Cambridge Connect ran an online survey of public opinion about light rail as a potential solution for Cambridge public transport. The results revealed strong support for the concept, with 80% of respondents agreeing that light rail should form part of the mix of public transport for Cambridge.
The two line options that extended from the Girton Interchange to the Cambridge Central Rail Station and Addenbrookes Hospital and the Biomedical Campus received the greatest support from respondents (these were Options A and C in the original model). As a result, Cambridge Connect decided to give this route a first priority and focus as the ‘Isaac Newton Line’, with other line options remaining for consideration as ‘extensions‘. We have also taken on board comments to give greater recognition to the needs of the surrounding region.
With 50 responses to the online survey, the key results can be highlighted as follows:
- 72% of respondents considered buses should not be the main form of public transport in Cambridge (14% unsure, 14% in favour).
- 74% considered Light Rail with an underground component in the historic City centre would be a good investment (16% unsure, 10% against).
- On the question of whether busways should be built into the city centre to enable buses to travel faster there was mixed opinion, with 48% opposed and 40% in support (12% unsure).
- Of the potential benefits of Light Rail, those rated of most importance were speed, reliability and frequency of services. Convenience, comfort and ease of access were also rated of importance, while wi-fi and the ability to take cycles on board was of relatively less importance.
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest concerns about Light Rail related to cost: the overall cost of the scheme and risks of cost overruns in particular. Cost of fares when operational was of some concern, although safety and environmental impacts were of relatively less concern.
- Most respondents were either ‘Highly likely’ or ‘Likely’ to use the light rail line frequently, with only a few respondents replying they would be unlikely to use the service.
- Around a third of respondents were in the 30-44 age bracket, with half over 45, and 16% younger than 30. There was a 60/40 split in male to female respondents, with about half being in professional occupations.
- 73% of respondents lived either in Cambridge City or in the South Cambridgeshire District (26% elsewhere in the UK, 2% elsewhere in Cambridgeshire).
Some excellent comments were offered by some respondents, some of which are quoted below:
“Overjoyed to see such a great plan for a fantastic metropolitan railway in Cambridge. I wholeheartedly support it and hope our councillors seize this opportunity to invest in it”.
“Look at the Sheffield-Rotherham Tram-train trail, where trams run on their own network and also on Heavy rail routes giving benefits of through Journeys”.
“I just hope that you will make it happen, that would change everything in the city.”
“This proposal would help the city shift away from buses which take up too much road space and are affected by road congestion. I think improvements to (regular) rail is needed. Cambridge residents must accept that whilst it is wonderful that they can cycle across the city for a few miles to work, most of the congestion caused in the city is by people who do not live in the city… The only way for professional people to attend their jobs in their suits is using their car. As soon as high quality public transport exists, these people will not think it is a second-rate choice. Trams/trains beat buses in this regard”.
“I have lived in several cities with trams and they work brilliantly. But they’re not suitable for journeys beyond 30mins. Their forte is moving people through cities… Plus unless you have integrated ticketing, people aren’t going to want to pay Stagecoach a monthly fee, then the tram people a monthly fee, and the P&R people a fee. It would be a major failure if this is what Cambridge ends up with. Other cities, you pay for a day and you use whatever modes are available, switching from one to the other seamlessly. The UK does particularly badly in this regard”.
“Light rail is great for linking Cambridge ‘internally’ with much greater capacity than busways, east to west either through an underground system or as a tram.. heavy rail linking Haverhill, Soham and Wisbech to Cambridge are essential and we shouldn’t let trams take the focus off greatly improving the wider rail infrastructure leading communitites to the central station hub. Once there a healthy underground system or tram will be hugely beneficial at moving people from Market place to Tram park and rides to Central Station. Build it! Build it now!”
“More options incorporating light rail connections to surrounding villages would take a lot of cars off the road. The problem is that a lot of people who work in Cambridge live in villages and it is too dangerous to cycle due to dangerous roads. A light rail solution would be perfect if the trains were frequent enough and season tickets were available”.
“Cambridge needs fast, regular public transport. Cambridge needs an alternative to buses, the buses run late if there is an accident,even if its outside Cambridge. People think the buses in Cambridge and around are expensive. If Cambridge was to get trams or underground it could get its own version of the Oyster Card.”
“A link to Haverhill is a must. A huge amount of workers commute to Cambridge daily either by car or the tortuous bus route.”
“Before starting construction all transport providers should agree on unified ticketing… to change between heavy rail, bus, light rail and between different operators. Create a situation where the public finds public transport a convenience rather than a turf war between different companies.”
“I find it very important that new travel options integrate with bicycle transport by allowing cyclists to take their bikes onboard trams/trains.”
“What about congested routes into the city from outlying areas with (slightly) more affordable housing like Haverhill?”
A number of people expressed concerns about the cost:
“My main concern by far is cost, including value for money. I don’t think it is worth it on such a small scale. An underground element, especially, is likely to be eye-wateringly expensive. Maybe if it connected up all the surrounding towns and villages that don’t already have heavy-rail links it would make more sense. Most people who live within Cambridge cycle, so most of the congestion and pollution must be caused by people driving in from outside – a problem these plans don’t really solve. I’m also disappointed there is no proposal to join Cherry Hinton to Newmarket Rd, Milton Rd and the northeast. Currently there are no buses doing this route and you have to travel right into the centre and back out again.”
“Light Rail should be on the surface (can use conventional overhead wire or ground level current collection, or could also be wire-free) as its more cost effective. Tunnelling is VERY costly and only really suitable for major cities such as London. Construction costs should be paid for by levying Congestion charging on all motor vehicles entering the city.”
“Money can be better invested in improving transport links to outlying areas ie reintroducing train links rather than inner [city] links which are already well served.”
We think the costs need to be considered in relation to the benefits, and a long-term view taken to investment. Protecting a city with such outstanding heritage and environmental values as Cambridge is vital. Cambridge forefathers recognised these points, and that is why Cambridge is such an amazing place today. We agree that the costs will be a lot more than bus-based solutions on the surface, although we believe that the investment will be worth it, and a system would be provided that will be much more effective and positive forresidents and visitors, and for future generations.
Although the survey was not random, and the number of responses is insufficient to draw definitive conclusions, it has been interesting to gain an impression of people’s opinions, and in particular to receive the many thoughtful comments. Thanks to all those who responded!