The UK government has announced a £2bn ($2.4bn) programme of road and rail repairs, promising to fix around 11 million potholes.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement during the UK government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday as more drivers, rail passengers and cyclists return to Britain’s roads.
He also said he was “optimistic” about reaching a deal to keep Transport for London services running after London mayor Sadiq Khan warned it was close to running out of cash. But he signalled Tube fares could rise, warning it was “unfair” for taxpayers outside London to fund a rescue package.
He said the government had already accelerated many rail and road repairs during the lockdown, exploiting the absence of commuters to carry out work that normally causes significant disruption.
Shapps said the programme would see many road improvements including fixing potholes. A department for transport press release said it was “enough to tarmac a road stretching a third of the way around the earth.” Other plans include more priority bus lanes.
The minister also announced a new target for electric car charging points, vowing to ensure every motorway service station has at least six ultra-rapid charge points. “This means that many drivers will be able to charge their cars in around 15 minutes,” said the department’s statement.
Shapps also reiterated the government’s plea for the public to avoid non-essential travel amid reports of overcrowding on London’s Tube network earlier this week.
The announcement comes as the UK government faces growing calls to bail out the country’s regional transport networks. National rail and bus operators have already received extra funding support, but city mayors are demanding more cash for intra-city routes.
London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan claimed Transport for London (TfL), which runs the capital’s bus and Tube networks, would have to reduce services without an immediate bailout. TfL has already furloughed many staff.
“We’d have to reduce the bus services we provide, we’d have to reduce the Tube services we provide to save money,” he told LBC radio.
West Midlands’ Conservative mayor Andy Street also warned this week local rail, bus and tram services needed millions in long-term funding.
Both mayors said services had been reduced amid the lockdown, but services are due to be stepped up after the government urged many Brits to go back to work.
Transport providers have seen their revenue take a significant hit, but the return closer to normal levels of service will not plug the gap. Shapps said on Thursday services would run at 100% of capacity, but only have space for 10% of normal passengers because of social distancing requirements.
Asked about whether a rescue deal for TfL meant higher fares, Shapps replied: “It’s very important in providing a rescue package for TfL that we don’t end up in a situation where people from outside the capital are unfairly carrying the burden, by which I mean sadly …fares do end up having to rise with inflation.”
He said fare freezes, which London has seen in recent years, meant “more money isn’t going into the system and you can then have an unfair settlement.”
He said he was confident buses and trains would continue to run in the short-term despite Khan’s warning, but declined to offer any long-term promises on funding.