Poorest northern families face loss of work due to unreliable transport, report claims

Unaffordable and unreliable public transport in the north is locking the poorest families out of the jobs market with some having the stark reality of travelling as much as two hours for work, a charity has warned.

In its latest report, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found transport was consistently highlighted as a “significant barrier” to work and people has to continually weigh up the small cost benefit of travelling for long amounts of time to ensure they stayed in work.

The study conducted by researchers from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University says many families were ultimately faced with the prospect of low-wage, insecure work in order to overcome transport barriers. 

The charity has called for a redesign of the government’s transport, housing and economic policy to ensure there is enough affordable transport available to the public. Researchers say local authorities and transport bodies need to act to ensure bus franchising powers in particular are used to "improve the availability, affordability and reliability of services, to make it easier for people on low incomes to access employment".

Those behind the report spoke to people affected and found extreme examples of transport having a bigger impact of day-to-day lives. One 32-year-old man based in rural Manchester told researchers he had to wake up at 5am so that he could start his 8.30am shift on time as a manual labourer.

JRF is proposing three recommendations to overcome current transport barriers to employment which include:

  • New bus franchising powers are used to improve the availability, affordability and reliability of services, to make it easier for people on low incomes to access employment.
  • Planning processes are improved to make sure that new housing and employment developments are well served by public transport.
  • Transport and employment policy are better integrated, so employment support providers can help clients to understand travel choices available to them.

Another woman told the foundation the expense of a lengthy commute would “wipe out” her pay. “The sort of jobs I am going to get will wipe out in bus fares… by the time I’ve paid for travel expenses to get there, work in a part-time job on a part-time wage, it wouldn’t be worth my while travelling that far,” she added.

Commenting on the report, director of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, Ed Ferrari, said: “Buses are the backbone of local public transport in Britain and the key to employment and training opportunities for many. But problems with high fares, poor coordination between different providers and services, and lack of reliability seriously hamper the ability of low-income groups to commute to more distant jobs.”

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