Friday, 22 June 2012

Bring back the bike budget

In Victoria, the Baillieu government has been making cutbacks left right and centre, in line with it's ruthless new budget (handed down in May). The education sector has been hit hard, there have been significant TAFE funding cuts and many friends and family have been directly impacted. And now, the Baillieu government has cut all bike infrastructure funding - about $20 million worth. Baillieu hasn't halved the budget; he's cut it fully... to zero. It is a drastic move, and one that has made me, and many other Victorians angry.

As we know, cycling popularity is growing along with our population. This creates increased need for bike infrastructure, and things had been going along well. Funding has been steadily increasing over the past few years, and now, nothing. More and more people are now commuting by bicycle, I myself have noticed a significant increase on my own regular routes over the last few years. We are now a significant minority. A minority that pays it's taxes, and deserves money to be spent on us.  

One of the frustrating things for me is that we still don' know why. What is the master plan for this Liberal government? What are their plans? Why the cuts in some sectors and the blatant overspending in others? This is a government of contradictions - and no one, especially Baillieu, is willing to explain the master plan to us - the taxpayers.

And come on - it's ONLY $20 million, by national and international finance standards this is a paltry amount.

Bicycle Network Victoria has been leading the fight against the budget cutbacks, speaking to media, getting information about the loss of funding out to it's 50,000 members, and generally doing a comendable job of letting the government know that they have made an extremely bad decision.

A rally was held on Thursday morning on the steps of parliament to take a stand against the cuts, and I wished I could of been there... but the cold and the rain got the better of me, and an extra half an hour of snoozetime ended up being the better option. I bet there were many others in the same boat - take note BNV! Make your rallies at lunchtime or in the evening!

Anyhow, this by far the end of the matter. We must stand united against these cuts and show the government that they have failed their bike riding constituents. Photo of the rally and BNV media release/article included below - all courtesy of the BNV website.

Thousands of Victorian bike riders will jam the steps of Parliament later this month to condemn the Baillieu Government’s decision to cut funding for bike infrastructure to zero.

Bike riders of all ages and abilities from across the political spectrum are planning to send the loudest and clearest possible message to the Baillieu Government that bike funding must be reinstated.

Bicycle Network Victoria is inviting every person who rides a bike and cares about the safety of our streets to attend the before-work rally on Thursday, 21 June to express their outrage at the Baillieu snub.

The 2012 Budget papers show the government has allocated zero funding to the VicRoads Bicycle Program. (Some already-announced commitments from previous budgets are still trickling through. The Baillieu Government is trying to hide behind these carry over items.)

No high priority infrastructure projects planned for next year have been funded and desperately needed lanes, signals, intersections and other urgent safety improvements have been scrapped. The decision will increase the level of risk for existing riders and stop new riders joining in an activity that improves community health and cuts congestion.

“We’re urging all bike riders to gather on the steps of Parliament to tell the Baillieu Government that 20 years of bi-partisan support for bike investment cannot be abandoned,” Bicycle Network CEO, Harry Barber said today.

“The massive switch to bike transport in the last decade has significantly reduced road congestion and public transport overload, and all Victorians have benefited.

“More and more Victorians are riding – 1.1 million every week and rising – and a competent government would move to ensure that facilities kept pace.

Bi-partisan support wrecked

"But the Baillieu Government has ignored decades of steady progress by both sides of politics and scrapped funding to the highly-effective VicRoads Bicycle Program.

"The 1.1 million Victorians who ride a bike each week no doubt felt bewildered and abandoned when the news first came through – now they’re finding their voices to express their outrage.

"We want to tell the Baillieu Government that doing nothing on bike infrastructure is not an option," Mr Barber said.

The one year shutdown of the bike infrastructure program rips more than $20 million away from bike facilities investment. And as many studies show money invested in bikes actually reduces the burden on the budget and taxpayers. So rather than saving money, the government's decision is costing us money.

By our calculations, by the end of next financial year the Baillieu Government will be in the red to bike riders to the tune of $25 million.

Cuts will cost, not save

Ultimately this expenditure gap will have to be made up. This will be costly for the government as steady continuous investment is always much more efficient that programs that lurch to a stop and then splutter to a start.

This means the government will need to commit at least $33 million to the VicRoads Bicycle Program in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial years.

"The Baillieu Government's decision to run a bike funding deficit will be costly in terms political support and it will end up costing them more financially than they think they have saved," Mr Barber said.

"The government seems blind to the growing numbers of riders on the streets, are ignoring the number of people that want to join in but are waiting for appropriate facilities to appear and can’t grasp the unique ability of bikes to improve the carrying-capacity of our road network.

“It just isn’t possible to jam more cars down many of Melbourne’s already-jammed roads, and where it is the cost would prohibitive. But what we can do for relative peanuts is move thousands more people down existing roadways just by installing appropriate bike facilities. Thousands are already riding, thousands more want to ride but are waiting for the Government to act – Mr Baillieu, his Government and his zero-bike Budget are letting the Victorians down.

"It’s inevitable the government will come to its senses and get back on track, but it has burned up a huge amount of credibility and goodwill—it will be some time before their claims to be good transport managers will be taken seriously again.”

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