IWA Analysis: The journey ahead – achieving a sustainable transport system for people and planet

Joe Rossiter discusses his new IWA report developed in partnership with Arup on the steps ahead for creating a transport system in Wales which is fit for people, places and planet

I was proud that earlier this year the IWA, alongside our partners Arup, could bring together a group of experts and leaders in the transport sector in Wales, to discuss how Wales can take the next steps towards a sustainable transport system for people and planet.

The discussion fed directly into our new report: The Next Step for Transport in Wales, which presents a set of recommendations to consolidate the policy progress in this area over recent years, and to supercharge the delivery of the vision set out in Llywbr Newydd – the Wales Transport Strategy.

With ambitious targets to promote modal shift away from private-car usage and decarbonise Wales’ transport system alongside a reallocation of investment towards more sustainable transport modes, the vision is in place to transform how we travel. Yet, delivery has not kept pace with the vision, and challenges remain for creating a sustainable transport system which connects people and places.

A new face in the driving seat

As Ken Skates takes over the transport portfolio from Lee Waters (formerly Deputy Minister for Climate Change), he inherits a clear route ahead for transport. Now is not the time to deviate from this route, but to further embed and mainstream the principles put forward by the last holder of the portfolio.

As a new Cabinet Secretary for Transport sets out their direction for transport it may seem attractive to water down policy commitments and targets. To follow the polls and the petitions rather than setting direction. Yet, this would be a mistake.

Achievements during the preceding period should not be sniffed at: behavioural change at a Welsh Government level, across Transport for Wales, delivery bodies and (most) Local Authorities. Each of these vital stakeholders is, broadly speaking, on board with the direction of travel set out by a revolutionised conception of where funding should be directed at when it comes to transport, targeting investment into making sustainable modes more accessible and reliable rather than investing in making private car usage easier.

This is a step change in the way Wales sees the purpose of its transport system and what it prioritises, looking to deliver climate and wellbeing benefits to communities.

Political noise

Yet, the progress made on transport policy is far from universally popular. From the 20mph policy, to making it more difficult to build roads, progressive policy has been challenged by political pushback.

As such, Welsh Government to date have been making policies at a heavy political cost to Welsh Labour. Time will tell how much transport policy dominates the headlines in Wales ahead of a 2026 Senedd election, albeit the mood may have settled somewhat on these contentious issues by that point.

As a new Cabinet Secretary for Transport sets out their direction for transport it may seem attractive to water down policy commitments and targets. To follow the polls and the petitions rather than setting direction. Yet, this would be a mistake. Only through doubling down on implementing an ambitious set of policies can Wales create a transport system which is more sustainable, accessible and affordable to all. Wavering from this course risks diluting confidence from transport stakeholders, slowing down the delivery of necessary transport decarbonisation and diverting much needed investment away from enhancing public transport services.

Syniadau uchelgeisiol, awdurdodol a mentrus.
Ymunwch â ni i gyfrannu at wneud Cymru gwell.

Bringing the public along for the ride

Behaviour change at all levels sits at the very heart of the delivery of Welsh Government’s transport policy goals. As such, we cannot afford to dilute the messages underpinning the fundamental need for transformative change to our transport system.

But importantly, the public need to see and feel the benefits of a more sustainable transport system. If the alternatives to private car usage for making everyday journeys are cheaper, more accessible and more convenient for people, precedent suggests they will make a change to more sustainable transport modes. Recent research suggests that whilst many in the UK remain car-dependent, this doesn’t mean that they don’t want alternative options to be developed.

There is also a need to have a kinder, more nuanced public discourse when it comes to transport policy. Deliberative democratic methods, such as citizen assemblies, where people can raise their concerns about policies and hear the case for change could form part of a better public dialogue and could feed into stronger policymaking and implementation. With policy interventions only needing to become more ambitious as Wales decarbonises the whole of its economy, these mechanisms should be strongly considered. 

Up to now, transport policy has been communicated as all stick, no carrot, ‘no new roads, drive slower’.

Up to now, transport policy has been communicated as all stick, no carrot, ‘no new roads, drive slower’. Whilst there has been investment in rail infrastructure and on a suite of bus reforms, we need to accelerate delivery against Llywbr Newydd.

On this front, there is a clear need to provide benefits to people’s lives, to push them towards sustainable transport choices. Access to car sharing and shared cycle schemes, on-street, safe cycle parking, the reallocation of road space for active travel and public transport, wayfinding apps, public transport ticketing targeted at underrepresented groups (like caregivers) are all interventions which have been effective across Europe. We must give people a vision for what the future of our transport system looks and feels like, and that this vision has a raft of benefits rather than simply costs. Sustained investment in behaviour change initiatives is also a vital element.

There are many opportunities out there for embedding transport sector transformation and they require policy boldness and clarity alongside substantial and ongoing investment in sustainable modes.

It is also important to note that the transformation of Wales’ transport system is unfolding under significant budgetary constraints. If Wales is to realise its transport goals, a collaborative vision shared by all UK nations on the scale of change required and with a realistic funding mechanism to match are needed. This vision needs to be set by Wales, on Welsh priorities, but with the fundamental acknowledgement of transport’s connectivity with the rest of the UK.

Transport is a matter of equality

The current transport system is failing to deliver outcomes for people in Wales – but it is not failing them equally. Disabled people, people on lower incomes and rural communities all suffer from unequal access to transport options.

Transport is a great inhibitor or enabler of a more equal nation. Currently, a lack of access to sustainable transport options locks communities out of economic and social opportunities, exacerbating wider regional inequalities. 

By transforming the transport system and targeting appropriate investment into enabling communities with reliable, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport modes, the Welsh Government can bring economic benefits to communities across the nation and improve wellbeing and living standards.

Transport policy, therefore, should be central to the visions of all parties as we head closer towards the 2026 Senedd election.

The way forward

This paper, written off the back of a roundtable with leading stakeholders in Wales’ transport sector and delivered by the IWA and Arup, suggests some ways we can embed the vision for transport and accelerate delivery against the policy.

The paper makes a number of recommendations to support the delivery of a vision for a sustainable, accessible and affordable transport system in Wales.

From investing deeply and broadly in behavioural change mechanisms, to a transition to transport-led development and land use – the paper makes the case for practical solutions to accelerate the delivery of transport sector transformation.

Gofod i drafod, dadlau, ac ymchwilio.
Cefnogwch brif felin drafod annibynnol Cymru.


Included in this is the need for Welsh Government to set more detailed, climate-aligned transport targets to better guide investment and planning. Importantly, to enable this, data collection needs to fit the policy ambition. Wales needs to supercharge its collection of transport user data, to both guide policy and to truly understand its impact on people’s lives.

Key to success over the next decade will be getting the most out of the new structures and powers of the Corporate Joint Committees (CJCs) who will play a crucial role in regional transport planning. These new entities will have to adapt quickly to their new powers and work collaboratively with local authorities to set a regional direction for transport, targeting investment which reflects Welsh Government transport policy.

Welsh Government must continue to set a positive policy direction when it comes to transport, embedding the vision set out in Llywbr Newydd. Through setting a clear and consistent direction and with targeted investment, Welsh Government can help to bring along the private sector, Local Authorities, CJCs, transport service providers, employers and, vitally, the public along for the journey.

Read The Next Step for Transport in Wales: Achieving a Sustainable Transport System for People and Planet here.

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Joe Rossiter is the IWA's Policy and External Affairs Manager.

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