Anger rises at Cambridge coach charge proposal

Following our coverage of Cambridge’s plans to charge coaches to access the city’s congestion zone, the industry has levelled some harsh criticism at the Greater Cambridge Partnership

The plan to charge coaches for access to Cambridge (B&CB 1641, 9 December 2022) has drawn a barrage of criticism from coach operators and trade associations.

In its consultation exercise, the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s (GCP) ‘Making Connections 2022’ sets out a huge bus investment plan of £50m a year followed by, in 2027, a congestion charge for the city. The Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority is investigating franchising to manage a new network.

But although the plan has been praised by most bus operators, especially for the introduction of more bus priority, coach operators have poured scorn on the £50-a-day charge proposed for coaches.

“The… brochure clearly states… that the challenge faced is the “climate emergency,”” Greys of Ely’s MD, Richard Grey, writes, in a response to the consultation. “…however the intention to unilaterally charge coaches is totally opposed this mission statement; especially as there is the intention to charge zero emission coaches.”

“…it is widely recognised that coaches take at least a mile’s worth of traffic off our roads, when compared to car usage. I would point out that a Euro VI coach produces less PM10 and NoX than a Euro VI Ford Fiesta, and this does not even consider these values in relation to levels by person/passenger. Many businesses of varying sizes, within the proposed zone, already have green travel schemes in place, provided by coaches, which would be hugely impacted by the Council’s charging plans which also goes against the mission statement.”

Richard points out the absurdity of council-funded school transport being charged to access Cambridge by a Cambridge council, and adds that, as both buses and coaches are registered as ‘bus’, ANPR would be unable to disentangle them at the zone entry points.

“… allow coaches to be part of the solution, not viewed as part of the problem. If you look at the past two years, when it was coaches which repatriated travellers safely. Now amid nationwide rail strikes, it is coaches that are called upon to provide the much need rail replacement to enable rail users to still use congestion reducing means of travel. I struggle to see how adding £50 per vehicle per day on to such solutions can be seen as helping congestion and environmental issues identified by the Greater Cambridge Partnership.”

The charge for coaches also brought disbelief from Charles Robinson, of Robinson of Kimbolton: “The planners should realise that coaches are their friends, taking a mile of traffic off the road,” he told Bus & Coach Buyer. “Businesses are struggling anyway in Cambridge; I was there recently, and surprised how many empty commercial properties there were.

“75% of our work is schools, and they go to Cambridge for sports; this would be prejudicial to Cambridge schools, because visiting teams will go elsewhere. I’d understand if they had a Euro VI limit but not a blanket charge.”

Charles said that Cambridge need only look to London to see what happens when you charge coaches: “We go to London a lot less than we used to. We have plenty of choice of attractions outside of London. Cambridge has huge amounts of coach tourism; coaches coming to the city doing the same job as their Park&Ride.”

Simon Dew, MD of Dews of Somersham, also said he is ‘disappointed’: “This will be detrimental to the tourist industry, hitting them in the pocket when they already bring the city a large amount of money. If they were going to charge, a Euro VI ceiling would have been the way to go.

“This is a poor route to choose – passenger transport is the solution, not the problem.” Simon was also critical of the lack of information about the plans for buses: “There are no details yet so it’s difficult to comment on buses.”

He said that the answer to most dilemmas is longer-term contracting, which would allow investment and enable electrification.

RHA Coach was also to respond to the proposal: “While we understand there may be flexibility in the council’s plans, our initial view is that this presents a damaging change to the way tourism and commerce within Cambridge will operate which has not been thought-through. Significant clarity is needed as to how the Council intends to ensure goods and coach passengers can access Cambridge during working hours,” said Chris Ashley, Policy Lead – Environmental & Vehicles.

The UKCOA, too, is sending a response this week: “We are deeply concerned about this proposal. We cannot imagine why the GCP feel it necessary to charge coaches as part of their strategy. Coaches should be part of the solution, not seen as the problem,” said UKCOA MD Peter Bradley. “We shall be responding to Cambridge in the strongest terms.”

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