Work on Bristol’s mass transit system could start in 2029 or 2030

The city’s public transport system was promised by Mayor Marvin Rees during elections last year, but at a meeting this week he put forward a possible timeline for the works.

Illustration: Scott Luís Masson

Mayor Marvin Rees has said diggers could move in to begin work on Bristol’s long-awaited mass transit system by 2029 or 2030, in schemes involving both overground and underground routes.

He spoke at a city council cabinet meeting where members formally accepted Bristol’s allocation of £191 million for public transport projects over the next five years from government funding.

At the meeting on Tuesday April 5, they also approved a 20% local contribution from Bristol City Council of £38.2 million, which is required to unlock the money.

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Improvements to public transport routes, the Long Ashton Metrobus service and Bristol to Hengrove Metrobus line, as well as making railway stations more accessible and delivering two ‘liveable neighbourhood’ pilot schemes, are promised but will all need business cases signed off by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).

Speaking at cabinet on Tuesday, he said the potential timeline for the mass transit system depended on levels of political support and focus across the region, and that early consultation on 19 different options for mass transit had already been delayed but should go out soon.

Rees put forward that by 2024/2025, the outline business case could be completed, if the 19 options are successfully narrowed down. He said by 2026/27, he could imagine a full business case, and that diggers could begin work in 2029/30.

He added that all this work should have happened years ago but that future city leaders should reap the benefits of building on it and delivering the transport system that the city needs.

Disagreements in City Hall

Decisions around how the mass transit system should work in Bristol have been fractious.

In the meeting on Tuesday, Rees said: “There has been some political gaming, political naysaying about mass transit but it’s a very straightforward process.

“You put the best on the table, you clearly set out what the best is for Bristol as a city.”

At the last full council meeting, a Green motion was unanimously passed which recommended WECA produce a study into the alternatives to an underground system. The Greens voiced concerns that the best system would not necessarily be the underground supported by Rees, but whichever system would make Bristol best placed to meet its 2030 net zero carbon target.

“It was so disheartening at the last full council meeting to hear people saying it can’t be done, even before we’ve tested whether or not it can be done. It’s so lacking in ambition for the city,” Rees said.

In the full council meeting, everyone agreed a tube network was “not the be all and end all” for the region’s mass transit system, while councillors from other opposition groups branded the idea of an underground “fanciful” and “pie in the sky”.

The Bristol Cable