City transport connectivity has become a prominent topic in the UK policy debate in recent years. Public transport has been seen as a lever to promote economic growth and reach net zero, and it was one of the main features of the UK Government’s Levelling Up White Paper. Seven English city regions have been allocated two rounds of funding (£15.4 billion for the 10 years to 2031) through the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements. Furthermore, local and central governments have announced policy changes around the regulation (bus franchising in Greater Manchester) and pricing of buses (£2 fares).

Wales is no exception, and major transport policy announcements have been made in the last few years. South Wales Metro and the Cardiff Crossrail and Circle tram lines, an integrated transport system in the Cardiff Capital Region, is one of the largest transport infrastructure projects in the UK. And the Welsh Government has announced a set of policies, in addition to capital investments, to contain driving while aiming to increase public transport ridership. This includes a wide range of measures including the new 20-mph speed limit; stricter criteria for road building; and plans towards the regulation and integration of buses. At the local level, the Cardiff city council is discussing possibly introducing a congestion change by 2027.1

In March 2022, the Welsh Government published ‘One Network, One Timetable, One Ticket: Planning Buses as a Public Service for Wales’, a White Paper that, among other things, set a target of 45 per cent of journeys done by public transport or active travel by 2040. To achieve that target, the paper aims to ‘design and deliver a bus network fit for the climate emergency, fit for the future and fit for the people of Wales’. This though has come at a time when Welsh public transport is facing some serious issues. Buses are being cut due to the lower ridership levels and Transport for Wales (TfW) recently announced that pre-pandemic timetabling “just isn’t working”.2

This report shows the different roles different parts of Wales will play in increasing public transport usage and the policies required to help make this happen. First, it highlights the benefits of connectivity towards economic and environmental goals. Second, it looks at how transport patterns in Wales and its cities have evolved over the last two decades. Then, it compares public transport accessibility and commuting patterns between Welsh cities and their peers, both in the UK and abroad, highlighting the reasons for the different outcomes between them. Finally, the report provides a deep dive into the connectivity of each Welsh city and presents case studies that may help guide transport policy at both the local and national levels.

Box 1: Methodology

Definition of a city

This paper will focus mainly on Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham, which will all be referred to as ‘cities’. Unless otherwise stated, here cities refer to Primary Urban Areas (PUAs), using a measure of the built-up area of a large city or town, which spans beyond the core local authority for Newport, Swansea and other British cities used as peer comparators (Appendix 1). Wrexham, which usually falls outside of the PUA list due to its smaller size, is defined solely by Wrexham’s local authority.

For the 30 non-UK cities analysed (from France and Germany), Eurostat’s Urban Audit dataset has been used to provide the closest possible geography to PUAs. Urban Audit ‘cities and greater cities’ are defined based on population density rather than administrative borders, to avoid underbounding and overbounding issues. The cities under analysis were grouped according to whether their population was between 125,000 and 145,000 (Wrexham); between 240,000 and 300,000 (Newport and Swansea); and 350,000 and 550,000 (Cardiff). More information can be found in Appendix 1.

Data used for this research

This paper uses several public datasets. Public transport connectivity is from ONS ‘UK Travel Area Isochrones (Nov/Dec 2022) by Public Transport and Walking’ and the Census 2021. Although connectivity is a broad concept, this report will focus on mobility to reach city centres, unless otherwise stated.

Commuting take-ups by mode of transport is from the Census 2011 and Eurostat; data relative to transport indicators at the national and regional level is from DfT and StatWales. One-to-one comparisons between Welsh cities and European peers use Google Travel API, a transport data provider.

The relevance of 2011 census data

In Wales, commuting data at the local level is only collected during the Census. The 2021 census was done in a period of high covid-related restrictions, and this has limited the insight it is able to provide.

Given this, commuting data at the city level in this report mostly uses previous censuses (2001 and 2011). Data at the Welsh level, shown in Figure 1, highlights that these numbers did not change much in the last decade.

A stable figure at the national level could hide significant changes across cities (e.g. an increase in public transport in one city being offset by a reduction in public transport in another). Evidence from cities in the UK and France, where data has been collected yearly, shows a stable composition of commuters by mode between 2011 and the year before the pandemic.3 This supports the assumption that the 2011 Census reflects a relatively accurate picture of Welsh cities before the pandemic.

Public transport ridership declined in 2020 and 2021 due to covid and hybrid working in most cities in the world, but it is not entirely clear that the composition of commuters (the share, not the total number) drastically changed from what it was prior to the pandemic. For example, the share of commuters using public transport in 2021 was slightly larger than that in 2019 for Greater Manchester, London and West Midlands.4


  • 1 ‘Cardiff congestion charge: Everything we know about the plans’, South Wales Argus, 22 April 2023.
  • 2 See for example, Cardiff Bus announces massive timetable overhaul as key routes are cut, Wales Online, 8 August 2023; and Transport for Wales to shake up train timetables, BBC, 19 July 2023.
  • 3 DfT’s Usual method of travel to work by region of workplace for Greater Manchester; West Midlands Metropolitan County and London. Eurostat provides annual data between 2011 and 2019 for France and its cities. The share of public transport commuting in France remained stable around 16 per cent between 2011 and 2019. This hold for most of the French cities analysed in this paper (e.g. Nantes, Strasbourg, Dunkerque, Fort-de-France and others).
  • 4 DfT, Modal comparisons (TSGB01). For further details see: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/tsgb01-modal-comparisons.