TRANSPORT INNOVATION FUND: SUMMARY OF SUBMISSION TO TRANSPORT COMMISSION BY LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GROUP, CAMBRIDGESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
The Liberal Democrat Group at Cambridgeshire County Council welcomes the prospect, through the Transport Innovation Fund, of substantial central Government investment in public transport to accommodate growth in the Cambridge sub-region. But this Government investment comes, as we understand it, with a requirement that a congestion charge of some kind be introduced.
We do not want to see any unnecessary cost imposed on the community, and we therefore treat with great caution the proposal for a congestion charge. But the absence of a congestion charge may impose even greater costs on the community. If the roads within and into Cambridge are allowed to become gridlocked for hours each day, great cost and inconvenience will be imposed on both individuals and businesses. And we understand that the County Council’s traffic models indicate that the proposed congestion charge would produce more than 75% of the projected reduction in congestion, with less than 25% being produced by the proposed investment in public transport.
This submission seeks to assess the overall balance of costs and benefits of the TIF proposal to all the people, inside and outside Cambridge, who would be affected by it. It also suggests ways in which the TIF proposal could be modified to increase its acceptability, its effectiveness, and its carbon reduction.
We conclude, for reasons explained below, that the TIF proposal should proceed, and that it should be modified in various ways.
The County Council’s TIF proposal of October 2007 combines £516m of investment (of which 90% would be Government grant) with a congestion charge operating from 7.30am to 9.30am Monday to Friday. The proposal flows logically from the findings of the Cambridge Futures study of 2003 and the Long Term Transport Strategy of 2007, both of which concluded that some form of demand management would become necessary.
Within the public consultation exercise, the most valuable part was the In-home survey, which was based on a proper random sample. It produced results which were remarkably favourable to the TIF proposal in general, and to the proposed congestion charge in particular. Key results included:
1. Support principle of congestion charging. Support 31%, Neither 19%, Oppose 49%.
2. Would support congestion charging if charge introduced between 7.30am – 9.30am Monday to Friday. Support 44%, Neither 18%, Oppose 38%.
3. Would support congestion charging if all revenues raised were spent improving transport in Cambridgeshire. Support 55%, Neither 15%, Oppose 30%.
4. Would support congestion charging if attractive alternatives were in place for travelling in Cambridge. Support 59%, Neither 18%, Oppose 24%.
Since it is proposed that the congestion charge would operate between 7.30am and 9.30 am Monday to Friday, and that all revenues raised from the congestion charge would be spent on improving transport in Cambridgeshire, we think that question 3 (which most respondents would presumably have taken to embrace question 2) is the most relevant. On question 3, 55% support the proposal, almost twice as many as the 30% who oppose. The responses to Question 4 are difficult to interpret, because no definition was given of ‘attractive alternatives’.
SHOULD THE TIF PROPOSAL PROCEED?
It is our view that an offer of £464m from Government to improve public transport in and around Cambridge should not be turned away. It would produce substantial improvements in bus services and in cycling facilities, and would reduce carbon emissions and pollution through the introduction of hybrid buses.
Two statistics, provided by the County Council, demonstrate the significant improvement to bus services that TIF would bring, in both South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge.
TABLE A: IMPROVEMENTS TO BUS SERVICES WITH TIF
Currently: 25% of households are within 1km of a bus service with at least 30 minute frequency in the peak hour.
With TIF: 75% of households would be within 1km of a bus service with at least 20 minute frequency in the peak hour.
Currently: 89% of households are within 400m of a bus stop with at least 10 minute frequency in the peak hour.
With TIF: 98% of households would be within 400m of a bus stop with at least 10 minute frequency in the peak hour.
We look forward to figures for bus improvements in other parts of the County from which there is significant car commuting into Cambridge.
Concerns have been expressed about the economic impact on businesses in Cambridge of the congestion charge. We accept that there will be an extra cost. But we think that the economic damage to those businesses of a gridlocked city would be likely to be greater.
At a more detailed level, we have sought to assess the costs and benefits of the TIF proposal to specific groups making particular kinds of journey in the morning peak, when compared to a ‘without TIF’ scenario. This assessment is summarised in Table B below. Of the sixteen groups identified in Table B we believe that all members of ten groups (comprising pedestrians, cyclists, bus, rail, and Park & Ride users) would get clear and substantial benefit from TIF. None of these groups would have to pay the congestion charge. We believe that another three groups (trade vehicles making journeys into, within, and out of Cambridge) would in most cases get an overall benefit because the value of their time saving would outweigh the costs of the congestion charge. Also some would have the opportunity to avoid the congestion charge by time shifting their journey outside the period 7.30am to 9.30am. This leaves three groups: private car drivers making journeys into Cambridge, within Cambridge, or out of Cambridge.
