Cardiff plans for a cleaner, greener, healthier future

Written by on 17th April 2023

An expanded bus service with cheaper £1 fares, a new tram network, and enhanced regional links could soon be part of a cleaner, greener, and more modern transport system for Cardiff. Yet these changes may only become possible if a road user payment is introduced to help fund it, a new report reveals. 

The report, which will be considered by Cardiff Council’s Cabinet on Thursday, April 27, explores ways in which a road user payment might be reinvested to help build a transport offer which could help the city reduce the harmful effects of air pollution for Cardiff residents, make a difference in the battle against climate change, and tackle congestion.

Currently, road transport is responsible for 40% of C02e (carbon) emissions in Cardiff. This is the joint highest C02e figure measured for road transport among the UK’s 11 core cities, which include Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield.

And it is estimated that air pollution reduces average life expectancy in the UK by 7-8 months. In towns and cities with air pollution levels above the UK average, including Cardiff, this figure is likely to be even higher.

Evidence indicates that air pollution affects us all and is associated with impacts on lung development in children, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and exacerbates asthma, among other ill-health effects.

Cardiff, in particular, is a victim of this with a higher prevalence of asthma than the European average. Seven per cent of adults in Cardiff have been diagnosed with asthma, and over 9,000 Cardiff residents are registered with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Six percent of children aged 10-14 have asthma in Wales.

Cardiff Council Leader, Cllr Huw Thomas, said:

“We know our residents want action on climate change and they want the air their children and their loved ones breathe to be cleaner. We know residents want to see electric buses and taxis serve the city, to have new train/tram links and stations, to drive on better maintained roads, with safe cycling and walking routes. We know they see the queues of traffic and know the damage this is causing to their health and the environment, whilst also strangling the city’s economy. It’s clear that action is needed if we are going to change the dial on this. Reducing these figures will require us to look at the way we live and the way we travel. Cardiff needs and deserves a cleaner and a greener transport system. However, funding this will likely only be possible by the introduction of some form of low-cost road user payment which would have exemptions for those least able to pay.“Before any such scheme was introduced, we will clearly have to make improvements to the current transport system so people have options to reduce their reliance on the car. We would need better, enhanced, and cheaper bus routes, alongside improvements to regional commuting options, and visible signs of a new tram network in the city.

“A working public transport system can have a hugely positive impact on those who have to travel by road. And our transport system certainly does not work for the huge numbers of people who rely on it the most. The people and communities who rely on public transport are often the worst served by our bus and train services.

“They are also breathing the dirtiest air and suffering the worst rates of childhood asthma and other illnesses. Improving our transport system is essential if we are to connect some of our most disadvantaged communities with the opportunities that are available in the city.

“I understand that there will be those who say that ‘this is just another tax when the country is facing a cost-of-living crisis?’ So let me address that head on. The current levels of traffic in Cardiff are costing the average resident hundreds upon hundreds of pounds each year and holding our economy back. That’s on top of the environmental and health damage caused by congestion. So, it’s imperative that we create a transport system where everyone – in particular our poorest and most disadvantaged communities – can be better connected with the jobs and opportunities we know are available in the city.

“We also know that, in Cardiff, the lowest levels of car ownership are amongst young people, those who are disabled, those living in the southern arc and those from a minority ethnic background. As a result, they are entirely reliant on public transport. So, the people that are being hit the hardest by the cost-of-living crisis now will be the ones that benefit the most if a scheme is introduced in four of five years’ time, when hopefully we will all face a better economic climate.”

The new report follows on from the Council’s Transport White Paper launch in 2020 – which made clear the need for major enhancements to walking, cycling and public transport options across the city, if Cardiff was to realise its climate change ambitions and reduce reliance on the private motor car. The White Paper argued for a raft of new transport options. Cheaper and better bus routes, new train/tram lines, and an improved cycling network which could all help deliver a cleaner and healthier city, better able to play its part in tackling climate change.

However, the new report being brought to Cardiff Council’s Cabinet warns that without the introduction of a ring-fenced road user payment – then it’s unlikely Cardiff will ever get the transport system it ‘desperately needs.’

If agreed by Cardiff Council’s Cabinet, the project would consider a range of road payment schemes including, but not limited to, road user payments; congestion zones; clean air zones; and workplace parking charges. It would also determine, in consultation with the public, on what a ‘fair and equitable’ payment might look like. The project work will also consider any local users that may need to be exempt, reimbursed, or who qualify for discounts. It will seek to reduce impacts on the poorest residents, and on regular users in the city and region. An example of this is London, where residents qualify for a 90% discount on the Congestion Charge if they live within the ULEZ zone.

