Passengers using the guided busway will soon have to pay to park after a controversial proposal to introduce charges was agreed by councillors yesterday (Tuesday).

County councillors rubber stamped a plan to charge between 50p and £2 per day for parking at the St Ives and Longstanton Park and Ride sites, from April next year.

Members of the council's Economy and Environment Committee estimate the increased revenue will be in the region of £120,000 per year, but acknowledge the introduction of charges is likely to bring about a 1.2 per cent fall in passenger numbers and have a negative impact on revenue for the two bus operators, Stagecoach and Whippet.

“The operators would prefer the council not to introduce charges as there will be an impact on their revenue,” a report put before the committee yesterday read.

“It should be noted, however, that the agreements with the bus operators do not provide any guarantees of patronage or revenue.”

Andy Campbell, MD for Stagecoach told The Hunts Post he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.

“It is disappointing, but we hope lessons have been learned from the experience at the Cambridge Park and Ride sites. The council will need to ensure there is more information available beforehand and more emphasis on paying online so that we don't have the same issues.

“It is never good news when you ask people to pay for something they have previously had free, but I would not like to see a repeat of the problems we had in the summer. In some ways I believe the biggest issue was the difficulties people experienced in paying and not the fact that they were being asked to pay.”

Car parking charges were implemented at the Cambridge Park and Ride sites in July and resulted in a 10 per cent drop in passenger numbers for Stagecoach. There were also long queues, and chaos ensued as people struggled to use the new ticket payment machines.

The council also plans to introduce double yellow lines on roads close to the park and ride sites to prevent people parking in nearby streets to avoid paying. The busway carries in the region of 3.5 million passengers per year.

The cost of operating the St Ives and Longstanton sites for the financial year 2014/15 has been estimated at £508,000, which includes staffing and business rates, but the bill to the county council for concessionary fares for the period 2013/14 was almost £1 million.