peterborough to subsidise crucial but loss-making services in more rural areas and market towns. Combined with a congestion charge, improving bus services to double ridership over the next decade, as London did from 2000 to 2010, should be the goal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.