by danielbarker on 15 May, 2020
Boris Johnson’s ‘handbrake turn’ on public transport advice will cause dangerous confusion, not least to the planned trial of e-scooters in Birmingham, say West Midlands Liberal Democrats.
On Saturday, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Metro Mayor Andy Street launched a £2 billion package to boost cycling infrastructure including a trial of e-scooters in Birmingham, and guidance to councils calling for ‘pop-up bike lanes’, more bus lanes and a raft of measures to discourage car travel.But in Sunday’s broadcast, Mr Johnson said those who could not work from home – almost all manual workers – ‘should’ go back to work this week, but not by train or bus.
West Midlands Lib Dem metro mayoral candidate Beverley Nielsen, a former regional director of the CBI, said: “This confusion at the heart of government is dangerous. Mr Johnson delivered two speeches, playing to two different galleries at the same time. I do welcome the idea of a five stage warning system to ease the lockdown safely to allow manufacturing to start up again. But the mixed messages in the rest of his statement contradict that measured approach.
You can’t tell Birmingham commuters to try using e-scooters (even if they had any) if the roads are jammed with cars taking thousands of factory workers diverted from buses or trains.
The guidance published on Saturday asks local councils, within weeks, to introduce ‘pedestrian and cycle zones: restricting access for motor vehicles to specific streets, or networks of streets, particularly town centres and high streets.’ The DfT also called for ‘whole route’ approaches for buses and cycles to displace the car.
Then the next day Boris Johnson upends all that with calls for millions of factory workers to go back to work this week, by car, taking up the maximum possible road space – one driver in each vehicle, because car sharing is unsafe.
We needed clarity and consensus from the government but we are not getting it, as Ed Davey and Keir Starmer have rightly said.“If it is safe to change the Stay Home message, ‘Stay Apart’ would be much clearer than ‘Stay Alert’.
What is really poor is that we cannot seem to work out a sensible way to encourage people to have confidence to use public transport. What about masks and gloves? We could ensure gel was available at stations or for those without gloves but encouraging them where possible. Temperature testing, and masks, have been a core part of the successful strategy in Vietnam, which has almost no cases, and could be introduced here. We should set dates when these things can happen.
Cllr Nielsen added that she was disappointed that Andy Street launched his recovery plan without apparently consulting opposition parties.
I thought his plan is tentative at best, and it needs far more consultation, inclusion and buy-in. Has he consulted the Health and Safety Executive? Of course we need to support West Midlands businesses but with half of them fighting to stay afloat after Covid, we will need some serious state-side support to keep firms afloat. Equity stakes, guaranteed loans, the full panoply. Sustainability, in every sense, and inclusion should be the watchwords.
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