Saturday, 6 March 2010

What do six of the seven most economically powerful English cities have in common?

Spot the odd one out in the two lists below of the largest English cities by economy outside London, and their approach to integrating transport.

Urban Areas outside London and size of economy measured by GVA

1. West Midlands (Birmingham)  = £44.9 billion
2. Greater Manchester = £44.8 billion
3. West Yorkshire (Leeds)  = £37.6 billion
4. West of England (Bristol) = £23.3 billion
5. Tyne and Wear (Newcastle)  = £19 billion
6. South Yorkshire (Sheffield) = £18.8 billion
7. Merseyside (Liverpool) = £18.4 billion

List of Integrated Transport Authorities in England

1. Centro (West Midlands)
2. GMITA (Greater Manchester)
3. Metro (West Yorkshire)
5. Nexus (Tyne and Wear)
6. SYITA (South Yorkshire)
7. Merseytravel (Merseyside)

Rail patronage in Merseyside has increased by 10.1%, in South Yorkshire by 9.4%, and in the West Midlands by 5.9%

Bus patronage has increased by 7.4% in Tyne and Wear, and by 4.9% in Greater Manchester.

"Bus operators in Greater Manchester have continued to invest in new low-floor, accessible vehicles which have raised the percentage of wheelchair accessible vehicles to 71.5% – exceeding the national target of 50% by 2010/11" -

"The Tyne and Wear Metro is the UK’s most cost efficient urban railway system. 69 per cent of operating costs are met from revenue alone, with only seven per cent of costs coming from local authorities. The subsidy per journey is 42p, which is up to seven times smaller than that of heavy rail systems in other UK cities"

"The Midland Metro line from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton, which opened in 1999, has taken an estimated 1.2 million car journeys off the roads with 15 per cent of passengers using the tram instead of their cars for the same journey. It operates at around 99 per cent reliability and carries around 5 million passengers a year."

"The South Yorkshire heavy rail network provides benefits of £35m and costs £20m a year in subsidy. This indicates a benefit of around £1.75 per £1 of subsidy."

"The free buses that Metro has introduced in Leeds, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Bradford have carried almost 6.9 million passengers between them."

"Passenger Focus's Autumn 2008 National Passenger Survey found that, at 71%, satisfaction with value for money was higher among Merseyrail passengers than among passengers for any other train company"

(All quotes are from the Passenger Transport Executive Group)

Meanwhile.....back in Bristol;

"Bristol had the slowest average road traffic speed—16.8 miles per hour—of any of Britain’s major cities"

"Bristol, the economic heart of the [South West] region, is severely affect by road traffic congestion and is the only city in the United Kingdom where congestion is projected by the Department for Transport’s own figures to increase despite improvements already planned."

"Bristol has the lowest proportion of public transport per head of the population of any major urban area in the UK."

(Bristol quotes are from the House of Commons South West Regional Committee First Report on Transport in the South West )

Transport for Greater Bristol have more background on why the Bristol area should have an Integrated Transport Authority just like every other major city in England, and the statement they made and presented to the Joint Transport Executive Members of the West of England Partnership is well worth reading here


  1. Not that I disagree or anything, but what's the point of going on about the whole ITA-for-Bristol thing? Isn't it going to be a bit of a moot issue for at least a couple of years now that it's been rejected?

  2. Tim,

    With an election coming up the result of which, regardless of who wins, may well see a different set of pressures and/or guidelines being put forward for the West of England Partnership, I would not automatically assume that a smart turnabout on the issue of an Integrated Transport Authority is not a distinct possibility.

    ITAs have been shown to be more cost-effective than the combination of voluntary Multi-Area Agreements and go-it-alone policies that currently characterise the West of England approach, and in a future era of restrictions on public expenditure may well be seen as a way of getting a bigger bang for your buck by those who will have future responsible for allocating funding for the Greater Bristol city-region.

    It also possible, if unlikely, that two or three of the local authorities could set up an ITA without involving the remaining authorities. A bit like the way that two of the authorities decided to go ahead with the Cycling City project without the other two.

  3. Tony,
    It does seem odd now you point it out, although are you sure it was the creation of ITAs that make public travel better in these areas? I can speak from experience that both buses and trains in Bradford are relaible, frequent and cheap. And nearly always packed, especially when it gets to the magic OAP hour and travel is free. We used to buy a day rover ticket for a couple of quid which gave freedom to travel throughout West Yorkshire (which covers a massive area). It has always struck me as odd that Bristol is crap at public transport compared to Bradford or Sheffield, and the fact it costs a fiver for 10 mins on the train to Bath, but that same cash will get you nearly five times further in West Yorkshire. I'm afraid I put it down to the unverified and prejudiced assumption that Northerners like/tolerate public transport and southeners just don't do it in public.

    Having said that, the number of people on bikes in Bristol seems to far exceed the number in Bradford or Leeds, but then again I lived nowhere near to the University in Bradford, around which bike numbers seem to increase.

    I suppose my point being that maybe there are other factors that mitigate against public transport success in Bristol and give a natural advantage to those Northern Cities. One thing being that they are all major conurbations, rather than being stand alone cities. Bristol still seems relatively small comparev to the endless way Leeds merges into Bradford which merges into Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Keighley etc etc, plus all the satelite towns in between and beyond. How do the population figures compare?

    Chris U

  4. Hi Chris,

    The problem with looking at cities in terms of their population is that this often tends to be based on a concept of the "city" (and particularly its transport problems) as being bounded by its urban edge - but in terms of transport planning for a city, the rise of the private motor car and the willingness (or necessity) of many workers to commute much greater distances to their place of work means that the boundaries of a city have expanded beyond the urban area as far as transport planning is concerned.

    If we look at the ONS "urban area" definitions of the seven cities mentioned above then we do see that Bristol is the smallest but we also see a wide range with both Birmingham and Manchester on just over 2.2m, Leeds-Bradford on 1.5m, and Newcastle and Liverpool on 800-900,000. But the difference between Sheffield on 640,000 and Bristol on 551,000 is considerably smaller than the gap between most of the other cities. The urban area definition is one based on historical accident and timing and size of Green Belts rather than any functional purpose.

    Another measurment of a city is the EU definition of a Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) which is designed to measure a "functional urban region" in which a significant share of the residents commute into the core city. This is a much better definition of the city in terms of its transport planning needs and has been used for some time on the continent with great success.

    Using this definition, the seven cities can be divided into two groups;

    Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds-Bradford which have LUZ populations of 2.4-2.5m;

    and the remaining four which had populations in 2004/05 of;
    Liverpool = 1.4m
    Sheffield = 1.3m
    Newcastle = 1.1m
    Bristol = 1.0m

    There is then a sizable gap down to the next largest UK LUZs of Cardiff, Nottingham and Edinburgh with populations below 850k.

    I think that, on this basis, it is perfectly reasonable to group Bristol with the other six cities that do have ITAs.

    However, you are right to conclude that a lack of an ITA is not the sole cause of Bristol's transport problems. A catalogue of errors dating all the way back to the 1830s have contributed to Bristol's current transport woes. What Bristol's errors tend to have in common however is a tendency to think in narrow terms and fail to take into account the broader impacts of decisions across the spectrum of transportation issues - an ITA will allow a greater ability to co-ordinate different transportation proposals and plan accordingly.