02The benefits of buses for cities

The benefits of getting more people out of cars and onto buses are huge for cities and national government. Better buses enable increases in employment and productivity that will benefit not just city residents and businesses but help drive the national economy. Buses support lower transport emissions to help the planet and clean up toxic air, more dense housebuilding to increase supply in unaffordable cities and avoid sprawl; and ensure that every member of the community has more equal access to public services and support, and friends and family that poor transport denies.

Major direct and indirect benefits of buses to cities include:

More productive cities. Harnessing the benefits that come with density in cities is vital to improve the wages and jobs available to residents. These benefits mean that despite accounting for just 0.08 per cent of the land in the UK, 14 per cent of jobs are located in city centres, and 25 per cent of all high-skilled jobs that offer the highest wages. This is because city regions offer the widest labour markets that high-skill firms need, and their centres are home to dense concentrations of other high-knowledge businesses that offer ‘knowledge spillovers’ that increase productivity.

Buses support higher density by increasing the passenger capacity of the roads while relieving vehicular congestion, which is a downside of density in cities. Every car kilometre driven in the UK creates on average 17p of societal harm, mostly through congestion.6 Up to 90 passengers who might otherwise require over 80 cars to travel can be carried on a single double decker-bus in the road space of fewer than three cars.

This congestion challenge is growing as high-skill jobs concentrate in city centres. In Manchester, the number of city-centre jobs grew by 84 per cent between 1998 and 2015, while in Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds the figure was over 30 per cent.7 Buses help cities to accomodate this growth without generating congestion. In 2011, on average 23 per cent of workers in major city centres such as Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds commuted by bus.8

More equitable growth. Nationally, the bus is the most-used public transport mode for people on lower incomes. Nearly 9 per cent of all trips by those in the lowest incomes are by local bus, compared to 3 per cent for those on the highest incomes. The figure for drivers is 27 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.9

Better bus services also ease the congestion that slows down commutes and shrinks labour markets, hurting the poor most. Transport for the West Midlands (TfWM) and the Open Data Institute found that between 2008 and 2018, congestion had led to 216,000 fewer people being within a 45-minute commute of Birmingham city centre by bus.10 Protecting and promoting buses over driving ensures city-centre jobs growth does not in the process exclude residents from benefitting.

More housing. In London, sites with the highest public transport accessibility scores support housing development for three to four times as many residents as sites with the lowest accessibility scores.11 Higher levels of bus use reduce the impact that high-density housing has on congestion. Bus services that enable parking requirements to be lowered reduces development costs. Greater housing density within cities means less land around them is required for housing, reducing sprawl.

Better health. Physical inactivity costs the UK £7.4 billion a year.12 Higher levels of bus use help to reverse the increase in physical inactivity that the growth in car use has caused. Higher levels of bus use build walking into journeys missing from car journeys.13

Social inclusion. Better buses reduce time and cost barriers to seeing friends and family or getting out of the house independently.14

Air pollution. Some 40,000 deaths a year are attributable to poor air quality in the UK.15 In real world conditions, modern diesel cars can produce nearly 1.4g/km of nitrogen dioxide, more than a modern diesel bus full of passengers.16

Environment. Greenhouse gas emissions are heating the planet. The average newly-registered car emits one kilogram of carbon dioxide every seven kilometres,17 and nearly two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year on average.

Modal shift from car to bus maintains mobility but quickly cuts the number of vehicle journeys and harmful emissions cars produce. Shifting just 10,000 people from car onto an existing bus service for a 7km commute would remove over five million tonnes of carbon emissions in a year.


  • 6 https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14407
  • 7 https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/city-centres-past-present-and-future/
  • 8 ONS Census 2011
  • 9 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/550557/nts0705.xls
  • 10 https://www.tfwm.org.uk/media/2917/congestion-management-plan.pdf
  • 11 https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/project_2_3_lessons_from_higher_density_development.pdf
  • 12 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/523460/Working_Together_to_Promote_Active_Travel_A_briefing_for_local_authorities.pdf
  • 13 https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300946
  • 14 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/750909/6.4882_DCMS_Loneliness_Strategy_web_Update.pdf
  • 15 Royal College of Physicians/Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2016), Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution
  • 16 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/836934/vehicle-market-surveillance-unit-programme-results-2018.pdf
  • 17 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/800502/vehicle-licensing-statistics-2018.pdf