Policy priority 3: A longer term vision

Investing in transport to make the city region more accessible

  • Take ownership of the Joint Transport Strategy findings
  • Ensure transport helps to make a coherent city region for all residents
  • Review the strategic decisions on rail extensions bringing together decision makers in City Hall.
  • Champion the West of England’s cycling and walking culture

The challenges of managing growth are also visible in the area’s increasingly congested transport network: residents in the West of England have long called for road and rail improvements throughout the city region, latterly through organisations such as MetroWest. Failing to address the congested road and rail network around the city region will stifle growth and restrict residents’ access to jobs and services. As with housing, Centre for Cities’ polling found that both businesses and residents see this as a crucial focus for the new administration. The metro mayor must use his or her new strategic and regulatory powers as well as their budget to invest in transport improvements.

Take ownership of the Joint Transport Strategy findings

The metro mayor will be the first to benefit from making transport decisions across local authority boundaries that better reflect the way people live and work in the city region. After years of under-investment and mixed messaging on improvements from electrification, trams and new train lines, the West of England needs a clear long-term strategic transport plan. Persistent contenders for rail line investments include the Henbury loop line and the extension to Portishead. However, until now, attempts to make these investments have been frustrated.

The metro mayor will be held responsible by voters for these decisions regardless of the timings or previous work from the Joint Transport strategy. Therefore ensuring that these decisions are evidence based and strategically inline with the mayor’s vision for the city region will be key. If the mayor disagrees or has other priorities, it will be important to win these political battles, using the mandate and profile of the office to lead a changed strategy.

Ensure transport helps to make a coherent city region for all residents

The new strategic powers the metro mayor has been given means that they represent the whole city region and their vision must be about improving residents and workers’ access to jobs and opportunities whether they live in Bath, North East Somerset, Bristol or South Gloucestershire. To achieve this, the mayor should use their new strategic transport planning powers to invest in the transport priorities set out by the joint strategic planning group. Alongside the powers they have been handed, a political consideration for the mayor will be how best to work with North Somerset, from which 22 per cent of residents in work commute to Bristol. Taking an inclusive approach to engaging, involving and making decisions that impact and help North Somerset will be crucial, even though the area is not within the formal city region. In a similar way, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has worked closely on shared goals with leaders in places such as Hertfordshire and Kent on issues like transport, even though he has no formal responsibility for these areas.

Whilst train lines and road investments will be an important part of the city region transport plan, it will not address the transport needs of all residents, and for isolated or lower demand areas there is a pressing need to improve the bus system. This should be the short to medium term goal in the transport strategy, linking communities with the range of jobs on offer across the city region.

The metro mayor’s powers to regulate and improve the bus system are hugely significant. Buses are disproportionately important to job seekers and those in low paid work, and making it easier for these residents to travel and find work should be a central concern for the metro mayor. They should also consider using new powers to bring in smart ticketing across the city region and, most importantly, coordinating and expanding the bus system to make it an easier, better and more attractive experience for residents.

Review the strategic decisions on rail extensions bringing together decision makers in City Hall

To ensure that the city region benefits most from the investments they make, the metro mayor will need to bring together relevant planners, developers and engineers to ensure different priorities are coordinated at a wider geography. This will help ensure these decisions add up to more than the sum of their parts, for example by working with planners on new rail lines that open up development sites for more homes in high demand areas. Making these decisions across different local authorities and boundaries will result in more ‘joined up’ investment strategies.

Champion the West of England’s cycling and walking culture

Finally, the West of England and especially Bristol has long championed cycling as a means to travel across the area and city. The metro mayor should build on this by looking for inexpensive ways to make cycling easier in the city. This could mean cycle lanes on key strategic routes, or simply championing the health and financial benefits of commuting by bicycle. Many commuters will continue to travel by car, or by train but reducing these numbers by getting more people on their bikes or walking to work will help reduce pressures on key services at key times.

A better-functioning and integrated transport system will enable both workers and goods to move around the city region more efficiently and can improve people’s access to jobs. But the metro mayor must also use their powers and budget over transport infrastructure to unlock further benefits. Strategically planning for transport alongside jobs growth and housing at a wider scale, will lead to better decisions for residents and businesses. By investing in alternative transport modes the mayor can also make options other than a car more attractive to residents.