There are now three groups opposing busways being pushed forward by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP). They could all have their way if, together, they could convince a majority in Greater Cambridge to support a congestion charge instead. That’s because, without congestion, there would be no need for busways or bus lanes.
The busways and associated car parks are demonstrably poor value for public money, will increase carbon emissions, and will be highly detrimental to the ecology and landscape around Cambridge. But that has never been justification enough for GCP to abandon them.
The reason is the ‘strategic’ case for them was determined in the 2018 Local Plan. The Cambourne busway is GCP’s answer to “any measures necessary to ensure that a bus journey between Caldecote/Highfields and the junction of the A428 and the A1303 is direct and unaffected by any congestion suffered by general traffic; …high quality bus priority measures or busway on or parallel to the A1303 between its junction with the A428 and Queens Road, Cambridge.” A congestion charge would fully satisfy “any measures necessary.”
Although most people prefer to sit in congestion than pay a charge, much depends on how effective the charge is at reducing congestion (“Does it provide value for money?”) and how attractive the alternatives are (“What is the time penalty and/or additional cost if I take the bus or train, or cycle or walk?”)
Probably the most powerful argument for a congestion charge is that it would give councils a reliable source of revenue which, by law, they could only spend on transport. Rural areas could, for the first time in decades, rely on a bus service not suddenly being withdrawn because Government cut the grant that supported it.
Not only can the revenue from a congestion charge be used to commission new bus services, it can be used to subsidise fares: imagine half-fares for students and jobseekers, and a flat fare with free transfers across the whole of Greater Cambridge (as in London), so nobody is financially disadvantaged from not being able to live in or close to Cambridge.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 23 December 2020.