Where can transport investment level up growth?

Investment in new transport infrastructure is often seen as the answer to kickstart flagging economies across the country. However, new analysis shows that relatively few cities and large towns have poorly-performing transport networks, questioning the need for widespread new investment in infrastructure.

Outside of the largest cities and towns, journeys into most city centres at peak times are on average relatively quick and so further infrastructure investment in these networks is likely to have little effect on economic performance in the short term. Even in some large cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield, the demand to access the relatively weak city-centre economy is not sufficient to unduly strain the transport system at rush hour. Rather than investing in new transport infrastructure, these cities should focus on making their city centres more attractive for businesses to increase the number of jobs in them.

It is only in a handful of city centres, which have seen strong growth in the last two decades, where short-term growth is at risk of being held back by a transport system that cannot keep up with the increased travel demands that result from their economic resurgence. This analysis suggests that in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds in particular, major new public transport infrastructure – from bus rapid transit to underground systems – is needed quickly to stop congestion and capacity constraints choking off growth.

The National Infrastructure Commission has recommended that the Government should invest an additional £31 billion in major new transport projects in priority cities outside London. This report seconds this recommendation, and further calls for it to be prioritised in the places where congestion and public transport capacity constraints into the city centre are holding back economic growth. To unlock government investment, cities should also contribute a share of the costs. These contributions should partly come from money raised from the creation of a city-centre congestion charge.

This report has not looked at the management of existing transport systems, but cities and large towns, irrespective of economic performance, should look at how to improve the management and efficiency of their existing transport networks, for example through bus franchising. While management falls outside of the scope of this report, detailed recommendations can be found in Delivering change – improving urban bus transport and Making Transport Work for Cities.


This work contains statistical data from ONS which is Crown Copyright.The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data.

This work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.