5 April 2021
What is Talking Point?
Cambridge News asks a representative of each local political party to answer a question on a local issue in just 300 words. The answers are then published in the physical copy of the Cambridge News every week. In the run-up to the elections on 6th May 2021, they are also running a series of 'election special' talking points. Here, we share our response to the question.
Today's Question: How should the council work to reduce pollution and congestion in the city centre? Would a congestion charge be a good idea?
Both city air pollution and congestion fell in the Cambridge Lockdown. We should keep these lower in the return to ‘normal’. However, according to figures released in June 2020, the city was in the bottom half of air pollution reductions across all UK cities.
Helping more people cycle: we have the highest cycling figures in the UK, but there are numerous deterrents. Many cycle paths have mixed use, some are badly maintained and suffer from potholes - Newmarket Road being especially bad. Many roads lack room for bikes between parking and traffic. Big projects like the Chisholm Trail are great, but often late and over budget. We need a simple, interconnected, properly segregated cycle network now.
Getting the bus system functional is essential until longer term public transport solutions can be delivered. Current bus services do not serve Cambridge residents well; there are whole areas, for example in Abbey where buses are rare and slow. Ticket prices are too high; it is cheaper to take a family to town by car and pay the high car parking fees than to go on the bus - public transport must be easy, cheap and reliable.
At the same time, we need disincentives for people driving all the way into Cambridge from outside - clogging up routes for residents. If the Park and Ride, and buses worked seamlessly on low congestion roads, travel without a car would be much easier.
At its heart, the city should introduce an emission-free zone as a priority. The trend toward transport electrification is shifting faster every day - new technologies in battery engineering and recycling will supercharge this transition to zero pollution, potentially zero carbon transport. Electric vehicles (whether 2 or 4 wheel) will become increasingly accessible for everyone, as well as for public infrastructure such as buses. The council should incentivise this in Cambridge with many more free or low-cost charging points, accessible to existing residents and standard in all new builds. This must be accompanied by appropriate safety regulations including clear guidelines on which vehicles can use which routes.
London proved that congestion charges improve air quality, however it has a good general transport infrastructure and most journeys were by public transport. We should be very careful in using financial disincentives as it would further increase problems of inequality, for which Cambridge is worst in the UK. People should be actively helped to be green - not forced by our wallets to do so.
Matt is a City Council candidate for Abbey, his professional background is in chemical engineering, and he has a particular interest in how local communities could be structured in a healthier, more sustainable way.