Millions 'wasted' on online cycle route planner

British government spent £2.4m, but better alternative already exists

The British government has spent £2.4 million on an online cycle route planner – despite the fact that a more comprehensive system already exists and Google are set to launch a similar function in the UK.

The cost of the ‘find a cycle route’ feature on the Transport Direct website was revealed after Richard Taylor, of WhatDoTheyKnow.com, submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Since its conception in 2007, the Department for Transport (DfT) has spent £2,383,739 on the project. A further £400,000 of of government cash – from the DfT and Cycling England – has been earmarked to adapt the software for use with the Cycling for Schools programme.

Despite this massive expenditure, the system only covers 18 areas of the UK – Aylesbury, Blackpool, Greater Bristol, Cambridge, Colchester, Darlington, Derby, Exeter, Lancaster, Greater Leicester, Leighton Buzzard, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Oxford, Peterborough, Shrewsbury, Stoke-On-Trent and Worcester.

The addition of more areas will demand further funding, this time by local authorities, with costs ranging from £2,000 for a small town to £30 for a 'major urban area'. However, an alternative system exists which already covers the whole of the UK.

CycleStreets began life in 2006 as the Cambridge Cycling Campaign Journey Planner and has now expanded nationwide. Set up by enthusiasts, it has received minimal government funding – the largest grant received has been £3,200 from Cambridge City Council – yet offers more functions than the DfT system, including the ability to integrate with a national photomap or Google Earth.

Moreover, online giants Google have already added a cycling directions function to their Google Maps website in the US, and are hoping to follow suit in Europe.

On his website, Taylor decries the "waste" of public money, saying: "The figures given in the [DfT's] response can be used to calculate that each cycle route planned using the government website has cost the taxpayer about £57. I find these figures shocking and astonishing. It is an astronomical amount."

He continues: "The rationale for spending this kind of public money on the website is very questionable, not only given the existence of CycleStreets, but in light of Google’s move into the public transport with its Google Transit service which already offers walking, driving and perhaps some train directions in the UK, and covers cycling and a broad range of public transport options in many locations in the USA.

"I think there is a role for government in collecting and making mapping and transport data available ... I don’t think it is really necessary for government to get into the business of competing with those offering existing services."

The DfT say 23,608 cycling routes were planned on the site between December 2008 and February 2010.

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