5. Public transport, walking and cycling

Download a pdf version of the full report on how the government should address the Climate Emergency here.

Shift away from car based travel, through major investment in public transport, walking and cycling

We’re no longer living in the days when cars can be considered king. Clean energy is a valuable commodity which should be used very efficiently if for private transport. Roads should not continue to be extended in urban areas to the detriment of communities and wider public health. In designing our towns and cities there needs to be a shift in mindset in favour of public transport – which is more equitable and comes with considerable social benefit. Road space should be preferentially allocated away from cars and towards the lowest energy types of transport, and those which are healthiest, prioritising walking and cycling.

Shifting the UK to a less car-based transport model is a huge job requiring multiple interventions. Even since 2010 the cost of bus travel has gone up much more  than the cost of car travel. Better and lower cost public transport is crucial, as is greater investment in walking and cycling, and a shift of power and money to the local level for effective delivery.

Overarching measures

• Support a general realignment of transport modes, away from private vehicle use, towards public transport, walking and cycling. Alternative modes should have significant investment and a target should be set to reduce overall UK-wide car mileage by 3% per year – delivering a 30% reduction by 2030

• Require minimum standards for public transport in towns – for example, ensuring every town has an hourly or more regular bus service, operating 7 days a week along major roads and to nearby villages

• Incentivise radical experimentation in public transport access and use appropriate for UK regions. For example, the programme in Tallinn, Estonia, a city approaching half a million people, which has made all bus and tram travel free and delivered economic benefits as a result   

Financial and planning measures

• Immediately end the £56bn HS2 project and the £15bn new road building programme – releasing funds for local public transport and new / upgraded regional rail networks, especially in the Midlands and the North

• Introduce a target to spend at least 10% of transport expenditure on walking and cycling by 2024. This would allocate around £3.1 billion per year – consistent with recommendations from the National Infrastructure Commission, and in line with the amount of investment required to meet the government’s existing target to double cycling activity by 2025

• Mandate a workplace parking levy in town centres, generating cash for upgrades to cycling, walking and public transport facilities

• Boost funding for local authorities to reconfigure road space, prioritising greater use and access for public transport, walking and cycling, relative to private vehicle use. Over time, local authorities should also redesign/ re-green key areas of existing road space, as road use reduces overall, in line with the modal shift away from private vehicle use

• Increase local authority funding for bus services back to at least 2010 levels, to ensure greater service reliability and regularity. In practice the amount of money required may well be more, given the requirement to significantly increase public transport provisions. Funding will also come from other local sources like parking levies

• Revise the National Planning Policy Framework and planning guidance to give priority to development on brownfield and urban sites that have accessible public transport links, as opposed to new green site development. Urban planning should ensure that new developments have easy access to medical services, schools and shops to minimise generated transport journeys

Rail transport

• Support regional rail networks to expand, electrify and produce solar power on their own land (which rail networks have the power to do)

Bus transport

• Re-regulate buses to allow for simpler delivery of a national bus strategy, including requiring all new buses to be fully electric from 2025

• Immediately provide free bus travel for those on income support or low incomes. This service should be extended to more people e.g. students, young people etc. over time, as road space is reconfigured and public transport services increase in reliability and regularity

• Allow local authorities and city mayors to regulate bus services in major urban areas to allow coordination, stability, network effects and single ticketing (like London Oystercard)


• Eliminate some of the carbon footprint of freight through a concerted strategy to move onto (electrified) rail and e-cargo bikes for ‘last mile’ delivery