Poor public transport will cost jobs in Birmingham as the recession hits home, a new study has warned.
The city has one of the worst transport networks in the country, with passengers abandoning buses because of a failure to provide good services at cheap prices.
Ten years ago, the average West Midlands resident made 37 bus journeys a year - but this has now fallen to 32 journeys, down by 12.5 per cent.
By contrast, the number of journeys in London rose from 182 per person to 276, according to think-tank The Centre for Cities.
But high quality public transport is vital for linking workers with jobs and creating a dynamic labour market, particularly with the recession affecting industry and fuel prices high.
The conclusions were published in a report called On the Move, written by the Centre for Cities and John Preston, professor at the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Southampton.
It said the fall in bus usage was partly down to people getting richer, so they could afford to drive.
But it added: “This decline can be attributed to the often confusing and inconvenient nature of bus travel outside London.”
The study warned: “At a time of economic uncertainty and high fuel prices, integrated urban public transport is more important than ever from an economic point of view – in order to link people to jobs and services – and help cities improve.”
It called for the creation of an “integrated transport system” in big cities across England, in which passengers could buy single tickets similar to London’s Oyster card scheme to use on rail, bus and light rail services.
Currently, passengers are faced with dozens of different ticket types from different operators, the study warned.
The think-tank also called for co-ordinated timetables, so that bus and train times were planned to make it easier for passengers to change between them, and for “hubs” with different modes of transport close to each other, so that commuters didn’t have far to walk between them.
These reforms would need strong local transport authorities run by the leaders of local councils, with the power to demand minimum standards from bus companies and rail operators.
The West Midlands already has a Passenger Transport Authority, called Centro-PTA, but this has limited powers, the study said.
Adam Marshall, head of policy at the Centre for Cities, said: “Over the past three decades Labour and Conservative governments alike have failed to turn around public transport in Britain’s big urban areas – and city residents have increasingly opted for the car.
“Except in London, transport in most British cities remains fragmented and uncoordinated. This is a big problem in today’s tough economic climate as public transport is a lifeline to work and services.”
Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby welcomed calls to give councils a leading role. He said: “We have consistently called on the Government to give us back the power to lead the regeneration of our city regions and transport is central to that.
“Only local councils can provide an integrated approach to transport that is joined up with economic development, training and housing strategies.”
He added: “It is simply not right that London is the only city in the country to have an integrated transport agency, accountable to local people and able to borrow to invest in improving public transport. All our great cities need the same arrangements.
“Give us the powers and the resources and we will deliver a world class transport network, supporting jobs and helping to create a cleaner, greener city region.”
Centro-PTA said plans were already in place to introduce commercial “smart cards” similar to Oyster cards next year or in 2010.
A spokeswoman said: “We are already undertaking a review of transport governance and whether this can be strengthened to improve transport delivery.”