Private car drivers making journeys into Cambridge.
Of this group some, but probably a relatively small minority, would be able to avoid the congestion charge by time shifting their journeys outside the 7.30am to 9.30am period. The others would be faced with the choice of switching to Park & Ride, of switching to bus or in some cases to rail, or continuing to drive into Cambridge and paying the congestion charge. But if there is no TIF, and serious congestion ensues, all three of these sub-groups (the switchers to Park & Ride, the switchers to bus, and the car drivers) would suffer time costs due to congestion.
The overall benefit of TIF to this group will therefore depend on the value individuals attach to their time. We think it will be beneficial in many, probably most, cases.
Private car drivers making journeys within Cambridge.
Of this group some, but probably a minority, would be able to avoid the congestion charge by time shifting their journeys outside the 7.30am to 9.30am period. The others would be faced with the choice of walking, cycling, bus, or a combination of cycle and bus. Alternatively they could continue to make their journey by car and pay the congestion charge. All those who choose to cycle, use a bus, or use a combination of cycle and bus, would benefit from the substantial improvements to cycle facilities and bus services which TIF will bring. If there is no TIF, these car drivers would suffer time costs due to congestion.
The overall benefit of TIF to this group is therefore uncertain, and will depend on the value individuals attach to their time. But we think it will be beneficial in many, probably most, cases.
Private car drivers making journeys out of Cambridge.
Of this group some, but probably a minority, would be able to avoid the congestion charge by time shifting their journeys outside the 7.30am to 9.30am period. Some of the others, but probably a small minority, could switch to bus, cycle and bus, or rail. The reason this is likely to be a small minority is that the destinations of car drivers making journeys out of Cambridge are likely to be relatively scattered, and difficult to reach efficiently by bus. By contrast inward car drivers can drive to a Park & Ride and have a frequent service to the relatively concentrated destinations within Cambridge.
The majority of the outward drivers are therefore likely to have to continue to drive, and to pay the congestion charge. We suggest that this group needs some special analysis. If that analysis shows that drivers in this group contribute markedly less to congestion compared with other groups driving into and within Cambridge, then we suggest that there may be a fairness case for considering some kind of discount on the congestion charge for this group.
TABLE B: SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS OF IMPACTS ON SPECIFIC GROUPS
Travelling into Cambridge
1. Cyclists. All would benefit with TIF.
2. Bus passengers. All would benefit with TIF.
3. Rail passengers. All would benefit with TIF.
4. Private cars to Park & Ride. All would benefit with TIF.
5. Private cars into Cambridge. Many, probably most, would benefit with TIF.
6. Trade vehicles. Most, probably all, would benefit with TIF.
Travelling within Cambridge
7. Pedestrians. All would benefit with TIF.
8. Cyclists. All would benefit with TIF.
9. Bus passengers. All would benefit with TIF.
10. Private cars. Many, probably most, would benefit with TIF.
11. Trade vehicles. Most, probably all, would benefit with TIF.
Travelling out of Cambridge
12. Cyclists. All would benefit with TIF.
13. Bus passengers. All would benefit with TIF.
14. Rail passengers. All would benefit with TIF.
15. Private cars. Most would not benefit from TIF unless they receive a discount on the congestion charge.
16. Trade vehicles. Most, probably all, would benefit with TIF.
SHOULD THE TIF PROPOSAL BE MODIFIED?
Alternatives methods of demand management
We are satisfied with the explanations given to the Joint Transport Forum as to why the proposed area-based congestion charge is preferable to alternatives including a cordon-based congestion charge, a workplace parking charge, or the exclusion of private cars from a large part of Cambridge. We think the proposed hours of operation of the congestion charge, and the proposed boundary, are sensible. We would however like to see some changes in the congestion charge proposals, as described below.
We welcome most of the investment proposals, although we reserve the right to comment on the detail as this is worked up. In particular, we welcome:
a. The proposed improvements in bus services into and within Cambridge.
b. The proposals for improved rural bus interchanges in villages in the sub-region.
c. The proposed funding of hybrid electric buses for routes running into the centre of Cambridge.
d. The substantial investment in cycling improvements.
e. The studies being undertaken into improvements in community transport, of the Dial-a-Ride type.
We also recognise the need to expand Park & Ride capacity, and welcome that. We would however like to see some modifications in the investment proposals, as described below.
