When Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced in early May that the government would be providing vouchers to people in England to help them meet the cost of getting long-neglected bicycles repaired, it sparked a lot of interest from road.cc readers – but there's still no confirmation of when they will launch, or how you can obtain one.
The vouchers were supposed to be available “from this month” but road.cc has learnt from the Department for Transport that details of the scheme are still being finalised and there is no confirmation of when it will come into effect.
On Saturday 9 May, Shapps delivered the government’s daily Downing Street press conference on the COVID-19 crisis and announced measures being taken to promote cycling and walking, including £250 million for emergency active travel infrastructure.
He also highlighted the benefits of the Cycle to Work scheme, as well as measures to help people get existing bikes back on the road.
“There has been a huge increase in people using the scheme, and we will work with employers to increase uptake further,” he said.
“And for those who may have an old bike in the shed, and want to get it back into a roadworthy condition, there will be a voucher scheme for bike repairs and maintenance.
“Plans are also being developed to boost bike fixing facilities.”
A fortnight later, hosting the press conference on Saturday 23 May, he gave further details of the scheme, confirming that half a million vouchers would be made available, to a value of £50 each.
He said: “Previously we announced the introduction of a scheme to help bring bicycles back to a roadworthy condition, relieving the pressure on public transport, and improving the nation’s health.”
The transport secretary said the voucher would be “available from next month” [ie June] and would “help up to half-a-million people drag bikes out of retirement.”
He was back at the Downing Street lectern on Thursday 4 June, and this time we learnt the voucher had a snazzy new name – “Fix Your Bike” – but still there were no details of how and when people could obtain them, only that they would be available “later this month.”
Our money would have been on the scheme being announced last week – it was Bike Week, after all – but on Friday, when Shapps was once again the cabinet minister giving the daily press conference, there was only the briefest of passing references to cycling.
When he initially announced the scheme and other measures to boost cycling in early May, Shapps highlighted the opportunity of “a ‘once in a generation’ change to the way people travel in Britain.”
That came just days after Boris Johnson, speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, had heralded a “new Golden Age for cycling.”
In the intervening weeks, campaigners including British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman, who is also cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester, have warned that the window to seize that opportunity was limited.
But with lockdown in England easing further as of yesterday as many non-essential retailers re-opened, and motor traffic levels heading back towards pre-lockdown measures, fears are that it may already have closed.
As the headline of an article in The Times today put it, ‘Hopes of a golden age for cycling have been punctured.’
Meanwhile, whenever the Fix Your Bike vouchers do become available, that raises the question of how long it would take for all those bikes to be mended?
Assuming full take-up and with perhaps a couple of thousand shops at most, ranging from independents to chains, providing bicycle repair and maintenance services, those half-million vouchers work out at 250 bikes per shop.
Given that bike shops that do undertake such services are already facing unprecedented demand, with customers typically needing to book a slot several weeks ahead to be able to bring their bikes in – many retailers do make exceptions for key workers such as NHS staff, however – even once the vouchers are available, people may face a lengthy wait to actually be able to use them.
Add in the fact that in many cases it will not be a case of a simple, regular check-up, with parts having to be ordered to get bikes roadworthy again, and it could be that by the time many people get their bikes in a fit condition to be able to ride them to work, traffic volumes may deter them from doing so.
Interest in the vouchers definitely exists – each time we mention them, cyclists new and old alike ask us for more details and when they can obtain them – so it would be a huge shame if the opportunity to get all those bikes, and riders, back on the road were missed.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.