Getting moving

Where can transport investment level up growth?

Where should new transport infrastructure investment be directed?

Report published on 6 March 2020 by Simon Jeffrey and Kathrin Enenkel

There is a strong case for new transport infrastructure investment in some cities and large towns. But this only applies to a handful of places where the current transport system is struggling to support the growth of their city-centre economies.

Poor public transport is not the cause of weak city centres; instead low numbers of commuters, and the ease of driving, make public transport infrastructure improvements commercially unviable. Because of this, funding for new transport infrastructure in these cities will do little to spur economic growth.

Where will transport infrastructure investment unlock city-centre growth?

Only cities with strong and growing centres with high public transport usage but slow journey times need new investment in major transport infrastructure.

LondonManchester, Birmingham, and Leeds stand out as cities that need infrastructure improvements. Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow also face similar, though less severe transport barriers, for residents and businesses.

Where should cities with weaker economies focus investment?

Before considering public transport infrastructure investment, cities with weaker economies first need to create the demand for it. To do this they should focus on growing their city-centre economies and making them attractive places for high-skilled employers to locate. Primarily, this means investing in skills and further education provision.

Without doing this, the existing transport network is likely to be sufficient. However, these cities should still have access to funding to support improvements to the existing local transport infrastructure and services.

How should the Government invest in transport infrastructure to boost city-centre growth?

The Government should invest the £31 billion identified by the National Infrastructure Commission for new major transport infrastructure in priority cities outside London. The money should primarily be focused on cities with strong economies and growing city centres where public transport usage is high and journey times are relatively slow. This money should be available to cities providing they meed two conditions:

  1. Cities contribute a share of the costs locally so that risks are shared between local and national government; and
  2. This local contribution includes revenues from a city-centre congestion charge. If these cities are serious about improving their transport networks, they need to also take politically-tough decisions locally to do so.

Cities and large towns that need new infrastructure should use extra capital to enlarge the public transport network. The exact nature of this should respond to the specific requirements of each city centre: whereas some may benefit from a new tram line, others such as Manchester will require tunnelling to provide the space for extra trams or trains to enter and exit the city centre.

If new infrastructure investment were coupled with initiatives to better manage existing transport, particularly buses, this would further boost the efficiency and equity outcomes of investments. All cities and large towns should look at how to improve the management and efficiency of their existing networks.

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