Cambridge Congestion charging is a political quick fix
In the same month that Cambridgeshire County Council declared a climate emergency and pledged to do more on reducing carbon emissions, and the Green Party scored highly in the EU polls, it would be all too easy for Cambridge to declare that it will bring in congestion charging.
And it would be wrong to do so.
But I fear that the material being pumped out by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and the commentary from Cambridge City councillors that keeps being headlined in the local media, is softening us all up for this announcement. Another first for Cambridge!
That’s not to say the data gathered by the GCP and which comes to its Assembly next week isn’t incredibly comprehensive about people’s views on travel, on air pollution, on choices for better journeys, and how the growth in and especially around Cambridge will create gridlock over the next 10 years. The GCP target is to reduce car traffic into Cambridge by a quarter over the next ten years.
The GCP recommends a Citizens Assembly considers the matter and makes its views to the GCP board in November.
My main concern is that the work of improving public transport is challenging and difficult, and it will be far slicker, easier and politically attractive for Cambridge City to declare for congestion charging and declare victory, thereby burnishing its green credentials. I’m assuming that South Cambridgeshire District Council will nod through its support.. The public transport agenda is complex, with many stakeholders - the bus companies, the Mayor and his CAM Metro proposals, lobby groups such as cyclists (and I’m a cyclist - two bikes Topping, they call me). So getting change on public transport is a long term, wicked, spiky proposition, and the risk is that it goes into the “too difficult” box.
But improving the transport offer to people who need to get into Cambridge has to come first. And particularly those people whose employment demands that they be somewhere on time, with very little options, often delivering a service or meeting a need. I’m thinking of care assistants, increasingly a feature of meeting the needs of an ageing population, in their small cars trying to get from one time-clocked appointment to the next on a zero hour contract. Or the plumber called out to repair work in a Cambridge business, or the Addenbrookes’ nurses whose shift starts at seven in the morning, and finishes late at night.
The public transport proposals need to address the needs of these people - key-workers if you like - as well as the commentariat who rather like the idea of “Cambridge - a congestion free City” on their headed paper.
I do want pollution to be reduced - I want people in Cambridge City Centre to breathe as pure a quality of air as we enjoy out in the villages. But my priority is better public transport for our villages. What I don’t want is the inexorable drive to congestion charging increasing the burden on some of the hardest-working people I know.