A £5 congestion charge to drive into and around Cambridge is being considered as part of a “once in a generation” plan to shake up how people travel.

Alongside the charge, the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is setting out plans for one of the largest ever investments in a UK bus network to provide £1 fares and more frequent services with longer operating hours.

The ‘sustainable travel zone’ road user charge is proposed by the GCP for private vehicles between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.

The charge will fund an improved public transport network in the future, with passengers paying £1 to travel in the city and £2 for journeys in the travel to work area.

The proposals follow the ‘Making Connections’ consultation run by the GCP last year which revealed that the public was supportive of improvements to the public transport network, as well as its aims to reduce pollution and congestion.

It also said that people who responded to the consultation were more in favour of road-based charges to fund the changes, as opposed to parking-based charges.

The GCP said the consultation showed a “preference” for the charge covering a larger area, but at a lower cost.

The proposals, which will be discussed by the GCP’s joint assembly on September 8, set out plans for private vehicles driving into, out of, or within the travel zone to pay a £5 daily charge between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.

Exemptions and discounts are being considered for some, including a reimbursement scheme for a number of groups and workers such as clinically ill NHS patients, NHS staff, social care and care home workers.

Minibuses and LGVs used by not-for-profit organisations may also be exempt from paying the proposed charges.

Transport director at GCP, Peter Blake, explained that a further consultation will be held to ask for people’s views on the exemptions and discounts.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to create a world-class transport network for Greater Cambridge and the wider area to drive a real step change in the way we travel,” he said.

Details of how the charge zone will be operated have not yet been fully developed, but the GCP has said it is expected that ANPR cameras would be used.

The authority said that enforcement of those who do not pay the charge would follow usual traffic enforcement practice with an appeal process put in place.

Alongside funding the public transport improvement, the GCP is hoping the charge would also cut the number of people driving in the city.

A congestion charge will ultimately need to be approved by Cambridgeshire County Council.

Mr Blake explained that following the consultation, the GCP will make a recommendation to the county council, but the highway authority will need to approve the plans.

The public transport improvements include new bus routes, additional orbital and express services, and a huge increase in rural coverage, with buses supported by Demand Responsive Transport.

Mr Blake said the routes were published on the map and give the assurance they could be delivered.

“We’ve listened to the views of the public to create a future bus network with cheaper areas, more services to more locations, and faster, more frequent services with longer operating hours to make public transport a reliable and competitive choice for everyone,” he said.

The plans also include longer operating hours from 5am-1am Mondays to Saturdays and 5am to midnight on Sundays.

More frequent services are also planned, with six to eight buses planned every hour along key route corridors within the city and from market towns, as well as hourly rural services.

Alongside the increased services, the partnership has set out plans for passengers to pay a flat fare of £1 in Cambridge and £2 in the wider planned network.

The authority also set out ambitions for the entire bus fleet to be zero-emission by 2030.

A tap on and tap off system and fare cap is proposed, and there are also plans for additional ticket types to provide discounts for group travel and for specific groups, such as students and apprentices.

Under the current proposed timeline, the GCP is hoping to start delivering the bus improvements from next year, and is planning to look at introducing the travel zone charge from 2026 to 2027.

Mr Blake stressed that there was a “clear demonstrable commitment” that the public transport improvements would come first, adding that £15million has already been committed for public transport improvements.

Mr Blake said the upgraded services could continue to be funded in the future, saying they had ‘done the maths and it added up’.

“We can make park and ride services in Cambridge much earlier and much later in the evening,” said Mr Blake.

“We can’t flood Cambridge now with more buses because it will bust, but what we can do is incrementally make these changes.”

He said logistically doubling the bus network was “quite challenging”, which is why he said the hope was to start “as soon as possible”.