Cycling fanatic Boris Johnson is promising £50 repair vouchers as part of his coronavirus crusade to persuade people to get on their bike.
The first vouchers will be available online late on Tuesday in England and the prime minister is also pledging more spending on cycle lanes, training and bikes on prescription from GPs.
The aim of the bike repair vouchers is to encourage people to get their old bicycles out of the shed, fixed and safe to ride, so they cycle to the shops or see friends rather than use public transport.
Launched 24 hours after Mr Johnson’s anti-obesity campaign, the fix-your-bike voucher scheme is the latest move by the PM in his drive to boost cycling to get the nation slimmer and fitter.
“From helping people get fit and healthy and lowering their risk of illness, to improving air quality and cutting congestion, cycling and walking have a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face,” he said.
“But to build a healthier, more active nation, we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels.
“That’s why now is the time to shift gears and press ahead with our biggest and boldest plans yet to boost active travel – so that everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling.”
Mr Johnson, who cycled to work as London mayor and as a backbench MP, has long been a champion of cycling, launching major projects in the capital in his time as mayor.
It has been claimed that since his brush with death from coronavirus the prime minister has become “obsessed” with “getting Britain on its bike” and encouraging more people to cycle to work.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who is returning from his Spanish holiday and going into quarantine, says the government is also increasing access to e-bikes for older people and those not so fit.
“We’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a shift in attitudes for generations to come and get more people choosing to cycle or walk as part of their daily routine,” said Mr Shapps.
“The measures we’ve set out today in this revolutionary plan will do just that. No matter your age, how far you’re travelling, or your current confidence on a bike – there are plans to help and support you.
“By helping to fix your bike – or get an electrically powered one; by increasing storage space at stations, on trains and buses; and by introducing more ways to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe, we’re making it easier than ever to make active travel part of your daily life, and leading England to become a great cycling nation.”
The government says that due to overwhelming demand for cycle shops’ services during the coronavirus pandemic, vouchers will be released in batches in order to help manage capacity across participating stores.
The first 50,000 will be available just before midnight on Tuesday on a first come, first served basis to those who register online. Children’s bikes will also covered by the scheme.
People will be able to use their voucher, with a limit of two per household, at any participating repair shop, with the voucher remaining valid for two months.
The government claims £50 will typically cover the cost of a standard service and the replacement of a basic part such as an inner tube or cable.
The scheme can be used to pay for service and parts required to make a bike safe but will not be allowed for buying accessories and equipment.
Other government proposals include cycle training for every child and adult who wants it, accessible through schools, local authorities or direct from cycle training schemes.
More cycle racks will be installed at transport hubs, town and city centres and public buildings and funding will go towards new bike hangars and on-street storage for people who don’t have space to keep a bike at home.
The government says its cycling revolution, which will be funded by the £2bn of new money announced earlier this year for walking and cycling, will also include:
- Thousands of miles of protected cycle routes in towns and cities, with higher standards overseen by a new inspectorate, Active Travel England, and improving the National Cycle Network;
- Strengthening the Highway Code to better protect pedestrians and cyclists, raising safety standards on lorries and working with the police and retailers to tackle bike theft;
- Powers for local authorities to crack down on traffic offences and increased powers for metro mayors over road networks;
- Reducing “rat runs”, closing side streets, reducing traffic by schools, 12 new cycle-friendly “Mini Hollands” and at least one zero-emission city centre;
- Encouraging GPs to prescribe cycling, with patients able to access bikes through their local surgery; and
A new national e-bike programme, to help those who are older, have to travel long distances or are less fit to take up cycling
The PM’s cycling crusade is called “Gear Shift: A bold vision for cycling and walking” and the proposed “Mini Holland” schemes are based on those already introduced in three outer London boroughs.
According to a recent Glasgow University study, cycling to work is associated with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer, a 46% lower risk of heart disease and a 41% lower risk of premature death, compared to a non-active commute.
The bike repair vouchers were first mentioned by Mr Shapps during a Downing Street coronavirus briefing on 23 May, when he said the initiative would be “available from next month”.
But the Department for Transport (DfT) said earlier this month it would only begin when maintenance shops could handle the expected spike in demand.
Halfords has said it has thousands of slots available each day for customers to bring their bike into stores to identify potential faults which could be rectified under the scheme.
The company’s chief executive Graham Stapleton said: “We think the government’s Fix Your Bike voucher scheme will not only help individuals become more confident about keeping their bikes maintained, but will help speed up the cycling revolution.”
But the government’s cycling initiative was derided by Labour’s shadow cycling minister Kerry McCarthy.
“It’s been five months since the government first announced this funding for cycling in the spring budget, three months since Shapps’ cycling press conference and yet again all we have is a re-announcement,” she said.
“Tory ministers have dragged their feet and failed to seize the opportunity this crisis has posed. Although funding is welcome, cyclists will be rightly concerned about how long it is going to take to actually put these plans into practice.
“No one wants a return to the levels of pollution and congestion we saw before the lockdown began, but, if we fail to make our roads safe enough to cycle, people will revert back to taking the car.”
The website to sign up for the voucher is: https://fixyourbikevoucherscheme.est.org.uk/