The Government has announced a £2 billion upgrade to Britain’s roads and railways to take pressure off the public transport system as more return to work.
Speaking during the daily No 10 press briefing, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the quiet roads and railways during lockdown have allowed workers to carry out the ‘upgrade programme’ without severely disrupting services.
Mr Shapps added the nation has a ‘civic duty’ to avoid public transport if possible, so it doesn’t become significantly overwhelmed’ as the economy is ‘carefully and cautiously’ restarted. Distancing on public transport will be near impossible, he said, with space for only one in 10 to practice it, he added.
He added that projects which would normally take years have been completed in just weeks and it’s now time to question why the ‘bureaucratic bindweed makes British infrastructure some of the costliest and slowest in Europe to build’.
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He said: ‘To make sure Britain is ready to bounce back from Coronavirus, I can announce £2 billion for our roads and railways, to put our transport infrastructure in the best possible shape and to get our economy growing once again.
‘This package includes £17 billion for local roads making journeys smoother and safer for drivers, hauliers, motorcyclists, cyclists, pedestrians and others.
‘By filling millions of dangerous potholes we can make our roads safer and encourage more people to cycle, or even take part in the upcoming E scooter trials, helping more people play our part in relieving public pressure on public transport.’
Mr Shapps said the investment will also help to repair damages from winter flooding, along with repairing bridges and roads across the country.
A network of rapid charging stations for electric cars will also be built, along with an expansion of such facilities at motorway service stations ‘to lock in the dramatic air quality improvements we have experienced during the coronavirus lockdown’.
The Government has set a target for every motorway service area in England to have a minimum of six ultra-rapid electric vehicle charge points by 2023, with some larger sites having up to a dozen.
These would allow drivers to recharge their cars in around 15 minutes, which is three times quicker than normal.
Mr Shapps said it’s time to ‘exploit’ our new found capacity to respond at pace and apply it to rapidly improve infrastructure.
He said the country has rapidly completed major projects such as building new hospitals and moving public services online, adding: ‘We want to maintain this momentum’.
‘If building a new hospital takes 2 weeks, why should building a new road still take as long as 20 years?’ he questioned. ‘If GP surgeries move online, why are most rail passengers travelling on cardboard tickets?’
However, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Jim McMahon MP, said it was ‘extremely worrying’ that ministers are ‘papering over the cracks’ at the 11th hour to protect Transport for London in the short term.
He said: ‘Rather than patting themselves on the back about road and rail upgrades, ministers need to focus on the chaos on public transport especially on the tube, a mess of their own making.
‘It was right that action was taken in relation to the privately operated bus and rail network,’ he said. ‘The Government must do the same for publicly-owned transport providers, which need long term secure funding for what could be a lengthy period for which they won’t be able to operate at full capacity.’
Mr McMahon said the country needs a ‘comprehensive transport plan’, which includes giving local transport services the funding they need.
He added: ‘Simply saying things will be different on our trains and buses is not a plan for the future.’
It comes after the Government announced a £2 billion plan to encourage more people to cycle and walk as they return to work.
The first stage of the plan will be a £250 million package of swift emergency interventions to make cycling and walking safer. That will include pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycle and bus only streets.
In addition, the government will publish fast track statutory guidance requiring councils in England to cater for significantly increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, ‘making it easier for them to create safer streets’.
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