Are the proposals to expand Park and Ride in Cambridge what’s known as a ‘perverse incentive’?
Subsidised P&R services around the edge of the city make it quicker, more reliable and cheaper for car owners in towns and villages to drive part of the way, rather than use a bus for the whole journey. This reduces the numbers using the local service bus, and can lead to loss of services or reductions in frequency. For one short-lived P&R in Bristol, some 40% of users had previously used an unsubsidised service bus for all of their trip.
That would be bad enough on its own, because of the consequences for those who have no access to a car. But there’s worse, as we get increased traffic on the roads approaching the P&R sites. An additional 200 cars adds over one mile to an existing peak-hour queue. The more spaces added to P&R sites, the longer the queues and the greater the delays to all traffic – including buses! These extra delays to service buses make them less reliable, which leads to even more people deserting them.
But we could design a P&R system where everyone wins.
Create an outer ring of ‘travel hubs’, at major towns and necklace villages beyond the green belt, which include some car parking. Provide frequent express buses from these, with limited stops in the city. This would be much more attractive than current slow, meandering bus services. Ensure the express buses have a perceived cost lower than current P&R, remembering that an effective public transport system reduces the need for two- and three-car families. Many people currently driving (to P&R sites, or all the way into the city) would now be within walking distance of a frequent, quick and reliable bus to the city centre.
The express buses could also serve big out-of-city employment sites, and replace private buses, improving their accessibility and need for parking.
Just capturing a few hundred peak hour users to such new services would remove long queues on Cambridge radials such as Madingley Hill, or past the Gogs. There’d still be a need for city-edge P&R sites targeted at visitors or occasional users, who would pay if they could get in and out of the site easily. However, our ‘travel hubs’, a few miles out of Cambridge, would require far less capital expense, and give better access to the old, the young, those without cars and those who simply don’t wish to drive. Congestion is reduced, and everyone wins. Let’s do it.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 5 December 2018.