Cllr Thomas added:

“There are so many potential benefits at play here. Reducing carbon emissions will naturally help us tackle air pollution and climate change, but that’s not all. We also believe that a payment could help reduce congestion. The cost of congestion to the economy in Cardiff was estimated by INRIX to be £109 million in 2019. If we can reduce congestion, we can improve everyone’s ability to get where they need to be in the city more quickly. This can open-up job opportunities for people and labour markets for employers, delivering a positive economic impact across the city.

“We know this isn’t something which will happen tomorrow. First, it will need consultation with residents, business, and, alongside that, it will require legislative change from Welsh Government.

“We want residents and businesses to help us build the future which works best for Cardiff. As such, there will be a series of consultations and we will set up stakeholder groups and a residents’ panel to ensure that everyone’s voice and views are heard.

“If given the go-ahead, it will take perhaps up to five years to implement, however, in the meantime, the problems the world faces with climate change won’t go away. We need a credible, alternative transport system – one which will encourage people out of their cars – and we need to find a way to fund it.

“Cardiff Council, like councils across the country, is having to do more with less. Despite successfully bidding for UK Levelling Up funding and gaining Welsh Government support to begin work on our planned tram system, the Council doesn’t have the investment it needs to hit its transport and climate targets.  Cardiff needs an affordable public transport system that’s fit for the future, and a moderate road user payment scheme could help support this if it is ringfenced for transport initiatives and, importantly, is in addition to Government funding already available to the council. It cannot be a default replacement for cuts to Government funding. Rather, as an additional fund, it presents a major opportunity for the council and Welsh Government to implement a transformative vision which addresses shared national and local priorities including Crossrail, enhanced bus services, and the Metro, delivering transport options which can help reduce our reliance on the private motor car.”

To help reassure the public that a road user payment could play a part in helping deliver change, the report recommends that key, transport improvements should be up and running in advance of any payment being introduced.

Working in partnership with Welsh Government, and using grant funding and borrowing on future income from the scheme, the following initiatives could be available before any road user payment was introduced:

  • The introduction of £1 bus fares on key routes.
  • Better and expanded bus services.
  • The delivery of the Phase 1 tram from Central Station to Pierhead Station in the Bay, Coryton and City Line frequency enhancements.
  • Improvements to regional commuting.


Once any scheme is introduced, the money raised – alongside Government funding contributions -could then help bring forward the following initiatives.

  • A Metro city-wide tram system including Crossrail (in city area) & Circle line, new stations with a minimum of 4 trams an hour.
  • A prioritized bus network across the city with reliable turn up and go services – targeting a 100% increase in bus ridership.
  • Delivery of an electric (EV) Bus and Taxi fleet.
  • Support for the development of wider regional commuter/shopper Metro and Bus network.
  • The completion of the Eastern Bay Link, which in conjunction with enhancements to the city centre highway network would enable better traffic flow around the wider city circumference.
  • Sustainable travel incentives – Travel discounts, tickets, bike purchase vouchers.


Cllr Dan De’Ath, Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and Strategic Planning, said:

“Many major UK cities have already taken – or are currently considering this step. A form of road user payment helps achieve their low carbon, clean air, and transport aims and objectives. In consultation with residents, businesses, and commuters, we want to explore how such a payment could provide funds which – when considered as part of wider funding arrangements – could completely transform the transport offer in Cardiff. We want the people of Cardiff to help us build this new future together.

“People tell us all the time that the public transport system in the city isn’t up to scratch. We know this is true, but if we are going to get the transport system we need, then we must find a way of helping to pay for it. At the end of the day, the government isn’t coming forward with all the money required. Right now, we believe we only get 10-15% of the funding we would need to make the changes required. So, we want to see if a form of road user payment – ringfenced to fund transport initiatives – could play its part in speedily delivering a clean, green, efficient, and low-cost system for Cardiff, while reducing our over-reliance on cars.

“But we also know that the public will want to understand the benefits of any road user payment scheme before any regime is introduced. This is why this report clearly states what it wants to see delivered up front and what it can deliver in the future.”

The report also highlights some key considerations which any road user payment would have to adopt, including:

  • Any payment would have to be fair: Any road user payment scheme will protect the vulnerable, ensuring ‘the very moderate financial burden’ only falls on those who can afford it.
  • It’s going to transform our city: It represents our next step to create a modern Cardiff that puts people and nature first.
  • It’s delivering on the Council’s One Planet strategy to combat climate change.
  • It’s a long-term investment in our economy. This is part of a long-term vision to build a better-connected city that can revitalise our local economy.
  • It’s going to protect future generations. The purpose of any charge is to fulfil our legal obligations to consider the needs of the next generation and beyond.

