People are ready to change the way they travel in Cambridge, the chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s executive board has said.

Cllr Elisa Meschini said those who may not be ready had been “failed” and said the current public transport system was “utterly unacceptable”.

Plans put forward by the GCP to increase and improve the bus network and introduce a congestion charge aim to move people out of cars and onto alternative transport.

The GCP has set out a proposed ‘sustainable travel zone’ where drivers could face a £5 weekday charge in Cambridge between 7am and 7pm.

Cllr Meschini says she believes people are ready for change.

She said: “I do think that people are ready, but if they look like they are not ready it is because, quite frankly, we have failed them, we have not been giving them the kind of situation to get used to what they deserve.

“The reason I decided actually I want to do this [role] is when I sat down and realised how utterly unacceptable the current normal is.

“There is no safety net, there is literally nothing, and this was before we even started talking about Stagecoach and the recent antics.”

Cllr Meschini said individuals have to be “extremely lucky” to live in some of the few places where public transport actually exists and works.

She explained that by having the city deal money, the GCP has the opportunity to implement the public transport improvement before the potential congestion charge.

“We have a unique opportunity to do this using our forward funds,” she said.

“A big part of the comments they made [at the GCP meeting] about ‘this is the last bus in town’, is because they now have the opportunity to use the city deal money to do this.

“If that was not there, we would have to consider whether we could ever introduce a charge without the services first, and this would not be an offer I would be comfortable making.”

Through the proposed exemptions, and the gradual “ramping up”, Cllr Meschini said people will have the chance to get used to the services and have “faith” in them.

A public consultation on the proposals is due to be held, after being given the go ahead by the GCP board last week.

She said that one of the biggest challenges the partnership faced moving the plans forward is making sure to “maximise” the consultation’s reach and “give a voice to the last heard”.

She explained that some people did not believe the improvements would be delivered and that authorities needed to rebuild the damaged trust people have in politicians.

Cllr Meschini added that cuts to existing transport services also impacted the trust people have in service improvements.

She said: “We need to revitalise public trust, which has been corroded, it has been corroded from rather a lot of mistakes that were made, and are still being made by government, unfortunately.

“The cuts that Stagecoach made are a result of a long period of making the wrong decisions about transport in our region and this has corroded public trust because they clearly run it not based on need.”

She added: “People are being told that their community and their link to public transport does not matter and this really does not have the desired effect in engagement that we would like.

“We will have that challenge to make sure that people understand that we mean it, that this time we have done our homework and that what we are promising can be delivered and will be delivered.”

Cllr Meschini said Stagecoach’s planned cuts could make more people engage with the GCP’s plans to improve services.

She said: “I hope that it will help people be involved who might not have been before.

“These cuts are so far reaching that it is our hope that more people will become aware through their own sad lived experience just how important it is that we intervene and save our buses before they degrade beyond being salvageable.”

She added: “Obviously I do not like the fact that this has happened, I would much rather people did not have to suffer and I had to do more work convincing them because it is horrendous what is happening.”

Some parts of the proposals have been met with backlash from many in the area, particularly the proposed congestion charge.

Cllr Meschini said it was important people understood the plans were part of a package and that the bus improvements could not be introduced without the charge.

However, she said there was still room for some changes following the consultation.

She said: “Not very much of this is set in stone, but the numbers need to add up.

“The usual question I keep getting asked by people is ‘why don’t you just do the buses and forget about the charge.

“I think if I could, I would definitely do that, but with the individual parts of the scheme, there is a lot of versatility, where the boundary can be tweaked.”

She added: “Similarly the bus maps, in fact this will be a big push from us, tell us where you want those buses.

“We have asked once during the making connections consultation and we are asking again, so if there is anywhere we have not covered sufficiently, we are in full listening mode regarding that.”