The Zone has been musing about why the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) doesn’t have a plan B for the Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ) proposals. The previous GCP Gateway Review in 2020 focused on the Cambridge Autonomous Metro (CAM); perhaps read what happened before proceeding.

The GCP documents concern themselves with forging ahead with the STZ. The Strategic Outline Case (SOC) is clear. The GCP has considered, they tell us, all the other options. Discounting them one by one as not raising sufficient funds to operate the expanded bus network. Note that at the 2020 Gateway review, none of this existed. The plan was all in for the Metro.

The massively expanded bus network is the only solution. It is The Only Game In Town. Buses predicate the whole proposal.

The bus network, when you take a closer look, is expanded. Defiantly so. It runs for extended hours and in the City has additional frequency too. If you’re outside the City, the deal isn’t as sweet as the marketing material makes out. Go and have a look for yourself, and you will see. You know the £1 / £2 fares are also not the best value currently available, don’t you?

This is also another reason, and it boils down to hard cash. £200 million worth, to be precise. And a deadline.

The GCP has to demonstrate to the Government they have delivered something good and working. This appears to be that an expanded bus network is operating. The metrics for how to determine whether it is successful are not given. Anywhere. There are no Key Performance Indicators (KPI) given to measure things against. The network will not be fully operational until 2030, so it cannot be a tick in the box to say the job is done. If the GCP does this at their second Gateway review, the £200 million is released. If they don’t, it isn’t. If that £200 million doesn’t come through, or it is capped, the whole City Deal funding and the GCP’s projects could become moot.

This is probably why the GCP are also loaning some forward funding to get the STZ up and running, along with some bus improvements. This forward funding will be re-paid to the GCP from the income of the STZ. They have a deadline to meet.

This puts South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) in a tricky position. Vote the STZ proposals, though, and the GCP gets £200 million. If they don’t, it’s lost. Gone. There is no time to develop a plan B.

We know a direct hard loss to the Cambridge economy of £151.3 million a year once the STZ comes in. You did know that, didn’t you? Details of that can be found by clicking here. This is because the STZ charge will take away disposable income from the residents, tourists, etc. while introducing direct expenses onto businesses. The GCP go far as to state:

Commuting and other users experience a net dis-benefit from the area charge of £436 million.

GCP Appendix E Appraisal Tables

So the SCDC has a balancing act to consider. If the Councillors vote, the STZ plans to gain a single £400 million grant. They remove £151.3 million a year from the Cambridge economy. That is £151.3 million a year for, well, ever. That is quite a hole. They also need to consider that the public, as a rule, prefers metro-type services over buses. That their Mayor, Nik Johnson, culled. As a paediatrician, Nik is eminently qualified in civil engineering projects and mass transport solutions. The Zone goes as far as to say it was a courageous move on his part.

Perhaps to put things into a GCP soundbite, the carrot of a single £200 million followed by the stick of -£151.3 million a year for decades.

Metros are faster, seen as more reliable, and carry more people, just for starters. Just look at the success of a Metro systems such as London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. But for Cambridge, buses are now the only game in town because there is no Plan B.

The GCP may well have another reason, if they do they are keeping that to themselves.