Think tank suggests seven ways British cities could increase public transport use

The number of people taking public transport to work in the UK’s large cities lags well behind European counterparts and getting up to speed with Europe will require doubling the number of regular commuters using a bus, train or tram.

That’s according to Centre for Cities, a think tank dedicated to improving the economies of the UK’s cities and towns which points out the UK’s big cities outside of London are outliers and would need nearly one million (936,000) additional workers taking public transport to work to bridge the gap with other cities overseas. It says 16% of people in Manchester and 18% of those in Birmingham commute to work using public transport, compared to 40% in Hamburg and 33 % in Lyon, two European cities of similar size.

In a new report published in partnership with Go-Ahead, Gear shift: International lessons for increasing public transport ridership in UK cities, Centre for Cities says the gap is due to the smaller average transport network size and less dense residential neighbourhoods in the UK’s big cities, meaning they will need help to achieve this ambition.

It says evidence shows there are fewer car journeys done in large European cities thanks to their greater reliance on public transport compared to the big cities in the UK. For example, if Liverpool were to perform like Leipzig (a city of similar size), there would be 33,000 fewer workers commuting to work using a car or taxi, a reduction of 20%.

Centre for Cities outlines several policy measures drawing evidence from London and cities overseas that have higher levels of public transport ridership:

  1. Develop the density of commercial property in city centres to increase the concentration of jobs in existing commercial locations.
  2. Improve residential density and the use of Local Development Orders to create new mid-rise developments near existing and new public transport stops.
  3. Bring responsibilities for running a city’s public transport services together under one body similar to Transport for London.
  4. Where existing commercial partnerships are not working, consider using new bus franchising powers created by recent and upcoming legislation in England and Scotland to improve the integration of services, including integrated ticketing and daily fare caps.
  5. Provide cities with transport-related revenue-raising powers such as congestion charging or workplace parking levies that provide cross-subsidies to fund investment in transport networks and make journeys by public transport more beneficial relative to journeys by car.

It notes however that short-term measures such as the £2 bus fare cap do not improve the financial sustainability or performance of bus services over time and are unlikely to bring about long-term change in passenger behaviour.

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive at Centre for Cities explained: “What these policy recommendations are aiming for is finding that extra gear so we can bring more people into our city centres during working hours, quicker and, preferably, cheaper too. In order to get there and find that extra gear, we need to look at different policy measures from around the world, look at how they are funded, look at where we can bring in extra revenues, and do that in ways that also help us invest in our public transport networks for the long term.

“What you see in other big cities around the world is more people take public transport and the network is serving its purpose in the regional economy: large cities can use their space more efficiently and a greater number of workers can reach the city-centre to access opportunities there. Transport has huge implications for the UK’s route to achieving net zero carbon emissions, too.”

Miguel Parras, Group Chief Executive of Go-Ahead, added: “It’s vital that modern, dynamic cities encourage more people onto public transport if they’re to tackle congestion and pollution. Easy to navigate transport hubs, bus priority measures and better planning around stations can make a big difference, as the Centre for Cities’ report points out.

“Any successful public transport system needs to blend clear thinking from a central transport authority with the entrepreneurial flair of private operators – whether that’s on bus, rail or light rail. In some cities, that can mean franchising, while in others it might simply mean a close, co-operative partnership between public and private, working towards a common goal.”

(File picture – First Bus Glasgow)

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