We can pretty much all agree that, to solve the region’s road congestion, we need an extensive, integrated, highly available public transport network.
Mayor James Palmer intends to provide that in the form of a ‘metro’ (technology to be determined). The professional estimate for a completion date is 2041, with various potential shortcuts to bring that forward. Politicians make a grave mistake in thinking that they can simply tot up all those shortcuts and arrive at 2028 as the completion date. Every shortcut carries a risk – in time, money and quality.
We’ve been here before. The Ely Southern Bypass is £21m or 75% over the original estimate and running late. That is largely down to councillors deciding to prioritise speed of delivery over certainty of cost. We cannot afford to repeat this mistake with a multi-billion pound project.
Not only will the completion date of the ‘metro’ be some time after 2028, the economics may dictate it is on a much smaller scale than Mayor Palmer is planning. Therefore the urgently-needed interim measures will mostly not be temporary.
Nor do they need to be. That’s because we can build an extensive, highly available public transport network now using buses. The Combined Authority has various powers, including franchising, to redesign the bus network (routes, timetables, information provision, and integration with rail).
Alongside that, we need the equivalent of rural rail or metro stations: travel hubs – safe, convenient places, within walking or cycling distance of as many homes as possible, as well as workplaces and schools. From these hubs, people can catch ‘express’ bus services to major destinations, with easy interchanging in Cambridge and at other hubs.
Unlike Park & Ride, the amount of parking required at a travel hub falls as the quality of local connections improves. But the facilities that make them safe and convenient must be there from day one: lighting, shelter, cycle parking, toilets, accurate information, WiFi, etc. With careful planning, some of these hubs will become railway or ‘metro’ stations in the future.
So, rather than temporary Park & Rides, let’s build innovative, future-proof travel hubs.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 1 August 2018.