Bus lanes should be exempt from the new 20mph speed limit in Wales where it is safe to do so, according to a report.
Centre for Cities has found Wales has the second lowest levels of bus ridership in the UK and its bus network has shrunk the most.
It said substantial investment is needed to attract more passengers.
The Welsh government said it was monitoring the impact of the 20mph limit on buses.
It wants 45% of all journeys in Wales to be made on public transport and active travel by 2040.
Higher congestion could make public transport more appealing than the car, the report said.
Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at Centre for Cities, said a big challenge is the quality of public transport infrastructure.
“If we are going to see people shifting away from cars to buses, we are going to have to change how convenient the buses are to use,” he said.
“The current challenge with buses is they aren’t that frequent, and they aren’t that reliable and aren’t always that quick.”
“One way to improve that, where it’s safe to do so, is to exempt buses from the 20mph speed limits that will allow buses to move more quickly and more reliably,” he added.
Mr Swinney said this would “tip the balance between whether you’re going to get in your car or whether you’re going to take the bus”.
Making buses the ‘convenient choice’
The year before the pandemic, the number of kilometres driven by buses in Wales was around one-fifth lower than in 2004/05.
Mr Swinney said this is a concern if the Welsh government wanted to reach its public transport target by 2040.
He said the Welsh government’s target was “ambitious”.
“What we’ve discovered from the report is it’s not going to be 45% for all parts of Wales. In rural areas that figure will be lower but more urban areas can help achieve that target.
“There has to be large scale investment so there are viable alternatives to get people out of their cars.”
What do passengers say?
Some people who regularly take a bus said reliability is the main concern and the biggest deterrent to using the service.
Alan Paul, who was catching the bus after work in Cardiff, said: “I’ve been stood waiting half hour for this bus and when it does arrive it’s full and I can’t get on it.
“It’s a joke.”
He added: “They’ve got to be more reliable. I walk to work in the morning now because the buses can’t be relied on.”
Rita Hayes, who was also waiting for the bus said she often found the service “doesn’t turn up when I want it”.
“I think there needs to be more buses. I don’t think making them exempt from 20mph will make any difference,” she said.
Another passenger, Saira Khan, said she thinks making buses exempt from 20mph speed limit might help.
She said: “Everywhere the traffic is stuck because of the speed limit change to 20mph, and that’s why the service has got slower.”
The Welsh government said: “We have been clear from the outset that we would monitor any impacts of the 20mph on bus services.
“We are working closely with bus operators, local authorities and TfW [Transport for Wales] to tackle the challenges the industry is facing.”