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‘We’ll get out of our cars if you give us good public transport' - Big Conversation findings

Published: Friday, January 5, 2018

An extensive survey of residents, commuters and businesses has shown rising public support for hard-hitting measures to tackle congestion in Cambridge.

People responding to the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s ‘Big Conversation’ said they would be willing to get out of their cars – but only with significant investment up front in a fit-for-purpose public transport network.

The Partnership is currently analysing more than 10,000 responses generated during its call for public feedback on the Greater Cambridge growth story – how it affects them and what future investment might help them.

Transport and access to affordable housing ranked as the biggest challenges by people living and working here.

The Partnership has the potential to spend over £500 million on Greater Cambridge priorities, to grow and share prosperity and improve quality of life in what is now the UK’s fastest growing city region by addressing key barriers to growth.

Between September and November, public feedback was sought on people’s current challenges, hopes and ideas for the future, to help inform and prioritise the Partnership’s long-term investment plans - which focus on improving the transport network, delivery of new homes and jobs, and the harnessing of Smart technologies to benefit local communities and businesses.

The interim findings show that:

  • More people are now commuting by car/van in and around the city since 2011 – from 32% in 2011 to 37% in 2017 for Cambridge residents, and an even bigger jump, from 64% to 75%, for people travelling from South Cambridgeshire – with the vast majority travelling for work purposes and during peak hours.
  • Traffic congestion is ranked the biggest transport challenge (64.6%) – with lack of adequate and reliable public transport key issues (both 42%).
  • There is public appetite and opportunity to get out of the car and onto other forms of transport – with over half (56%) of regular car users saying they would be willing to travel by alternate means – with speed and reliability the top incentives.

Top five on the public’s wish list are (in order): the introduction of new public transport routes; improving reliability of public transport; making public transport cheaper; improving the frequency on public transport; and introducing free parking at Park & Ride – the Partnership has recently agreed to jointly fund, with Cambridgeshire County Council, removal of the £1 charge later this year.

The surveys found support for the principles of the Partnership’s transport strategy – improving public transport, cycling and walking journeys, managing down general traffic in the city, and encouraging a switch from car to other modes through the introduction of a series of ‘carrots and sticks’.

There was general acceptance that car travel needs to be disincentivised and a number of options to achieve this were tested, including a form of ‘intelligent road charging’ – where the cost changes according to levels of congestion - and a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) for businesses.

Both of these could raise millions of pounds in extra revenue each year to be reinvested in an ever-improving public transport system. Pollution charging as part of a clean air zone was also put forward.

A representative survey of residents found similar levels of support for a form of road charging and pollution charging and higher support for both than for WPL by itself, and this was also reflected in feedback from businesses.

However, commentary suggested this would only be viable if people had access to good alternatives first – the carrots before the sticks - and that any charge was applied in a fair way.

All the findings are set to be discussed at the Partnership’s Joint Assembly committee meeting on January 18 and Executive Board committee meeting on February 8 respectively.

Cllr Francis Burkitt, Chairman of the Executive Board said: “It’s fantastic that so many people took the time to share their views during Our Big Conversation and, on a personal level, I’m very pleased that the vast majority of residents and businesses confirmed that we’re on the right track with our strategy to help develop a truly world-class public transport, cycling and walking network that is fit for our cutting-edge city region.

“I know my GCP colleagues will want to spend time reviewing these findings and all the comments in detail because it is absolutely vital that our future investments reflect local needs and to help address the problems people have told us are real issues for them getting on better in life, especially where we can help balance social inequality by giving more people better access to our vibrant economy.”

The full interim report is set to be published on Monday January 8.

The final report will be published in February as part of the evidence base to support proposals for the Partnership’s future investment strategy.