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Invest to improve travel options for workers, says Wales TUC

21 Nov 2023 6 minute read
Photo Denise James.

Martin Shipton

Investment in transport can transform working life in Wales by giving workers more options about how to commute, the General Secretary of the Wales TUC has said.

Shavanah Taj was reacting to a report by the Centre for Cities think tank called Fare Outcomes: Understanding Transport in Welsh Cities that looks in detail at ways of improving physical connectivity in Wales’ four cities – Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham.

Ms Taj said: “Far too many workers in Wales have no options when it comes to getting to and from work. As a result, the car totally dominates. We want to see that change and we want to maximise choice for workers.

“We need to be creative in how we look for solutions. We want to see solutions that are built around workers’ needs and that reflect the realities of labour markets in our cities. That means tailoring the right solutions for each city and looking at funding routes which don’t place an undue burden on workers.

“The evidence is crystal clear from cities across Europe: investment in reliable and intelligent transport infrastructure pays for itself in higher productivity and higher wages.

“The Welsh Government and our transport unions have led the way in recent years in looking to build a green and modern Welsh transport network with projects like the South Wales Metro. We need to accelerate this and put workers at the centre of the conversation.”

The report’s recommendations include:

* Increasing investment in transport networks in Wales’s four cities;

* Increasing housing and commercial density around key transport locations;

* Expanding the number of high-precision, low frequency services that could serve edge-of-town industrial estates and business parks

* Exploring further the role that bus franchising can have in improving services;.

* A range of options for raising funding including congestion charges, workplace parking levies, further devolution of taxes.

Car is king

Figures show that the car is king in Wales, followed by walking. Most commutes are done by private vehicle with no sign of a reduction in recent years. In the 15 years before Covid, the share of workers commuting by car was broadly stable, accounting for around 80% of all commutes. Data for 2020 and 2021 suggests these patterns did not change drastically as a result of Covid.

Of the remaining commuters – a fifth of the total – most walk (around 60% of all non-car commutes).

Public transport accessibility to their main economic hub is mostly lower in Welsh cities than in their better-performing peers elsewhere in Britain. Some 41.7% of Cardiff workers can access its main economic centre in 30 minutes by public transport, compared to 57.2% in Edinburgh and 81.9% in Brighton.

This underperformance holds across the other Welsh cities too. The share of workers within 30 minutes of the main transport hub is lower in Newport and Swansea than in Sunderland, Plymouth or Hull. Although Wrexham is the best performing Welsh city, it trails Gloucester.

Bus ridership in Wales has been declining since at least 2004. It fell by 30.6% between 2004/05 and 2019/20. As a result, Wales now has the second lowest levels of ridership per capita in the UK.


There are several factors behind the decline of ridership over such a long period. Rising fares have been a significant factor in reducing bus usage.

Wales has seen a big increase in bus fares since the mid-1990s, rising by 2.1% a year above inflation – a cumulative increase of 65% above inflation – between 1995 and 2019. Bus inflation in Wales was much higher than in Scotland and London, while it rose in line with non-metropolitan England. The report states: “From a policy perspective, it’s interesting to note that since 2010, fuel duty has been frozen while bus fares rose above inflation by 7.5% in cumulative terms between 2010 and 2019.

“Fares do not seem to be the only explanatory factor behind the decline in bus ridership. Wales was the nation in Great Britain where bus services, measured by the number of kilometres driven by buses, shrunk the most. The year before the pandemic, the number of kilometres driven by buses was around one-fifth lower than in 2004/05.”

The report says:”A big challenge for Cardiff, and the wider Cardiff Capital Region, is the performance of its public transport network, which is governed by two factors. The first is how much area the network can serve within a given time, which is governed by the quality of public transport infrastructure. The South Wales Metro will go some way to expanding this catchment area.

“The second is the number of people who live within this catchment area. Comparing Cardiff to Nantes, a similar-sized European city, shows how the density of residential development radically changes the number of people within a public transport catchment area, with Nantes far ahead in this respect. This means making the most of both the existing network and the future expansion will require homes to be built around its stations and stops.

“The less dense urban form in other parts of Wales makes the car much more competitive than public transport. This is most clearly the case in rural areas, where the inherent low-density nature of development makes providing public transport a particular challenge. But it is also a barrier in Swansea, Newport and Wrexham. Comparing these cities to the similar-sized cities of Kiel and Aachen in Germany and Annecy in France shows how much less dense they are.

“To really shift the economics of providing frequent and reliable public transport will require a big change in how these places are built. But if pursued, this is a long-term policy goal.

“In the short term the most fruitful improvements to public transport in these places are likely to be around expanding the number of high-precision, low frequency services that could serve edge-of�town industrial estates and business parks to match work patterns, as has been done in places like

Sunderland and Bristol. To do this will require information to be gathered on work patterns and the location of workers, and will require coordination between local government, employers and trade unions.”

Although the report was sponsored by the Wales TUC, its recommendations do not necessarily represent the body’s policy positions.

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6 months ago

Haven’t they forgotten the city of St. David’s?

Ap Kenneth
Ap Kenneth
6 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

and Bangor and St Asaph.

Ap Kenneth
Ap Kenneth
6 months ago

Everyday congestion caused by commuting is the biggest frustration and cause of stress in daily life. Car numbers have practically doubled over the last 40 years, hence the queues, and all infrastructure has been built to serve cars but cannot now cope with the numbers. Almost all housing estates require you to have a car otherwise you are a prisoner. So many things need to change but whenever anything restricts car use or results in expenditure on anything but new roads expect a fuss from you know which quarter.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
6 months ago

Nothing to disagree with here. The bus service in Cardiff, owned and run by Cardiff Council, is dire. Its practically impossible to work in many jobs in Cardiff and travel by bus. They are not frequent enough, they start too late and finish too early, they are unreliable and very expensive. As a consequence of this and the loss of road to cycle lanes ( used by the very few, mainly Deliveroo) Cardiff roads are often gridlocked. A ten minute journey yesterday took almost an hour and 15 minutes, the A48 was one long traffic jam. Crazy.

6 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Maybe taking the jobs to places away from Cardiff centre and the Bay area would have been a better wiser move. Despite knowing about the limitations of commuting into Cardiff the Bay Government and the City Council kept on facilitating new developments inside the congested zone yet did next to nothing to enable people to travel to work. Long term defects in the thinking and planning, or maybe no thinking and no planning.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
6 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Probably the latter. There is no joined up thinking with Cardiff Council. They are trying to create an events city and student hub with no teal investment in Infrastructure to support it or the locals that have to suffer it.
Moving some jobs out of Cardiff City centre and the Bay could be part of the solution but local people would still need a cheap, efficient, and frequent bus service.

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