City Congestion charging would hit South Cambs residents hard
Congestion charging is in the news again, as a solution to the traffic problems that beset Cambridge City. I've been talking to local residents - young and old - of South Cambridgeshire about this.
There's a pretty universal view that Cambridge traffic queues need to be tackled, especially because of the pollution levels in some parts of the City. But I haven't found any great enthusiasm for a blanket congestion charge, and a good deal of reservation.
I could not personally support a tax that selectively penalises district residents, and exempts the City,
In terms of looking after the best interests of South Cambs people, congestion charging cannot be limited to those journeys that start from outside and go into the City. It would have to apply to all journeys - the pain would have to be equally shared.
Otherwise a congestion charge would be divisive and replace the "Town vs Gown" of previous centuries with "Town vs Surround".
The data are not brilliant, but if you look at travel to work stats, car use to get to work seems to be about the same - in other words while there is a lot of cycling in Cambridge, there are also a lot of car journeys that start within the City.
A congestion charge only works if you have the public transport infrastructure to provide a viable alternative. I wouldn't dream of driving in London because the buses and the tube are so good. But a City the size of Cambridge (120,000 people) can't make an underground or a tramway pay, unlike cities like Nottingham or Edinburgh.
The clincher for me is that a congestion charge would hit hardest ordinary people in South Cambs villages who have to get to work in Cambridge. They would be the ones queuing in the cold to get on the bus. And at the moment public transport just isn't good enough to get from most South Cambs villages into the City.
So if not a congestion charge then what?
There isn't a painless fix on this, and one of the challenges for the City Deal is to find the answers to this "wicked" problem. Of course if I lived in Cambridge I would say why am I paying a congestion charge because I live here? So we need to pump prime improvements to the transport system, in a phased approach. A start would be getting rid of the charges at the park and ride facilities which have seen drops of 40 per cent in usage. If we want Cambridge to be a smart city, charging people to park and ride isn't.