Poor Grant Shapps. This weekend, the UK’s transport secretary unveiled a fairly extensive package of measures intended to make sure Britons can keep moving about during the Covid-19 crisis. On Saturday, he fronted the government’s daily afternoon press briefing; on Sunday, he did the rounds of the morning political shows.
And were those nasty mean journalists interested in his plans for bicycle repair vouchers, or the doubling of the A66? No they were not: all they wanted to ask about was reports that the Prime Minister’s senior advisor Dominic Cummings had breached the lockdown he himself had helped draw up. The rotten lot.
This is, from some perspectives a shame, because some of the plans aren’t bad. Here’s a quick run down.
The government is releasing a total of £283m to increase frequencies on bus (£254m) and light rail (£29m) networks, enabling more people to travel while maintaining social distancing.
It’s deploying 3,400 people – British Transport Police officers; staff from train operators and Network Rail – to stations, to advise passengers on how to travel safely.
It’s promising to amend planning laws to enable councils to reallocate road space and create emergency cycle lanes, using a £225m pot of funding announced earlier this month.
It’s also spending £25m on half a million £50 bike repair vouchers, and £2.5m on adding 1,180 bike parking spaces at 30 railway stations.
All this sounds lovely, but announcements of this sort tend to throw up a few questions, and this is no exception. The UK is home to over 2,500 railway stations, which must raise doubts about whether a few extra bike parking spaces at 30 of them is going to be enough to spark a cycling revolution. And councillors say that £225m for new cycle lanes has been slow to materialise in council bank accounts.
As to the money for public transport: that £29m will be shared between tram networks in five English conurbations (Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Tyne & Wear, Nottingham, Sheffield). Just under £6m each doesn’t sound like the big bucks.
Then there’s the fact that all of these pots of money are dwarfed by the £1bn the government is planning to spend on turning the A66 Transpennine route across the north of England, from Workington to Middlesbrough, into a dual carriageway. Which puts the money allocated to cycling into perspective.
That said, it is refreshing to see the government taking an interest in cycling at all. Also, Grant Shapps genuinely tried to distract the nation from a huge political scandal by talking about bike repair vouchers, and you’ve got to give him credit for that.
More details of the plan on gov.uk here.