Transport the telling factor in north-south divide

Leeds station

Polarisation between London and the rest of the UK in terms of transport connectivity has been starkly illustrated by a new Sustainable Cities Mobility Index produced by Arcadis. London scores highly in seventh in the global ranking, ahead of Tokyo (13th), Milan (18th) and New York (23rd), but Birmingham, Bristol and England's northern cities score badly in comparison.

The results reflect the scale of the challenge if transport is to play its part in overcoming the north-south divide, Arcadis says, and show how cities in the Midlands and North of England need to do more to capitalise on Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse initiatives.

Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Mobility Index ranks 100 of the world’s leading cities against three pillars of transport sustainability: People (reflecting quality of life factors including accessibility, connectivity and uptake of active options such as walking or cycling); Planet (capturing green factors, including congestion, pollution and emissions); and Profit (reflecting public finance, affordability and economic opportunity).

According to Arcadis, higher ranking cities have a good balance across the three pillars. The next highest of UK cities after London is Edinburgh, which, in 17th, has some of the best commuting times and least delays in Europe. It also has some of the highest density of bus and metro stops, making it one of the leading cities in Europe for the accessibility of its transport services. 

While London has one of the largest shares of its overall budget spent on transport, it also ranks among the least affordable in the whole of Europe and it's also held back in the rankings by some of the highest levels of congestion; only Rome, Istanbul and Turkey score more poorly.  

For Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, there is the risk that poor transport connectivity could hold back business and economic growth. Leeds, in particular, at 59 in Arcadis' world list, has the fewest bus and metro stops per square kilometre in the UK, while Manchester has some of the longest commuting times outside of London. 

Arcadis' UK cities director, Peter Hogg, said: “The UK needs to up its transport game. Although there is undoubtedly a lot we’re getting right, a truly sustainable transport system isn’t just about enabling mobility; it also needs to create major economic opportunity and improve the lives of those who rely on it every day. 

“London, with its well-established infrastructure, efficient tube system and low private vehicle use, ranks highly but, as with all cities, alleviating pressure at peak times remains a concern.  And our regional cities urgently need to catch up. Central government, devolved administrations and city leaders all around the country are embarking on ambitious plans to upgrade our networks and redress decades of previous underinvestment, but it will take time for these cities to move up the rankings. 

“Regional connectivity has to be a key. But this isn’t just about links between cities. Digital connectivity is also important and, when it comes to mobility, embracing new technology will massively improve a city’s potential. From smart ticketing options to considering the potential impact of both electric and autonomous vehicles, changes in the way we design, build and operate our transport infrastructure will play a key part in improving mobility across the UK."

UK city rankings

7.   London

17. Edinburgh 

35. Manchester

38. Birmingham

43. Bristol

44. Dublin 

59. Leeds

The global top ten

1. Hong Kong

2. Zurich

3. Paris

4. Seoul

5. Prague

6. Vienna

7. London

8. Singapore

9. Stockholm

10. Frankfurt