A SEAMLESS network of public transport options is the best way to end Newport's reliance on the car and ease congestion on the M4, the region's transport commission said today.

Chief among its proposals are new railway stations to serve eastern and western Newport, and a more coordinated, integrated timetable for all forms of public transport.

The South East Wales Transport Commission also believes M4 congestion would improve if people were charged to use the motorway – but it admits such a plan would be unfeasible until public transport was improved.

Follow all the news on today's report, reaction and background here.

"Above all, if we are to alleviate congestion, we need to create attractive and viable alternatives to motorway travel," the commission said. "In doing so, we can provide different, credible travel options so that people can make a different transport decision, should they wish.

"We describe this as a ‘Network of Alternatives’, providing M4 drivers and other travellers with different options for making their journeys."

The commission has today published its Emerging Conclusions report, bringing together a year of analysis of Newport's transport network and regional travel habits.

Set up by first minister Mark Drakeford last summer after the M4 relief road project was scrapped, the commission is charged with finding alternative transport solutions to the region's traffic woes.

Its role is to uncover why the M4 suffers so badly with traffic problems, but also to find out how to make public transport and active travel (walking and cycling) more attractive to people living in the area.

Today's report marks the first time the commission, led by Lord Terry Burns, has revealed details on the final recommendations it is likely to make to the Welsh Government at the end of the year.


The Emerging Conclusions report found gridlock on the M4 was largely limited to peak times, prompting concerns that for many commuters, public transport was both more expensive and inconvenient than braving the rush-hour traffic in the car.

The report found the M4 around Newport was the fourth-busiest stretch of motorway anywhere in the UK, but people living in the area felt compelled to travel by car because public transport options were inadequate or disjointed.

Decades of planning decisions have seen expansive housing estates, retail sites, and large places of employment all built on sites chosen for their proximity to the M4 "without meaningful transport alternatives", the commission found.

"In the absence of more developed transport alternatives, the motorway has been a natural point around which to plan developments," the report added.

This has put enormous strain on the M4, where on a typical weekday before the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK, 27,600 people were travelling between Newport and Cardiff, and 23,300 were travelling between Newport and Bristol.

The majority of commuters travel by car alone, the commission found, with one in three people telling a commission survey they saw car-sharing as a "very difficult" option for their daily journeys to and from work.

The vast number of cars on the road inevitably leads to daily congestion on the M4 most weekday mornings and evenings, with typical early-evening speeds on the westbound carriageway plummeting to 20-30 miles per hour on the approach to the Brynglas tunnels.

The gridlock is compounded by the layout of the M4, the commission said. A high frequency of junctions, a bending and sloping road, the absence of hard shoulders, and regular filter lanes all add to the disruption caused by the number of vehicles on the road.

A single vehicle breakdown could also cause disruption lasting up to two hours, the commission found.

The commission has already put forward some solutions to these problems – proposing an end to the variable speed limit (replacing it with a fixed 50mph average speed zone), extending filter lanes to prevent last-minute lane changes, and better-equipping traffic officers to deal quickly with breakdowns and minor incidents.

But as Newport, like Cardiff, plans for more construction and economic growth on the edge of the city, the commission warned such developments could increase use of the M4 and cause more congestion.

Without transport alternatives, the design of many of these developments risks reinforcing car dependency rather than encouraging modal shift to public transport or active travel," the commission said.

This is not "inevitable", the commission argued, and evidence from other cities had proved that a sweeping overhaul of the region's public transport network would give the public more choice and end people's reliance on the car.

Rail is the obvious choice to form the "backbone" of these changes, the commission argues.


"As a result of Wales’ industrial legacy, South East Wales has a relatively dense network of existing and former railway lines," the report said. "But while there are many ‘rails on the ground’, the infrastructure is often either not being fully utilised or used efficiently to cater for potential demand."

The commission said Newport was "particularly poorly served by rail" away from the city centre.

"The majority of trips made within South East Wales do not involve just the centres of the cities," the report said. "As such, there is insufficient rail provision to offer a genuine alternative to the motorway."

Issues with crowding at peak times discourage more people from travelling by train, the commission said, although the degree of crowding also suggested there was more demand for commuter rail services than are currently being provided.

Bus services must also be improved, the commission said.

"Although bus services may work well for some intra-city commuting, the South East Wales bus network generally offers a poor service for the common commutes undertaken by M4 users, especially over longer distances," the report read, citing poor coordination between bus and train services, meaning "passengers often face a lengthy or uncertain wait for the next stage of their journey".

Deregulation of the bus network has further complicated matters, with different firms "directly [competing] with each other instead of complementing timetables to provide a more regular service," the commission said.

Active travel – cycling and walking – must be incorporated into the wider public transport network, the commission added, calling for a direct cycling route between Newport and Cardiff, and for local authorities to create links with each other.

"If the public transport and active travel network is to serve a wide range of needs, the different modes need to operate as a single transport network," the report said, adding: "Overall, there is little coordination between transport providers and between different transport modes. This lack of integration makes multi-modal journeys difficult, time consuming and expensive, especially as part of a daily commute."

The commission's so-called Network of Alternatives would bring different travel operators, both bus and rail, together with active travel improvements into one integrated system. It said "aligned information, integrated ticketing, a coordinated timetable and seamless interchanges" would all be crucial parts of the network's success.

"By integrating transport modes, [the network] should allow for flexible journeys, reflecting the diversity of types of trips that people want to make," the commission said. "When the different parts work together, the network’s value can be greater than the sum of its parts."