02Policy 2: Implement congestion charges, bus franchising and clean air zones to reduce congestion and pollution and make the road system more efficient

  • Introduce a congestion charge and workplace parking levies in Leeds city centre as well as clean air zones elsewhere. By reducing excessive demand for car travel into Leeds city centre, demand for public transport and urban mobility will improve.
  • Introduce London-style bus franchising across the combined authority. The mayor should use the powers of the Bus Services Act and the money unlocked by the National Bus Strategy to build a public transport network that works for the local economy and increases bus passengers.
  • Funnel funds raised back into the wider Metro system. The revenues raised by these measures should then be used by the mayor to support an expansion of public transport in West Yorkshire.

Poor air quality and congestion are both problems across West Yorkshire. Congestion is a particular problem in Leeds with the city having one of the most congested roads outside of London. And Leeds and Wakefield are in the top 20 for having dangerously high levels of NO2 on a per capita basis, with transport being a key contributor. While congestion and air pollution temporarily fell during the pandemic, Centre for Cities’ research has shown that despite the restrictions on movement they have already reached pre-pandemic levels.1

The new mayor should introduce a congestion charge and workplace parking levy in Leeds city centre to tackle rising congestion and pollution. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Strategy 2040 recognises that congestion is an issue across the combined authority area, but focuses more on the need to improve road capacity and less on making the existing road network more efficient. On pollution, although Leeds local authority has made positive strides in encouraging a switch to cleaner vehicles, both private and public, this will not have reduced the PM2.5 emissions from the natural wear and tear of brakes, tyres and road surfaces. Introducing a congestion charge and workplace parking levy would tackle both of these issues head on with special consideration given as to whether the most polluting vehicles — whether by engine type or weight — should be charged more. In London, research shows that the congestion charge reduced traffic in the city by 21 per cent and the workplace parking levy in Nottingham was effective at reducing congestion and pollution by increasing bus and tram use.2

The new mayor should also work with local councils to introduce clean air zones across the combined authority. Bradford has made positive strides in this respect, having recently announced a clean air zone to be implemented in the city. Other local authorities should follow suit. Making these changes should be done as the combined authority refreshes the West Yorkshire Low Emission Strategy that comes to an end this year.

The congestion charge should be complemented by improved bus services and the best way to achieve this would be through the mayor introducing a London-style franchising system. Franchising would allow the mayor to run the bus network for the benefit of local people and the entire local economy, and this is why Greater Manchester is pressing ahead with its own plans. This would improve the quality and coverage of services, allow integrated ticketing to be introduced so a single fares system covers the whole network, and unlock funding announced in the new National Bus Strategy that is tied to progress on this issue.

The mayor should recycle funds raised from a congestion charge and workplace parking levy in Leeds back into the wider public transport system so that the rest of the combined authority area can benefit as Leeds grows. Extra funds could be allocated to the Metro system, which aims to coordinate the different modes of public transport in the combined authority area. It could also be used to maintain and keep fares low on any potential West Yorkshire Mass Transit System, if it is rolled out. These improvements will be essential to counteract the fall in bus ridership of nearly 44 million users over the past decade, while high dependency on private vehicles has risen still higher. Bringing in these changes should allow the mayor to match the commitment made by Leeds City Council to double the number of bus users by 2029 in place of the combined authority’s current 25 per cent target. 


  • 1 Quinio V and Enenkel K (2020), How have the Covid pandemic and lockdown affected air quality in cities?, London: Centre for Cities
  • 2 Clayton N and Jeffrey S and Breach A (2017) Funding and financing inclusive growth in cities, London: Centre for Cities