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Public transport for the climate emergency

TUC: Public transport upgrade for net zero targets could deliver a £52 billion productivity boost by 2030
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
View of a railway line in the English countryside. Station on a bright day in late summer

A new TUC report published today (12 April) sets out an investment plan for public transport across England and Wales to meet net zero targets, improve quality of life and boost the UK economy.

The TUC says that the plan fills a ‘gaping hole’ in the government’s recently published net zero strategy, which failed to explain how it will achieve the ‘modal shift’ away from car that the Committee on Climate Change says is necessary.

Overview of plan

The investment plan published today – produced for the TUC by Transport for Quality of Life – is designed to meet the UK’s target to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 (from 1990 levels).

While the transition to electric cars is necessary, it is not sufficient. The UK Climate Change Committee warns that: ‘Electric vehicles must not be the sole focus, with action also needed on demand and a modal shift.’

To reach the 2030 emissions target, a reduction in total car mileage of at least 20% is needed.

The Scottish government has already set a target to achieve this reduction. Today’s report sets out how it can be achieved in England (not including London) and Wales.

The strategy is based on the combination of a 10% car mileage reduction through car-sharing and measures that reduce travel, such as working from home, remote technologies and better planning and land use; a 10% car mileage reduction from a modal shift to public transport; a 120% mileage increase in journeys by bus and tram and an 80% mileage increase in journeys by rail.

The plan would require an average of £9.9 billion in annual capital expenditure up to 2035. The additional operating costs for expanded bus, tram and rail services would reach £18.8bn annually by 2030.

Economic and social benefits


The plan is estimated to boost annual GDP by £52.1 billion by 2030 through productivity gains.

This estimate is based on productivity comparisons with European population centres that have better public transport provision than the UK.


The investment plan will generate GDP growth from construction work and supply chains across the period of capital expenditure to 2035.

‘Everyone knows that we have to cut carbon emissions – and that switching to public transport is a big part of how do it.

‘Investing in public transport will help us meet net zero targets and reduce the threat of catastrophic climate change. And it creates jobs throughout England and Wales, boosts the economy in every community, and improves everyone’s quality of life.

‘Commuters will have faster and cheaper journeys to work. New connections will bring new businesses to places where people need economic opportunities. We will save lives with cleaner air. And we will reduce loneliness and isolation by making everyone better connected, wherever you live.

‘With this report, we’ve done the work that Conservative ministers should have done with their empty and incompetent net zero strategy.’

PAUL NOWAK
TUC general secretary

In less urbanised, areas where the estimated productivity gains are lower due to the nature of industry, the investment plan can support growth in sectors like tourism and hospitality.

140,000 new jobs would be created working directly in bus, tram, and rail operation.

A further 830,000 jobs would be created in manufacture, construction and infrastructure for buses and trams up to 2035.

Up to 1.8 million jobs would be supported indirectly through the rail investment, though they cannot all be considered ‘new’ jobs as change on this scale would result in movement across the labour market.

Social benefits

In 2020, a fifth of UK households had no access to a car, rising to 35% in the lowest income bracket.

This plan will extend social and economic inclusion by increasing routes and reducing journey time, aiding journeys for accessing work, public services, retail, leisure, family and friends.

Public transport use can also bring health benefits as journeys tend to include walking or cycling to access services.

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