Last reviewed 19 April 2023

The TUC has called on the Government to heavily invest in our public transport systems to tackle climate change and deliver a £50 billion a year boost to the UK economy.

“Public transport has a vital role to play in decarbonising our economy and safeguarding a planet fit for our children and grandchildren to live in. Improving our public transport is not only about protecting our environment, it’s also about the quality of life in communities all over England” says Paul Nowak, TUC General Secretary.

Public Transport Fit for the Climate Emergency is a report written for the TUC by Transport for Quality of Life Ltd and clearly spells out the current situation. It claims that buses are often expensive and infrequent, with routes being cut by private providers who are driven by an ethos of profit and not public service. Train services are often expensive and chaotic, with frequent delays and short notice cancellations because of cuts to staffing levels and the outsourcing of maintenance services.

At the core of the TUC plan is the need for significant modal shift with over 47 billion car driver and car passenger kilometres per year moving to public transport by 2030. The plan also calls for a zero-emission fleet of buses, trains and trams. These are the shifts in the use of public transport that scientists indicate is necessary to stabilise our climate at 1.5˚C.

To achieve these aspirations will require a radical transformation in funding from central government and delivered by local and regional transport authorities, including:

  • increasing operating expenditure for buses, trams and trains by £18.9 billion

  • spending £24 billion of capital for bus lanes and zero emission buses, £5 billion to expand light rail and trams and £89 billion to expand and electrify the rail network before 2035.

In addition to giving us public transport systems fit to tackle the climate emergency, these investments would bring major benefits to both the economy and jobs.

  • An estimated annual increase of over £50 billion in GDP in England (not including London) and Wales.

  • Around 620,000 jobs created through the proposed bus manufacture and construction of bus priority infrastructure up to 2035.

  • Around 110,000 jobs associated with tram construction up to 2035.

  • Up to 1.8 million jobs supported indirectly in association with the additional rail investment up to 2035, although not all of these would be “new” jobs.

The report looks in depth at the current level of services and concludes that Britain needs to place a value on public transport services similar to parts of Europe that achieve much higher levels of public transport use per capita.

The investment needed will more than pay for itself in benefits. The proposal is to reallocate funding from high-carbon projects, such as the £60 billion roads programme, nationalisation of buses and trains and the introduction of an eco-levy to replace fuel duty.

The TUC believes that public transport improvements on this scale will greatly expand travel horizons for millions of people, enabling greater access to work, education, training, services, shops and amenities, and to friends, family and leisure leading to better lives. Better public transport will also help in the current cost of living crisis, helping cut household bills for users. The plan will also create new income opportunities from high quality job opportunities in an expanded green economy.

In setting out these bold plans, the report provides an indicative assessment of the step-change in funding needed to stablise our climate and provide sufficiently good public transport to entice people away from their cars.

London is excluded from these plans due to its unique features that require different consideration to other parts of England, whilst recognising that London's transport also needs improvement to meet the climate emergency.

With the report aiming to achieve around 120% more bus/tram passenger kilometres and 80% more rail passenger kilometres than pre-Covid-19 levels by 2030 these targets and spending plans are very ambitious indeed.

The report provides great detail to back up the conclusions including a table of proposed investment splitting out the benefits and expenditure requirements calculated by nation and by region outside London as shown in the summary table below.

Region/Nation

Additional operating costs (£bn/y)

Additional capital costs over 12 years (£bn/y)

Estimated increase in GDP (£bn/y)

Increase in GDP minus cost (£bn/y)

North East

0.9

1.0

2.6

0.8

North West

2.5

1.0

10.7

7.2

Yorks & Humber

1.9

1.0

7.7

4.8

East Midlands

1.9

1.7

4.1

0.6

West Midlands

2.3

1.0

7.3

3.9

East of England

2.3

0.8

4.3

1.3

South East

3.6

0.9

9.8

5.3

South West

2.3

1.3

2.9

-0.7

Wales

1.01

1.3

2.6

0.1

Total

18.8

9.9

52.1

23.3

Part of the calculation for the increase in GDP comes through an accumulation of effect of better journey and more rapid onward connections. Research has shown that if these benefits match those realised in France, that GDP/capita would increase by 7% in the UK.

Whilst rural regions, such as the South West have lower accumulation benefits, there will be wider social and economic benefits beyond those shown in the table.

Post Covid-19, we have seen the Department for Transport implement a number of “sticking plaster” funding schemes for buses, such as Coronavirus Bus Service Support Grant, Bus Recovery Grant and the more recent £2 Bus Fare Cap to stimulate passenger numbers. The DfT has also changed the rail funding model to put the Train Operating Companies on operating contracts with the DfT retaining all the revenue. But these are short-term fixes and don’t allow for long-term investment plans. Indeed, the report highlights the absence of a national rail and light rail/tram investment plan or published pipeline of schemes.

Given the remit of the TUC, the report doesn’t shy away from the opportunities to create jobs and boost the economy with an healthy dose of nationalisation. However, the current climate emergency should be looked at above any political posturing and represents a real and present threat to all our futures. In this wider context of a climate emergency the case for rapid expansion of investment in our public transport systems is overwhelming.

The TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak concludes his introduction by stating that “This report lays out the blueprint for 21st century public transport, all that’s left is to build it”.