04What needs to change
This research shows that 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.
At present, transport systems provide relatively fast commutes for car users to access city-centre job opportunities in most British cities. Poor public transport is not the cause of weak city centres; rather it is the low numbers of commuters attracted into weak city centres — and the ease of driving — that make frequent and extensive public transport services commercially unviable. Funding for new transport infrastructure in these cities will do little to spur economic growth.
In these cities, demand for new major transport infrastructure investment must be generated first. That means that these cities must focus on growing their city-centre economies to generate the densities that support higher productivity and better public transport accessibility. The existing transport network is likely to be able to support this growth, in the short term
at least, if it occurs. It is important to stress that these cities should still have access to funding streams to support the existing local transport infrastructure and services and the efficient management of the system.
Instead, it is cities with already strong and growing city centres, where public transport usage is high, and journey times are relatively slow that need new investment in major transport infrastructure. London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds in particular stand out for their slow and/ or at-capacity public transport networks. Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow face similar though less-severe transport barriers for residents and businesses.
The National Infrastructure Commission identified £31 billion additional investment for new transport infrastructure in priority cities outside London up to 2040. The Government should take up this recommendation. While large, this sum is significantly smaller than the £88 billion for HS2 and equivalent £39 billion promised for Northern Powerhouse Rail. This money should be primarily focused on the cities identified above. The £31 billion should be available to these cities providing they meet two conditions:
- Cities contribute a share of the costs locally so that risks are shared between local and national government; and
- This local contribution includes revenues from a city-centre congestion charge.23 If these cities are serious about improving their transport networks, they need to also take politically-tough decisions locally to do
Of those cities and large towns requiring new infrastructure, the increasing demand for space and the growing inability of private transport to supply the city centre with workers at peak times means investments in new infrastructure should 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 tram line to respond to demand for extra journeys, others such as Manchester will require tunnelling to provide the space for extra trams or trains to enter and exit the thriving city centre.24
This report has not looked at the management of existing systems. 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 such investments. All cities and large towns should look at how to improve the management and efficiency of their existing networks. While management falls outside of the scope of this report, detailed recommendations can be found in two further Centre for Cities reports: Delivering change — improving urban bus transport and Delivering change — Making Transport Work for Cities.