Under the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) plans, any movement in the Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) of any vehicle with a number plate will be charged. Happily, this is only on weekdays and only 12 hours a day between 0700 and 1900.

If you move inside the zone below, you pay.

You may be surprised by Addenbrookes Hospital being inside the zone. You can’t see it, as it has been removed from this, official, GCP map. You are not alone. Lots of people drive there for appointments, treatments, visiting etc. Why seems to have been questioned by various Councillors, well done to them to raise the issue, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. The GCP response is by including it, all those patients, visitors, and staff will use the expanded and beautiful bus network or cycle; presumably, those with a leg in plaster won’t have to cycle. Any visitors to the Addenbrookes Hospital, Royal Papworth, new Children’s hospital etc., who cannot use a bus/cycle (more on that later…) will pay. Patients who must use a car may apply for reimbursement in very specific circumstances (again, more on that later). Expect also to suffer an eye roll and a Paddington Stare.

Some proposed exemptions are automatic, so any of the following are proposed to pay nothing and have to do nothing to achieve that. These are all based on the record the DVLA holds on the vehicle. So just painting blue and yellow squares on your car and shouting nea nor as you drive along won’t work.

  • Emergency vehicles, such as Police, Ambulances, Fire Engines and the like.
  • Military vehicles.
  • Disabled tax class vehicles.
  • Dial-a-ride services, which is good; it’s a vital lifeline for many elderly residents in Cambridge.
  • Certain local authority operational vehicles, e.g. refuse collection vehicles – why charge themselves?
  • Breakdown services.
  • NHS tax-exempt vehicles. They don’t say what these are; they need to haggle with the NHS about these.

That’s it for the exempt classes. So we shall move on to the discounts proposed. You will have to apply for a discount unless done for you, such as using a car club vehicle, as they will take care of it for the fleet.

How you will apply is unknown. How often these will need to be renewed is unknown. If there is a charge for applying, that is also unknown.

  • Blue badge holders.
    A person applies for a Blue Badge, but it’s proposed they can link the badge to two vehicles. Those will then get a 100% discount. It doesn’t seem to matter if the badge holder is in the car. It couldn’t be policed in any case. This seems OK, but many elderly who don’t drive don’t have Blue Badges. So to enable their pool of helpers to take them to appointments, social events etc., they will need to apply for a Blue Badge. This may involve an assessment. The closest place to get one done is in Huntingdon.
  • Hackney Taxis
    It seems to be a 100% discount only if zero emission (from 2028) or wheelchair accessible.
  • Private Hire Vehicles
    The same as taxis, 100% discount only if zero emission (from 2028) or wheelchair accessible.
  • Buses
  • Low income households, 25% to 100% discount.

The Low income households in very vague, the GCP documents simply say “potential for tapered discount 25 – 100%”. The SOC report doesn’t say how low income will be asses. Just that the scheme has a tapered discount of between 25-100% dependent on hardship. Presumably, this will be means tested, and no doubt have some kind of renewal required. TfL does not have a low income discount so we cannot look there for help. How many vehicles this will apply to is also unknown.

Everything falls into the reimbursement category. The GCP classify reimbursement as;

A reimbursement is a way to allow those who are eligible to be reimbursed for their journey to/from the Sustainable Travel Zone in certain circumstances. It is intended that the rules will be applied so that reimbursement is provided to only those that have a vital need to travel by motorised vehicle rather than some other transport mode. 

GCP Technical Note: Discounts, Exemptions, Reimbursements and Charge Levels

People who go for reimbursement will have to have paid the charge and then put in a claim to have the cost reimbursed. They must also demonstrate a “vital need to travel by motorised vehicle rather than some other transport mode”.

So who can apply for reimbursement?

  • NHS staff who need to use a car to carry certain items (controlled drugs, clinical waste etc.) or responding to an emergency
  • NHS patients travelling to appointments who are unable to use public transport
    Note this is for patients, not visitors. Though if you pick up a patient, you may be able to apply.
  • Emergency services personnel responding to an emergency in their own vehicles
  • Registered local authority, charity, domiciliary care or care home worker
  • Vehicles used by charities and not-for-profit groups

Firstly let us look at the “Registered local authority, charity, domiciliary care or care home worker” group. The SOC document says how this will work is unknown at this stage but that it will be administratively heavy. Reimbursement is likely to follow the TfL scheme. So then, let’s see what TfL say about this class.

If you are a domiciliary care worker, to make a claim you must either: 

• Work for a company that is contracted by a local authority within the Congestion Charge zone to care for residents
• Care for someone that receives whole or partial funding from a local authority in the Congestion Charge zone

Care home workers

If you work in a Care Quality Commission registered care home that is within the Congestion Charge zone, you may be able to get a Congestion Charge reimbursement for journeys to and from work, as well as journeys for work. 

How do you claim if you fall into the category of being able to claim reimbursement? Let us again turn to the TfL methodology.

You'll need to pay the daily Congestion Charge for your journey, before you can make a claim. 

Check with your local authority, charity or care home if they are registered to the reimbursement scheme and make a claim to them. Your organisation or care home will manage the claim and reimburse you.

So the burden is not on the GCP, Council, or commercial company that will end up running the STZ. It will all have to be done via your employer or agency. It may be worth asking them to complete the consultation and point out how much effort this will take. Every time one of their workers would like to apply for reimbursement.

There is no timescale for reimbursements either, so you could pay out quite a bit before the refunds start to come through. If they are not refused.

Now let us move on to the “NHS patients travelling to appointments who cannot use public transport”. This appointment could be with Addenbrookes, a local GP, NHS Dentist (if you use a private dentist, you’re out of luck it seems). Again this will all have to be processed by whoever is treating you. Treatment could be from Addenbrookes, Royal Papworth, or your local GP. Whoever you see will be doing all the admin and reimbursements.

To qualify for a reimbursement, the GCP is working on the assumption that only NHS patients clinically assessed as too ill, weak or disabled to travel to an appointment on public transport can claim. Remember they are only looking to reimburse those who can demonstrate a “vital need to travel by motorised vehicle rather than some other transport mode”. They do, however, include the following as potential reasons to claim;

  • Have a compromised immune system
  • Require regular therapy or assessments
  • Need regular surgical intervention

Patients won’t be able to claim if going by car to an appointment saves you 2 hours each way travelling by bus. Nor if you take patients to A&E and leave with them a few hours later, still not disabled enough to use a bus.

All of this clinical assessment will be performed by the NHS. They will have to submit the claim on your behalf and then reimburse you. They will be thrilled to know such an administrative burden is heading their way especially as you will have to prove you’ve paid the charge first, to be reimbursed. So it all happens after you have left. Remember this isn’t just Addenbrookes, but your GP will need to have resources available to do this too.

If the GCP wants to contest a claim or decides they will do this to help the NHS out, then the GCP, Council, or company running the scheme will need access to your medical records.

Within the financial model used by the GCP, they are expecting 15% of all charges to be exempt (taken to also include 100% discounts). They have no figure for reimbursements, so it is likely they will want to keep this low.