Without identifying a new approach to major capital and revenue funding Cardiff, like all major UK cities, says the report, will be unable to meet its transport, low carbon or indeed economic targets and ambitions:

  •  City-wide air quality will remain at unsafe levels.
  •  The street environment will remain car dominated/polluted.
  •  The city will not become carbon neutral.
  •  Transport in the long term will remain fragmented, ineffective, and costly.
  •  Congestion will increase further.
  •  The economy of Cardiff will remain constrained – with reduced productivity.


Cllr De’Ath added:

“If successful in the implementation, with a clear commitment to using income generated from the scheme against transport priorities, then the opportunity exists to transform not just the transport system, but also Cardiff’s economic prospects and productivity, city health and well-being, as well as the environment. Better transport options mean more people will be able to access more job opportunities, business will be able to access more workers, and congestion should ease – all of which will support increased productivity across the region.

“We don’t want to hide anything from our residents. There are some tough decisions ahead, decisions we will need to take together for the future of our city, and for our children who deserve to grow up in a cleaner, greener Cardiff.”


Draft Target Dates and Milestones

Draft Target Date Milestone Description
2023/24 Research, planning and public consultation
End of 2024 Cabinet Decision
End of 2025 Completion of detailed design including all associated planning, legal and financial requirements.
Early – 2026 Submit any draft orders requiring Ministerial Approval.
2027/28 Implementation subject to approvals.
2026/27 and onwards Parallel implementation/construction of schemes that would be funded from the Road User Payment.


Views on potential Road User Payment

Fiona Kinghorn, Executive Director for Public Health at Cardiff and the Vale University Health Boardsaid Fiona Kinghorn, Executive Director for Public Health in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said

“Air pollution and physical inactivity are major threats to public health in Cardiff, along with climate change. To address these, we need to help more people ditch the car for short journeys and get out and about, walking, cycling, and taking public transport. But to do this people need high quality safe routes, and cheap and reliable public transport options across the city. We fully support Cardiff Council looking at ways to enable and fund this shift, including a potential road user payment scheme, which could benefit us all. Any scheme would need to be fair and equitable, taking into account people’s circumstances with exemptions or discounts available where appropriate – but if carefully planned could help transform health and well-being in our city.”

Christine Boston, Director of Sustrans Cymru, said:

“At Sustrans we believe that cities and towns should be places that prioritise the people who live and spend time there. Car-dominated spaces create congestion and damage our environment and health. They leave less space for walking, cycling and spending time in – things that make our lives better and add to our happiness. They harm people who are already disadvantaged the most.

“This new commitment by Cardiff Council for exploratory work on Road User Payment models could be a positive step towards creating a more equitable, healthy, and liveable city for everyone who lives and works in Cardiff. We see the potential to reduce congestion and promote sustainable, active travel, while also creating a fund to invest in public transport and active travel. This could provide a real alternative to driving for many people, making it easier and more affordable to choose sustainable modes of transport.

“Any system must also be designed with equity in mind. We know that the impacts of air pollution and traffic congestion are often felt most acutely by low-income communities and people with disabilities. By ensuring that the scheme is equitable, in the way payments are collected and in the types of interventions and areas where funding is reinvested, we can work towards creating a fairer and more sustainable city for all.” 

Cllr Caro Wild, Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change, said:

“We know the people of Cardiff want the city to do what it can to tackle climate change. In part we were elected on the back of our One Planet Commitments to show bold leadership on climate issues and on our ambition to reduce carbon emissions. The council is limited in the powers it has to reduce emissions across the city, but transport policy is one of the levers that we do have responsibility for. In Cardiff 40% of our C02 emissions are caused by road transport, so finding ways to reduce our reliance on the motor car is one of the most effective ways of reducing emissions and pollution. We have a responsibility to make decisions that will support children and future generations to live full and healthy lives, this means taking action to protect our planet, and to make the air we all breathe as clean as possible.”

A Q&A on the council report is available

Next steps:

  • Cardiff Council will consider the report – which you can view  here– at 2pm on Thursday April 27. You will be able to watch a live stream of that meeting  here
  • The Environmental Scrutiny Committee will consider the report on Monday April 24. You will be able to watch a live video stream of that meeting on the day  here
  • If agreed, then in April/May stakeholder engagement associated with the Stage 1 Welsh Government Transport Appraisal Guidance study will begin.
  • Public Consultation on the options identified in Stage 1 will be undertaken in the Stage 2 study later in 2023.

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