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Future ideas to improve public transport to be discussed by Members

27 June 2023

County Councillors are set to consider the ways in which the Council, working with its partners, can improve public transport across Cambridgeshire at next week’s Highways and Transport Committee (4 July).

Public transport has a key role to play in delivering the Council’s ambition to improve safe and sustainable travel across the County, and so at the meeting Members will discuss the current challenges and the potential means to improve public transport and access for communities and businesses in Cambridgeshire.

They will also consider information resulting from recent activities that have been undertaken by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, and Greater Cambridge Partnership, aimed at improving public transport and connectivity.

The report that Councillors will consider highlights that there is strong support being fed back from all recent consultations for an improved public transport offer across Cambridgeshire, in particular improvements to bus services. The bus market outside London has remained deregulated since 1985 and private bus companies focus on providing services that they feel are the most commercially profitable for their shareholders. Although some services are kept viable by public sector subsidies. This means the bus network is not based on the connectivity needs of all of our communities nor does it seek to plan for future demand. Deregulation also limits the ability to create an integrated bus offer which delivers a single ticketing and timetabling system across the whole network.

During the COVID-19 pandemic the government did provide bus subsidies - but as these have been gradually phased out, many less profitable routes have come under threat - with 18 of those threatened, now being supported on a temporary basis via intervention from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA).

The report confirms that improvements to the bus network offer the fastest way to improve public transport in the immediate to short term. However, to secure sustainable and transformational change, long term financial investment will be needed.

There are a range of ways available to local areas to raise the required funding, which include but are not limited to, a sustainable travel zone (such as that consulted on as part of the Making Connections programme), mayoral precept, workplace parking levy, future bids to central government, and direct subsidies from developers and large employers, as already happens with the U bus in Cambridge.

Later in July, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s Board is also set to consider and discuss bus franchising options, which would enable public sector control of the bus network, against alternative reform options.

Members of next week’s committee will be invited to note the strategic direction of the council and its partners to improve transport, and current activities in support of this, the results of the GCP Making Connections consultation – and to note that subject to identification of a preferred option by the GCP Board, that an outline business case must first be developed to inform any future decision by Full Council on any Sustainable Transport Zone.

The Highways and Transport Committee will meet at the Council’s New Shire Hall headquarters from 10am on 4 July, but the meeting will be live streamed on the council’s YouTube channel. The committee papers can be found on the council’s website.