How “transport poverty” is keeping people out of work

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is urging central and local government alike to invest in better connectivity and infrastructure across the United Kingdom.

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Poor public transport links across Northern cities are acting as a “barrier” to employment for low-income families, a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found.

The JRF concluded that transport policy was not doing enough to help those from poor households get to work, and major transport projects such as HS2 overlooked their needs. The report focused on three Northern city regions – Greater Manchester, Leeds City Region and Glasgow City Region – and identified affordability of public transport, unreliable services and the difficulty of reaching areas of low-skilled employment as key factors causing “transport poverty”. 

One 61-year-old security guard from Port Glasgow described his route to work which involved catching two buses and a train, which were often delayed, to get to the industrial estate where he worked in Paisley, roughly 14 miles away. He told the JRF: "I was leaving the house at half three [in the afternoon] and I wasn’t getting home the next morning until eight [in the morning], then I’d get four hours sleep and get back up and go back again."

Others found the journey times and costs prohibitive. One Seacroft resident, on the outskirts of Leeds, said: "They have tons of work, big industrial estate, but there’s no bus service, it’s about 13 miles away. I do not understand why they build a big estate where there’s no transport, that’s tough if you haven’t got a car." Meanwhile, a Dewsbury Moor resident looking for work said: "The sort of jobs I am going to get will wipe out [my wage] in bus fares."

The Department for Work and Pensions expects people looking for work to be willing to commute for vacancies up to 90 minutes away. One Port Glasgow resident said they felt “pressure to travel far” by their Job Centre, which wanted to “force you into a job that maybe you do not want to do”.

Brian Robson, acting head of policy and research at JRF, commented: “It’s unacceptable that large numbers of people seeking work are being locked out of job opportunities simply because of poor public transport connections. The experiences of low-income residents make it abundantly clear that we must properly invest in transport networks within cities not just between them.” He added: “With more powers being devolved to city and local leaders, now is the time to redesign our transport, housing and economic policies so that everyone can get into work and progress in their careers.”

The transport policy changes that the report suggested included partnership or franchising of bus services to improve the availability, reliability and affordability and concession schemes for those on low incomes. A department for transport spokesperson said: “The government is spending more than £13bn through to 2020 to transform transport across the North - the biggest investment any government in history has ever made. “We have also given councils extra powers to work in partnership with bus companies to improve the services passengers expect and deserve. We recognise that buses are vital in connecting people, homes and businesses, and we provide around £250m every year to support these services up and down the country.”