Cambridge Connect recognises that the proposals put forward would require substantial and sustained investment. A full and expert technical and economic feasibility study is needed to evaluate the costs and benefits of the proposals. It is acknowledged unequivocally that the costs would be high, and careful consideration needs to be given to the return on that investment. It would be risky to adopt a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach in a city like Cambridge, and fail to consider investment over the appropriate time horizon. Cost is certainly a valid and relevant consideration, although also is value.
The Greater Cambridge City Deal
Substantial resources are committed to the Greater Cambridge City Deal, which has already identified its priority schemes, none of which presently include consideration of Light Rail. It has been argued by the City Deal that their time-frames cannot include schemes such as Light Rail, which need to be considered over 10-15 year time horizons. It is suggested that City Deal financing mechanisms necessitate a narrow focus on more near-term decisions, and demonstrable returns for those decisions.
Not surprisingly, Cambridge Connect considers this an opportunity missed. We believe that short-term decisions should be connected to a more long-term strategy, and as such Light Rail should be given serious consideration as an option to help address Cambridge transport needs. We believe a responsible approach is to allocate at least some of the substantial resources available through the City Deal to completing detailed appraisals of Light Rail. The results of this research may have far-reaching implications, and major influence on decisions, including on some of the shorter-term schemes under consideration. Disappointingly, present indications are that Light Rail will be excluded from consideration and discussion… One goal of Cambridge Connect is to provide information and analysis that might lead to reconsideration of this position.
We believe Cambridge is at a pivotal moment in its history, and that decisions made now have the potential to irrevocably change many of the important values that define the City that we love. We are realistic enough to know that it might be challenging to introduce Light Rail into the frame of consideration at this stage of the City Deal, although we are optimistic enough – and care enough – to give it our best shot.
Given existing demands on the City Deal resources, and the likely resources that would be needed, it seems clear there would be a need for additional – and probably major – financial commitments to achieve a Cambridge Light Rail system beyond the City Deal. Cambridge Connect does not, therefore, pin its arguments or aspirations to the City Deal. Of course, we remain hopeful the City Deal might still represent an opportunity to make progress. However, we take a long-term view, and depending on the level of support that emerges – particularly from the public and from business – and on the results of our on-going research, we will continue to investigate and build the case for a transport system to meet Cambridge needs that is a sustainable investment for the long-term. Deal or no Deal.
The European Investment Bank (EIB), as part of the European Commission’s European Local Energy Assistance programme (ELENA), supports construction and transportation projects that contribute to energy savings. For example, the major 110 km Aarhus Light Rail Project (Denmark) has been under construction since 2013 and has benefitted from EIB support. Closer to home, the EIB agreed in Feb 2015 to provide a loan of almost half of the funds required for the £1B seven km underground extension of the Northern Line between Kennington and Battersea.
Cambridge Connect believes these types of funding sources should be thoroughly explored. Given the significance of Cambridge in the context of European education and its important place in European heritage, a case for support could – and should – be made.
Public – Private Partnership Financing
Public – Private Partnership (PPP) financing is a well-established mechanism used to finance infrastructure projects worldwide. A range of options for PPP implementation exist, and these should be explored by those with specialist knowledge to ascertain whether or not PPP is a suitable and viable vehicle for raising finance in the context of a Cambridge Light Rail system. At least intuitively, there seems merit in combining some public resources available through the Greater Cambridge City Deal with resources from the private sector, perhaps with investments from other institutions. Investments will be returned by the economic, environmental, educational, cultural and social benefits of the scheme, and different stakeholders might benefit in different ways. Failure to invest could see current vibrant growth weaken and wither as barriers to connectivity increase, and much we value about Cambridge placed at risk. It is worth noting that the Northern Line extension to Battersea mentioned above is being funded entirely through developer contributions, showing that major private investment in underground rail developments is feasible in some circumstances.
Recently there has been discussion of some form of congestion charge for Cambridge, and potentially this could discourage people from driving private vehicles into the City centre. Viable and practical alternatives to private vehicles are likely to play a key part in gaining public support for congestion charging. Indeed, it could be argued that a Light Rail system is a necessity in Cambridge to provide people with those practical alternatives to driving private cars.
Let us assume that the objectives of congestion charging are to a) reduce congestion, b) improve air quality and c) reduce the carbon footprint of commuter travel. A Cambridge Light Rail system may in itself be an effective way in which to deliver on those targets simply by achieving more widespread consumer adoption of public transport. In these circumstances, a congestion charge may not be needed to dissuade people from driving – people will choose public transport simply because it is faster, more reliable, more frequent and more convenient. Detailed appraisals of Light Rail may show that congestion charging in Cambridge is not necessarily the only way to achieve the stated objectives.
Giving people positive choices rather than beating them with sticks might be an approach that would receive a warmer welcome than congestion charging. On the other hand, some form of congestion charging, or alternatively perhaps employer parking fees, could be means to help fund the public transport system needed. If that is the case, local residents may be more positive about paying if they see real and tangible benefits for their money. Support may not be as forthcoming, however, if residents see congestion charging as another means of revenue raising for wider government, particularly if they are faced with a public transport system that is inadequate and not fit-for-purpose.
Cambridge Connect has not evaluated proposals for congestion charging, and remains neutral on this issue until more detailed economic, social and environmental data emerge supporting or refuting this method as a means of demand management and / or infrastructure funding.
Fares from an operational Cambridge Light Rail line would raise revenue to operate the service, and perhaps pay back some of the up-front investment. Work on fare revenue remains to be undertaken, and is one of Cambridge Connect’s many priorities.