03Policy priority 3: Improve the bus network, and boost ridership

  • Use franchising powers to take control over bus services. Franchising would unlock new money from the National Bus Strategy and ensure the bus service works for the people and economy of the West Midlands as a whole.
  • Introduce a congestion charge in Birmingham city centre. This would cut down on traffic and improve air quality.
  • Invest in buses using congestion charge revenues. In additional to the new national funding, the West Midlands should use local money to create a world-class bus service, expanding it and improving its reliability.

One of the key barriers holding back productivity in the West Midlands is poor mobility. Congestion is a key challenge for any large city region. While steps have been taken to improve transport mobility, research shows that, at peak times, Birmingham city centre is still one of the least accessible in the country both by private and public transport.7

The mayor should franchise the city region’s bus services to improve mobility around it. Since 2009/10 there has been a 17 per cent reduction in the number of bus passengers in the city region, one of the sharpest decreases among large urban areas across the country.8 The Bus Services Act 2017 and the recent National Bus Strategy provide the mayor with the powers to address this problem, namely using franchising powers to take control over bus services in the city region to establish a city-wide service that connects people with opportunities.

This should be coupled with the introduction of a congestion charge, which is a quick and proven way to reduce congestion. Birmingham is set to introduce a Clean Air Zone, charging the most polluting vehicles entering its city centre. While this is an important step in tackling air pollution, the mayor should work with Birmingham City Council to introduce a congestion charge for all vehicles – the most effective way to reduce traffic in the city centre. In London, the congestion charge reduced traffic by 21 per cent,9 and in Milan it reduced it by 28 per cent.10

The money raised through a congestion charge should be used to improve the public transport offer in the city region. This local money under the mayor’s control could be combined with the national funds unlocked from the new National Bus Strategy and the new tram investment in the city region to build a bigger and better public transport offer. Improving the public transport offer in particular, and building local trust, such as through a single ticketing system with fare capping, is a crucial step towards reducing congestion, allowing more people to access jobs, and reducing carbon emissions and air pollution.



  • 7 Jeffrey S & Enenkel K (2020) ‘Get moving’, London: Centre for Cities
  • 8 Jeffrey S (2019) ‘Delivering change: improving urban bus services’, London: Centre for Cities
  • 9 Clayton N, Breach A & Jeffrey S (2017) ‘Funding and finance for inclusive growth’, London: Centre for Cities
  • 10 Bailly A (2018) ‘How can UK cities clean up the air we breathe?’, London: Centre for Cities