Well, it seems I have to do some blog necromancy. Oh, well. About time I suppose.
Because we can't have anything nice, instead we have Greater Cambridge. What is that? Well, you know all the stuff about directly elected councillors doing stuff they're voted to do? Not that. It's rubbish, in fact, it's a quasi-democratic nonsense made up of councillors chosen from goodness knows how many of the four dead-wood strata of local government we have here, the directly elected mayors office and massive companies and representatives of the University that are there for the good of everyone and who are definitely not pushing their own agendas. Honestly, if more than eleven people in the whole county understand how this fundamentally fucked concept is meant to operate then I'm a Dutchman. They've been around since 2014/2015 and basically accomplished nothing other than revamp some roads that were due for it anyway and put some cycle lanes in that the County should have been working on. I would be unsurprised if they've spent more money on consultations than actual tarmac.
Anyhoo, they've decided to give us a Sustainable Travel Zone and there's a consultation. Doesn't that sound exciting? I mean who wouldn't support a Sustainable Travel Zone? Who isn't in favour of Sustainable Travel? You're dubious? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER DOESN'T LIKE SUSTAINABILITY?
The plan - what is it?
Well, let me paraphrase.
Just shut the fuck up and get the bus, peasants. Yeah, we'll say we're going to put more bike routes in but we're not going to tell anyone where they are or how good they'll be, those hippies will fall for this shit because we said "sustainable" so we don't have to do anything for them really. Oh, we'll not pay for it out of the £1 billion initial budget that Greater Cambridge said it would have over the years its due to run, that would be crazy when we could have a congestion charge. Say £5 a day for anyone to drive in or out? And then if we put a cap on bus fares of, oh, I dunno, £4 a day, that's less than £5 right? So that'll put SOME people off driving but not many, and that'll give us enough wonga to bung to the bus companies, yeah?
Yes. That's it. They've had a decade to come up with a good plan but the previous Tory mayor seemed to believe in magic fairy dust schemes and did nothing of worth, before that the County built the hilariously still awful Guided Bus Route, delivered cataclysmically over cost and which is still basically fucked. The roots of that plan go back as far as 1994, when the County bought the old railway line and did sweet Fanny Addams with it for years until they botched together a scheme to run a bus through a giant gutter more slowly than it could run on the parallel A14 and, amazingly, even slower than steam trains used the same route when Queen Victoria was on the throne. A scheme so mind numbingly stupid that it connects the areas of heavy road congestion together by bypassing the flat, straight, rapid road that also got an upgrade at a greater cost than the initially projected entire planned lifespan of Greater Cambridge.
Oh, and if they don't get this going and get the money spent (crumbs from the table relative to what the Highways Agency has shovelled into a road that's already becoming unfit for purpose as congestion increases) then the government will probably take the cash back so they can embezzle it and give it to their mates.
So is it really that bad?
Yes, it really is. There is no modern mass transit system on offer, there's a trivially lower bus fare than congestion charge. Oh, yeah, and the money they've got will be spent paying bus subsidies in the short term, then the congestion charge comes in after the next couple of rounds of local elections, and then everyone will for reasons unknown get the bus rather than drive and that's it. There are some changes to road utilisation in the City that might give some better space for cycling, but if you tell me you believe for sure that'll happen and councillors won't kick those back into long grass to avoid upsetting the blue rinsed pro car brigade then I suggest that someone responsible needs to take your scissors away.
Wait... The charge comes in after more local elections?
Oh, yes. And yes, you're right, the Tories are usually in charge of Cambridgeshire County Council, and this scheme would need to get them on-side after that election if they do take control again. It just so happens that last time they were in charge of the County they were so rubbish that an uneasy coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors united only by not being Tory currently runs the County. But for that to continue on would be astonishing, especially when the Tories lose the next general election as they seem intent on doing. Last time the Tories lost sole control of the County, it was UKIP did the damage. This isn't a county with a progressive alliance waiting to hold the reins long term, sadly.
But there's a Labour mayor?
Aye, but probably not for long. Honestly, I like Nik, he seems ok to me, and I hope his well publicised recent health issues work out and he makes a full, spectacular recovery. And he's better than the last mayor. But without the County, even if we don't get a Tory mayor next time (and we likely will) this scheme is still in danger.
So what happens when the Tories take over
That's the elephant in the room that nobody will address. We already know they're sceptical. Go look at Steve Counts twitter feed, it's full of this stuff and it varies from conspiracy theory level nonsense to just plain rejection of the scheme. There's an evens chance he's back in the County Council cabinet within 5 years, and that's before a penny of the congestion charge is ever collected. We know the Tories have previously cut subsidy to rural buses. We know they'll do it again. Their whole transport policy has always centred around securing car access for happily married web toed fenland cousins to careen into Cambridge as fast as they can. Remember, the last Mayors big plan was to dual the A10. at massive cost - that'll come back as a scheme, most likely, when the next Tory takes over.
Bluntly, if they don't support this, why won't they do that again? Why is it you think this scheme is Tory proof? And if it isn't, how does it ever deliver?
What's the alternative?
I reject the notion that I need to come up with an alternative to a scheme that's rather likely to fail all on its own. But as you've asked...
- Commit to gold standard cycle infrastructure on or parallel to all routes in and out of Cambridge.
- A continuous cycle route from Cambridge to Ely, incorporating access to settlements en route e.g. the new Waterbeach development.
- A continuous cycle route to Newmarket, it's really not far, likewise incorporating access to settlements en route.
- Start building a rapid transit scheme. When built, light rail is cheaper to operate than buses, and once spending is sunk into it, it's much harder for a future council to cut it. It's also something that people actually might want to use. Lets face it, you use a bus when you must, you never do it because you enjoy getting the bus.
- Make some changes to the congestion charge zone scheme. Talk about discounts for those driving out rather than in, or make it a timed thing (if you're driving for 10 minutes to drop someone at the hospital, should that really be the same cost as someone driving into the city and around all day?).
- Commit to profits from the congestion charge being spent on sustainable infrastructure, both rapid transit and active transport. Shall we say, for the first 20 years, 70% to a rapid transit system, 30% to active transport?
Look, it's this simple. The scheme as presented now has little chance of surviving. In the name of all that is holy, go back to the drawing board and get it right this time.