Precarious position of public transport in cities laid bare in report

Blurred tram lights in Manchester

Public transport in English city regions is in a precarious position, exacerbated by the pandemic – as a new report reveals the full extent of England’s changing transport landscape over the last decade.

The report – Inside track: The state of transport 2024 – reveals a wide variety of transport trends, from train and tram to bus and bike, over the last 10 years, including through the Covid-19 pandemic.

It features patterns on population and economic growth, showing that whilst city region economies are growing, they are failing to fulfil their potential - with Gross Value Added (GVA) per head of population remaining below the national average (except for London).

While the report exposes major challenges for transport, there are seeds of optimism around the recovery from the pandemic and the acceleration of devolution and, with it, greater transport powers for local areas.

Key transport takeaways from the report are:

  • People are making fewer trips – the total number of trips made per person in 2022 (862) was 10% lower than in 2013 (942).  
  • Commuting levels have been dramatically curtailed - the average number of commuting trips in 2022 (230) was 24% lower than in 2012 (302).  
  • Rail season ticket journeys have plummeted - the number of journeys made on a season ticket in 2022/23 (204 million) was 66% lower than before the pandemic in 2018/19 (620 million).  
  • The bus has lost one in four passengers – the number of bus trips in 2022/23 (3.4 billion) was 26% lower than 2013/14 (4.6 billion).  
  • The car is still king – the number of trips as a car or van driver is the highest of all forms of transport (337 trips in 2022/23), and even higher if including trips as a car or van passenger (502). The average number of walking trips – the second most popular mode – was 318 in 2022/23. Car or van use has seen only a slight decline from 2013 in which 380 trips were made as a car or van driver, and 590 when including a car or van passenger.  

Jason Prince, Director of the Urban Transport Group – the UK’s network of transport authorities, said:

“The report lays bare the precarious state of public transport in England’s city regions and the country as a whole - fewer people are travelling compared to a decade ago and the car still heavily dominates how people move.

“While the data shows that there is a recovery in progress, we are still short of where we were before the pandemic.

“More positively, devolution is accelerating – something which we should welcome. However, it will take time for some of the benefits to be realised.

"Now is the time to lock in the recovery for the long-term by providing greater clarity and certainty over funding, and truly recognising the value that public transport brings to our communities and local places.”

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Inside track - The state of transport 2024

This report aims to give readers the ‘inside track’ into transport trends over the last decade – to not only show what they are, but to also explain why they are happening and what they might mean for cities and transport within them.
Read more about Inside track - The state of transport 2024 Download file