A time to be bold

As our elected representatives consider the recently published results of the massive consultation on Cambridge’s Sustainable Travel Zone (STZ), I think it’s worth looking at some history.

The London Congestion Charge scheme, is now recognized as an outstanding success. Introduced in 2003, by 2006 it had been responsible for a 26% drop in congestion, 16% reduction carbon emissions, and 40-70% fewer accidents. It has been widely replicated round the world.

However, few would have predicted this from the initial reactions. It was introduced in the face of vocal opposition from almost all quarters and a media that was at best sceptical, and at worst hostile.  As is so often the case, it was those who were most critical that were most vocal, while supporters were mostly silent or expressed reservations. Behind the welter of opposition, opinion surveys for TfL (Transport for London) showed that public support and opposition for the scheme were approximately equally balanced.

The parallels with Cambridge’s Sustainable Travel Zone consultation are revealing.

The STZ consultation report showed that 70% of people were in favour of the principle of the Future Transport Network – with more buses to more locations, cheaper fares and longer operating times along with better walking and cycling infrastructure to give people faster, cheaper and more reliable travel alternatives to the car.

However, when it came to the means of delivering it, 58% of respondents opposed or strongly opposed the STZ, while 34% supported or strongly supported it. Opposition was strongest amongst regular car users and those aged 55-64, whereas younger and older people were much more likely to support it.

Just as in London, GCP also commissioned polling of a demographically representative sample of people. Those people’s views were equally balanced, with 36% opposed or strongly opposed, while 35% supported or strongly supported it.

It’s clear that as usual, those that oppose the scheme have been more vocal than those that support it.

Although, of course, some had genuine reasons for their opposition, this is also because, as psychologists point out, we’ve evolved to be more sensitive to a future loss than to a future gain. This probably made sense in our evolutionary past, when lack of food might result in starvation and death, while having excess food would make little difference.  However, when it comes to resolving the complex challenges facing us today: climate change, inequality and the cost of living crisis, we mustn’t give in to this fear.  Failing to act is in itself a decision, and one that will condemn us to the unpleasant changes that climate change is bringing.

We need our elected representatives to pay attention to the views expressed, but also to be wise, bold and make it happen.