There could be; bear with us here.

Ideally, click here and have a read of the “How Much?” musing first.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) has conducted years of research. Commissioned many consultations, focus groups, and surveys and have taken the pulse of you, the people.

You want a new public transport network which is affordable, widespread, fast and efficient. In short, you want a “world-class bus and active travel network”. The GCP is absolutely certain of this, and the GCP want to provide it for you.

However, if you want it, naturally you have to pay for it. That’s life.

So then, how to pay for it all?

To put this in pictures, as everyone likes pictures.

Cambridge City Area
South Cambridgeshire Area

We could tax the movement of people and goods in the Cambridge City area to subsidise the whole of the bus infrastructure encompassing the South Cambridgeshire Area. After all, many of the services go into the Cambridge City centre. Though as the GCP tell us, employment is being created around the edges of the City rather than in the city centre itself. Those are the plans and much of the proposed new bus routes will actually “orbit” the city centre, to take people to and from these areas of new growth and opportunity. There isn’t anywhere for all the new buses to physically stop to let you all on and off in the City Centre anyway.

As the GCP builds tens of thousands more houses around the Greater Cambridge area (which is a larger area still), the sole form of income to subsidise this will remain the Cambridge City area. As the reach of the “world-class bus and active travel network” grows, the area paying for it does not. That is impressive.

The question here is though, is it sustainable in the longer term?

How about, and take a pause and a breath here, something a bit radical?

As Cllr Elisa Meschini, Chair of the GCP’s Executive Board, says “we have a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform how we travel around Greater Cambridge.”

The GCP tell us you all really, really want this to happen. So lets us go big.

Use a Council Tax precept in the Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire areas to fund it.

OK, you can breath again now. Stop shouting at the screen you are reading this on, and plough on.

Everyone in the Greater Cambridge area and beyond who benefits from this new “world-class bus and active travel network” would share the cost equally. So yes, it would cost us all a share of the £31.5 million a year, but it would save a minority from paying an additional £21.5 million annually by not creating and running the STZ (what you say, read the “How Much?” musing). It could even, with a squint, be said that this method saves £21.5 million a year that would otherwise be lost simply to “running costs”.

As the GCP tell us we want this solution, we will all undoubtedly wish to use it too. After all, we have all said we want it. It will be so good we will flock to use it, as is the GCP’s desire. We all would have invested in it, so why not use it? It isn’t like having an external unelected entity dictating to you that you must use it, or be punished with selective taxation otherwise, is it?

We could have it sooner too, no need to dig up Cambridge and install a plethora of ANPR cameras all over the place. Build offices, or persuade the NHS and providers of social care in the community to administer reimbursement schemes.

It could happen at the speed of a politician’s pen. If the 78% of people the GCP tell us really want this, the council can call a referendum to enable them to break the council tax increase cap. We, the people, can simply then rubber stamp and confirm GCP’s research claims.

Everyone wins.

We all get what the GCP tell us we want, with the cost shared fairly and equally. If you don’t live on a current or proposed bus route, but do drive into Cambridge you “pay” a flat rate of ~£75 a year, the cost of 15 trips and had to pay the STZ charge. Traffic will go down as the buses work so well. Reducing the “congestion” and the already low pollution to even lower values. People will get cheaper fares and an excellent and beautiful bus service. ANPR cameras won’t pepper Cambridge, no-one will have to endure a bureaucratic process to claim back a charge to use the services of the NHS. Plus, we save £21.5 million a year.

I can hear you screaming and shouting now. After all, who would want their council tax to go up? That isn’t fair, is it?

Let us pour ourselves a glass of perspective and soda. The Cambridge Fire Authority budget is £34.7 million in 2022/2023 and is funded by Council Tax to the tune of £74 per Band D property annually. So for about £1.42 a week, everyone in that household will be getting a “world-class bus and active travel network”. With the GCP proposal, some people in the city of Cambridge will be paying £1,260 a year to just *leave* Cambridge to work outside the city. Businesses with vans needed to carry the tradesmen and their tools around who repair, build, and deliver things for you, will be paying £2,520 a year, per van, per year.

In actuality, the numbers would probably be less, as the number of houses being created by the GCP in the Greater Cambridge area is huge. Tens of thousands of them the GCP inform us, which is why we need to act now. These additional properties will be Council Tax payers sharing the cost. As more housing is built, by definition, their council tax will fund the additional services needed for their area. The costs for these additional services are already factored into the GCP costs, well, if they aren’t then there is a big hole in the proposal right there.

No doubt, even this way, some will lose out. There will never be a total win for every scenario. Those without access to current or proposed bus routes will scream and shout. Why am I funding a bus network I don’t use? However, would they scream and shout if offered the choice of ~£75 a year or a starting cost of £1,260 a year if they need to commute into Cambridge itself?

Likewise, those who live near bus routes could also be unhappy, why do I have to pay £75 a year for my £2 bus fare to Cambridge? Well, the £1 and £2 bus fares are unstainable, it is proposed to cost £20 million a year to have £1 and £2 fares. So your £75 a year is keeping the fare down at £2. If you didn’t pay the £75 you would be paying much, much more.

The caveat to this musing is of course that you, the people, really desire a London style “world-class bus and active travel network” as much as the GCP are telling everyone. Given the choice of how to pay for it, which would be better for you?

Answers on a postcard to the GCP and your local councillor. And complete the GCP Consultation to ensure your views are recorded, click here to go to that.