02Policy priority 2: Better connect people to jobs and improve air quality by improving public transport and tackling congestion

  • Introduce a congestion charge for Manchester city centre. In normal times the city centre is congested, and a charge will lead to more reliable journeys, reduced carbon emissions, increased turnover of car parking land for development, and support public transport investment.
  • Add a higher charge for all diesels and other high-polluting vehicles. Encouraging the reduction in the use of these vehicles will improve air quality and reduce avoidable deaths from pollution.
  • Invest these revenues into the new franchised bus service. Greater Manchester should use both these resources and those provided through the National Bus Strategy to build a bus network that works for the entire city region’s residents and economy.

Congestion and capacity constraints on journeys into Manchester city centre pre-pandemic were at risk of choking off growth of the centre.5 Without further investment this will become an ever-greater problem as the city centre economy grows.

The mayor must tackle the immediate problem of road congestion by introducing a congestion charge. Pre-Covid-19, congestion was clogging the urban core, reducing the city’s growth and limiting people’s job prospects. Centre for Cities expects these problems, caused by the economic strength of Manchester’s city centre and demand from workers and firms to locate there, to arise again as the city region recovers from the pandemic.

A congestion charge is a proven method to reduce traffic, boost bus speeds and patronage, and raise money for public transport.6 A city centre congestion charge could raise £49 million a year for other transport investment.7 The improvements to Greater Manchester’s public transport network from the introduction of the bus franchising system will lay the foundations for such a congestion charge by making it possible for commuters to comfortably switch from cars to other options (a reason given as to why such a charge was rejected in the past).

Alongside a congestion charge, the mayor should also go further than the current Clean Air Zone. Although it is being proposed to address Greater Manchester’s illegally high air pollution, it does not include private cars belonging to residents. The Clean Air Zone should instead be similar to the one due to be introduced in Birmingham city centre or London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, both of which charge residents who own more-polluting vehicles.

The mayor should use the revenue from these charges to fund the new franchised bus system. The mayor has announced that buses will be brought under local control from 2023, which will ensure the transport network can be run by the mayor for the benefit of the residents and economy of Greater Manchester. However, while this will chime with the Government’s National Bus Strategy and the funding it provides, national funding should not be used as a replacement for raising local revenues to fund local services.

Congestion charging will bring the mayor extra revenue to invest in an especially affordable, reliable and frequent bus service across the city region. The business case presented for bus franchising by Transport for Greater Manchester is clear that schemes such as a congestion charge to bring down bus delays and fares and drive investment in the network could significantly increase ridership.8