Sheffield Chamber: help required for large numbers of people getting to and from work

22nd May 2020

Today (22nd May), Sheffield Chamber of Commerce attended a call with the Department for Transport, who were keen to hear from business outside London about the role of different modes of transport in getting people to and from work

Today (22nd May), Sheffield Chamber of Commerce attended a call with Baroness Vere and Chris Heaton-Harris, both Ministers at the Department for Transport. They were keen to hear from business outside London about the role of different modes of transport in getting people to and from work, as we emerge from lockdown.

With a bus, tram and rail system only capable of carrying 15% of its previous amount of passengers, there is a need to help large numbers of people to get to and from work without overwhelming our road network..

The primary solution is active travel - whether that be walking or cycling. The Chamber pointed out that it would not be possible to supply large numbers of bikes at short notice, as the supply chain could not cope and even old ones found in the shed would need maintenance, often from trained mechanics, who are also in short supply. The topography of Sheffield makes cycling more challenging than in some other cities and so we have to be realistic in assessing how much extra cycling is practical in the short term. Buying a bike or e-bike is a major item of expenditure for households dealing with increasingly tight budgets.

A lot of people live within 30 minutes of their workplace and, with better social distancing, a good number should be able to walk to work. The modified pavements and footways springing up in parts of Sheffield are part of that push. Further funding out of a national emergency active travel fund of £250 million should be flowing to local authorities shortly which may help to widen that programme...and the footways.

It was pointed out on the call, by the British Chambers of Commerce, that cycling and walking adaptations needed to take into account the needs of other road users, particularly commercial vehicles, so we can support cash strapped companies to recover without further undue impositions of cost.

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce pointed out that rapid support from central government to support the bus industry and our local tram system had been very welcome but looking forward, there was concern that we now had effectively ended up with national franchising of buses, because financial support was routed straight to operators. The ask was for future funding to be routed through local agencies, so it could be used to better meet the needs of local business. Baroness Vere noted that there would shortly need to be a national recovery plan for buses in that respect.

A number of those on the call pointed out the urgent need for businesses to co-ordinate to ensure staggered opening times, to ease the load on the road network, particularly in the morning peak.

There were huge challenges ahead but government is listening and trying to respond to calls from business. There is a sense of realism though that only so much can be done in the time we have to reboot the economy and plenty of opportunity for everyone to find reasons to complain about all aspects of the transport response. There is a big co-ordinated effort going on and it is important that, locally, public and private sector work together to get the best from the resources we have.

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