Department for Transport wastes £3 million on cycle route planner

Our dear democratic government has cocked up again with a bungled and expensive effort to create an online cycle route planner, costing the British taxpayer a mere £2.4 million.

The idea was doomed from the get-go. Some bright spark thought at the Department for Transport thought up the plans in 2007. Since then the project has cost exactly £2,383,739 over three years, with a further £400,000 on top to make the software useable with the Cycling for Schools programme.

After all the cash flung at it, the site has so far only managed to cover 18 areas in the UK: Aylesbury, Blackpool, Bristol, Cambridge, Colchester, Darlington, Derby, Exeter, Lancaster, Greater Leicester, Leighton Buzzard, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Oxford, Peterborough, Shrewsbury, Stoke-on-Trent and Worcester. The cost to cover a small town was £2,000.

The reason the project made little sense to begin with is that a better offer, CycleStreets, has already been around for a while: in fact a year before the government backed effort. CycleStreets was started by enthusiasts who have a genuine passion for cycling and bikes, and not by clueless suits in Whitehall. Far from two and a half million pounds, the largest grant CycleStreets has been given is £3,200 from Cambridge City Council. CycleStreets covers all of the UK, compared to the 18 the DfT has managed.

Not only does CycleStreets do what the function aimed to, but better, Google has now put cycling routes into its Google Transit service in the US, and is going to do the same in Europe. Google is known to be pretty good at maps. With one comprehensive website available to the public and Google getting in on the game, what sort of excuse does the DfT have?

We phoned up and asked how the department could possibly justify the expenses when a similar service is already freely available. Because this is a run-up to the election, we were told, the Department was unable to comment and we were fobbed off.

The documents were revealed under Politician’s bane, the Freedom of Information Act, on