Mechanism for setting and reviewing the congestion charge
We wish to minimise the cost to the community of the TIF proposals. We therefore argue that the congestion charge should be set initially at the lowest level which will achieve target congestion levels, subject to raising sufficient funds to cover operating costs. We believe that the level of the congestion charge should be reviewed only at defined intervals (eg annually). We also believe that there should be a strict and stated policy that all surplus funds, after deduction of operating costs, will be applied to environmentally friendly forms of transport, including walking, cycling, and public transport.
Mechanism for determining the way in which congestion charge surplus will be spent
Since the great majority of the congestion charge income will come from residents of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, we do not feel it would be right for the County Council as a whole to take decisions on the way in which any congestion charge surplus will be spent. We suggest that for this purpose a special member committee should be established, whose geographical composition would be broadly proportionate to the geographical sources of the congestion charge income.
Discounts on the congestion charge
We assume that vehicles in which Blue Badge holding disabled drivers are travelling as driver or passenger will be exempt from the congestion charge.
Carbon reduction has taken a higher place in the County Council’s priorities since the original work on the TIF proposal was undertaken. To reflect this, we believe there should be a discount on the congestion charge for smaller vehicles which produce less CO2 emissions.
We have identified above the special case of those who live in Cambridge and commute to work outside Cambridge by private car. There is the wider question as to whether all those living within the congestion charge zone should receive a discount on the congestion charge, as in London. Compared to a base case, this could be done by reducing the charge for residents or by increasing the charge for non-residents, or by a combination of both. We believe these options need to be evaluated. Such evaluation would need to compare the discount options with the base case in terms of their effect on congestion, CO2 emissions and operating income, and in terms of their financial impact on those living both within and outside the congestion charge zone.
Method of charging for Park & Ride
We suggest that consideration should be given, on both environmental and congestion reduction grounds, to a change in the Park & Ride charging arrangements from per-person charging to per-vehicle charging. This could be achieved, as in some other Park & Ride schemes, by charging for parking and making the bus journey free.
We suggest that the per-vehicle charging should include, as suggested above for the congestion charge, a discount for lower-emission vehicles. These changes would have environmental benefits, by providing an incentive for the use of smaller cars. They would also encourage car sharing, which would have both environmental and congestion reduction benefits.
Improved public transport and car parking to encourage use of rail and guided bus
We suggest there should be a study of the extent to which improved public transport and car parking arrangements could encourage the use of rail and guided bus for journeys into Cambridge.
Promoting sustainable travel
We would like to see greater clarity as to the amount of TIF money which is to be spent, both initially and in future years, on promoting sustainable travel. We believe this should be taken seriously because the success of the TIF project will depend as much on changing people’s attitudes and habits as it will on investment in public transport improvement.
Working from home
The very best kind of modal shift, in environmental and congestion reduction terms, is a shift from car to telecommunications. We suggest that there should be an examination of whether a programme to promote home working, if only on a part time basis, should be part of the TIF project.
Innovative public transport
Given that the TIF fund is about innovation, we think that the TIF project provides a unique opportunity to apply some 21st century technology to the Cambridge public transport system. Specifically, we would urge consideration of a limited Personal Rapid Transit system, such as the Ultra system currently under construction at Heathrow. Ultra uses electrically-powered driverless 4-person pods travelling on light concrete guideways. The guideways may be elevated, on the surface, or in underground tunnels.
We suggest that such a system might be installed as part of the TIF project in the north east of Cambridge. It could connect the Milton Park & Ride site, the Science and Business Parks, Cambridge Regional College and the proposed Chesterton Station.
If a Personal Rapid Transit system in that area proved successful, it could be treated as the first phase in a medium term strategy to install Personal Rapid Transit systems in other edge employment areas (such Addenbrookes, West Cambridge and East Cambridge) with the long term possibility that they might be interconnected into a single network using tunnels under the City centre.
Impact on communities immediately outside congestion charge zone
There is concern in some of the communities immediately outside the congestion charge zone that there will be excessive car parking, with adverse impact on residents. This requires examination, with consideration being given to new parking restrictions if necessary.
In summary, we conclude that:
a. Although the timing of such growth is uncertain, we accept that there will be substantial growth in and around Cambridge over the next twenty years. This calls for bold action if unacceptable levels of congestion are to be avoided.
b. The TIF proposals, including the proposed congestion charge, flow logically from recent strategic transport studies, namely the Cambridge Futures 2 study and the Long Term Transport Strategy.
c. The County Council should proceed with the TIF proposal, including £465m of Government investment in public transport and congestion charging, but the proposal should be modified in the ways described above.
This document is a summary of the submission made to the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission by the Liberal Democrat Group of Cambridgeshire County Council on 27th February 2009. A copy of the full submission is available on request from Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats, Sheridan House, 16 Signet Court, Swann Road, Cambridge CB5 8LA. Telephone: 01223 313765.