Is congestion charging inevitable in Cambridge?

How to control the volume of traffic in Cambridge

On Wednesday 29th May I was interviewed by a BBC journalist to share my opinions on the proposed introduction of congestion charging in Cambridge.  Scuseme was approached to reflect the voice of a Cambridge based independent business.  Furthermore, because I work alongside many independent tradespeople, the journalist was keen to get an impression of their views. The programme, BBC Politics East, is on Sunday 9th June.

I discover that the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) Joint Assembly recently published their new transport plans to benefit commuters.  The resulting Choices for Better Journeys reveals that 82% of respondents support the vision to significantly improve public transport.  So, I feel that I am in good company. This is because in the absence of any effective proposals to control the volume of traffic in Cambridge, congestion charging is becoming inevitable.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I’ve lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and observed many redevelopment projects.  Some I admire as wonderful examples of superb planning, such as Accordia and the recently completed Cambridge Mosque. Others I am less impressed with, the CB1 Development for example.  My concerns here are around traffic safety and congestion, and the health effects of noise and air pollution.  Alongside others, these projects signify the growth of Cambridge, and the increasing desire to live and work in a city that is struggling to control the volumes of traffic.  And why should residents of Cambridge (who generally don’t really add to the problem given the amount of bike use in the city), pay the price in terms of asthma, noise disturbance and road safety?

Waiting inline

I’m lucky because I can nearly always walk or cycle to meetings in Cambridge. I can easily plan my schedule because I don’t have to factor in long traffic delays.  In contrast, when I must use the car, especially during peak times, my stress levels rise due to congestion.  I am not alone. Rob, a scuseme plumber and heating engineer, says: “It’s ridiculous the amount of time I spend waiting in traffic. Planning to get to one job from another is impossible and frustrating for me and my customers.”

I am in favour of the introduction of congestion charging.  I’m also aware of some claims that it’s simply a tax on those who can’t afford to live in Cambridge. When I raise this with our commuters, I find (from my small sample) that this claim is generally false.  They think that the relatively small cost of accessing the city would be worthwhile and certainly less than the time (and money) they waste sitting in traffic.

And Cambridge holds many accolades but being named the congestion capital of the UK in 2018 is not one we are proud of.

Public transport alternatives

As a long-term resident, I rarely use public transport, as I prefer to cycle. I do drive and now think carefully about each journey I make and its necessity.  So, when my daughter started at college in Impington, she got a bus pass as this looked the best means of travel.  We were wrong.   During the first few weeks, she faced many delays and sometimes the bus just didn’t turn up.  She now cycles to guarantee to arrive on time.  And I fully understand why people turn to their cars (or bikes) in the absence of a reliable public transport alternative.

For tradespeople public transport is rarely an option, but there are many other sectors of the community that would benefit from profound investment in public transport and therefore ease the burden of traffic on the roads.  Traffic congestion around the school run is a major headache.  It seems that a solution may center around more bus lanes and bus priority.  The second is really key.  After much anger about the parking cost, the park and ride sites are now free for up to 18 hours.  The buses cost a small fee, but on some roads, you end up sitting in the same traffic jams like everyone else.

Parking solutions

So what about the tradespeople coming into work who have to rely on their cars?  Nin, one of our handyman, said: “I’m not a fan of congestion charging, it’s a pretty crap idea. There’s lots of unnecessary use of cars and way too many houses going up without proper consideration for transport.  The whole system needs to be re-addressed.  And what about some sort of specific trades parking?”

Looking out for local business crops up again when I speak to James, a scuseme builder.  Thinking about the implementation of a congestion charge, James says: “I would only be in favour of a system that doesn’t penalise local businesses.  It needs to be fair and flexible enough so that we only pay according to time in the zone and times of day when using it.”


Cambridge is a wealthy city.  The Cambridge phenomenon attracts global businesses across bioscience, medicine, and technology.   This, however, comes at a price with some of the fastest rising property prices in the UK. Subsequently, Cambridge is rapidly becoming unaffordable for so many people.  New residents are pushed to the margins of the city and are therefore more reliant on their cars.  Surely the businesses that are reaping the dividends of being based here should be making a bigger contribution to the measures needed to keep the city moving. A workplace parking levy may provide some funding, but perhaps those that are part of and benefit from the Cambridge phenomenon should be paying more.  Whatever the outcome we need to invest so that our first-class city is not served by a third-class transport system.

The bigger picture

Councillor Lewis Herbert, the CGP executive board chairman says, “We must .. improve people’s journeys, tackle traffic congestion, clean up the air we breathe and reduce emissions that are a major contributor to climate change.”

During my interview, I finish by saying: “Cambridge is a small city that is suffering under the weight of the transport.  As we all now see the need to reflect on how our actions impact others on issues like plastic pollution and carbon emissions, we need to reflect and act differently to take responsibility for how we get around.  Using services such as scuseme that encourages and supports businesses within our communities will help to keep down the cost of lengthy journeys.”

congestion charging - is this the future for Cambridge?
What a difference. Hills Road taken on Friday 31st May at 3.30pm … during the half-term holidays!

Take part

Sign up to the Smarter Cambridge Transport to find out about developing and promoting a modern vision for integrated transport in Cambridge. And lookout for the Sustrans Greater Cambridge travel survey that’s going around, seeking to understand travel behavior, inform policy decisions, and justify investment in Greater Cambridge.

A Citizen’s Assembly in autumn 2019 will consider evidence about how to reduce congestion and better support public transport to improve people’s daily journeys.

Dawn Giesler, is the founder of scuseme Cambridge, an online marketplace that helps your family run smoothly. She has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advise based on her own experiences. For more information visit scuseme

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