back to article Government wastes millions on redundant cycle route planner

The government has wasted millions of pounds setting up a sub-optimal journey planner for cyclists – when an online system set up by enthusiasts provides wider coverage and more functionality at a fraction of the cost incurred by the Department for Transport (DfT). On the day that Alistair Darling and would-be Chancellor …


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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    £400k for the *upgrade*

    This is from the government that already has access to *all* the OS map data in the UK to begin with.

  2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Telling it like it is with IT leading the Charge of the Light Brigade?

    "but due to the strictures of election reporting they are not allowed to answer our questions for at least a month."

    How very cynically convenient as we get to hear of more airy fairy projects to divert attention away from default systemic failure and incompetence, or am I being misguided?

    I was going to say "You couldn't make it up" but that is exactly what is done every day. Sadly though is it made up be fools and their professional helpers for a compounding, by media mainstreaming minnows masquerading as moguls, of outrageous fortune, making every day, a Brown Nose Day.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    these lot

    are going to be 'on their bike' soon enough!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      the next lot aren't going to do anything different...

      change of government is simply a change of the tits who appears on the TV, the tens of thousands of civil servants are responsible for the real work*...

      * read - stupidity

  4. Chris 182

    Gathering and disseminating ...

    Shouldn't that be gathering, manipulating and disseminating?!

  5. breakfast Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    So true

    This is why the government should be handing out OS data and similar to citizens, because there are many simple projects that people can then put together with data like this because they want to or it is useful and that don't need massive government grants to create or run.

    In fact for content like this, the government could be best to be sharing data and maybe offering a hand with hosting costs to some eligible projects then leaving well alone...

  6. Elmer Phud

    crap from the start

    When non-cyclists start producing routes for cyclists they show they haven't a bloody clue about getting about in a bike. Best evidence is Boris' (No, he may have a bike but there's no way the floppy-haired twat is a cyclist. See also Davey-Boy Cameron) famous 'Blue Paint' where cycling superhighways magically appear with a bit of paint on the road.

    Others include the huge misconception that Sustrans does cycle routes, they don't -- they do 'leisure routes' so traffic is reckoned to be a lot slower and doesn't usually have cycle-specific planning.

    Now that riders have got all sorts of GPS devices to record thier routes it's fairly easy to upload to sites where the data comes from actual riders riding actual bikes on actual roads and paths and tracks - not some arsehole who only drives and plans bikes routes by SatNav.

    1. Dave 3

      Lay off Boris!

      I think Boris's 'superhighways' is a very good idea.

      When you're cycling long distances, what you really want is an equivalent of 'A' roads, and that can be achieved with a few road signs. Sustrans national cycle network is one example, Boris' superhighways another.

      1. paulc

        National cycle network!!!

        "Sustrans national cycle network is one example,"

        it's a total joke... you only have to see the meandering route that Route 41 takes through Gloucestershire to realise that the cyclist is being paid lip service to... the official route has you weaving around all over the place crossing and recrossing major junctions with absolutely no consideration given to safety or reduction of Journey time... I'm convinced it was made as long and tortuous as possible in order to maximise the length of cycle lane used for it... no attempt was made to actually segregate the cyclists, just random patches of red lanes and dual purpose cycle lanes on the footpaths... all done to claim a subsidy from the EU no doubt

        no one actually uses it because 1) very few know it exists and 2) those few who do know of it know it's completely unfit for purpose...

      2. Elmer Phud


        The BorisWays are mainly blue paint on existing roads and some signs that lure innocent cyclists in to thinking they are somehow safer there than elsewhere. Along with this is the lack of buy-in from local authorities to allow the paint to be sprayed on thier roads - Boris only has access to TfL roads. He basically stole the LCN+ idea and screwed it over with bluewash.

        A careful look at the plans shows it rather well.

        Sustrans 'cycle' routes frequently have obstacles designed to prevent motorbikes from using the path but they also prevent wheelchair users, cyclists with panniers, trailers, kiddie trailers, trikes and tandems from using the paths. Early attempts to incorporate things such as bends instead of tight corners and places where pedestrians and cyclists won't clash never got off the ground. The Sustrans scheme is to provide leisure routes but this has turned in to cycle routes that are not much use for cycling in some places.

        If anyone was really, really serious about this they would be getting better facilities for having bikes on trains. The removal of spaces for bikes has led to conflict between cyclists and non-cyclists while there is a greater need for bike on trains with the proliferation of folding bikes.

    2. Haku


      "When non-cyclists start producing routes for cyclists they show they haven't a bloody clue about getting about in a bike."

      Too bloody right, it's this same group of idiots who 'design' most of the structures for us to lock our bikes to when in town/supermarkets - they haven't got a fricking clue about making it easier for us to lock our bikes to them because they don't even own a bike, the ones in my local town were designed to be asthetically pleasing rather than functional (a lamppost is easier to lock my bike to!).

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Paris Hilton

      One Way ---->

      "When non-cyclists start producing routes for cyclists they show they haven't a bloody clue about getting about in a bike"

      First: I'm sure you meant "on a bike", not unless you have a very big bike.

      Second: maybe that's because the non-cyclists expect the cyclists to obey the law and respect such things as one way streets and pedestrian only areas.

      Paris, she like riding as well.

      1. Graham Marsden

        Lost way...

        Oh dear, once again we get the "some cyclists are idiots, so we don't need to respect *any* of them argument"

        Yes, I agree, speaking as a cyclist, there are some pillocks who give the rest of us a bad name, but that's no excuse for ridiculous cycle routes that were designed by people who don't understand that if you have to keep stopping and starting (and even dismounting if you go by the silly signs!) you are wasting energy.

        It's then not simply a matter of putting your foot on the gas, it's putting your foot on the pedal and having to recover momentum that you lost due to a badly designed route which is mostly intended to keep bikes out of the way of cars, rather than actually be any use to the cyclist!

  7. lead352


    To add some balance to this article, try actually using the cycleplanner website. The location search/dropdown menus don't work, and the route it just suggested to get from North to Central London was frankly bizarre. If the goverment's actually works, then it might not be so redundant.

    1. wookey

      It works for me

      I've used the cycleplanner quite often (usually in Cambridge but also in norfolk). I've found it to give very good results.

      Do please report any problems you find. It is still in 'beta' and the developers really do want to know of any problems you had.

      On the wider point, this is clearly representative of the major disconnect between government and grassroots ways of getting IT done. Note that hte 5-6 grand dev cost is not a complete picture. The cyclestreets developers tried hard to find a bit of funding to help them justify the huge time investment but so far have had very limited success. If they'd had 20-30 grand or so that would have been plenty. The 5-6 they have had has meant development on a shoestring. But of course 30 grand is an awful lot better than 2.3 million. Mysociety has been a useful start on getting govt money inbto this sort of work. A lot more of that would no doubt reap impressive rewards.

      Full disclosure: I was cajoled into being assistant sysadmin for the cyclestreets server. About once a year I do something useful :-)

    2. Jason Adams 1
      Thumb Up


      The balance here overlooks one important detail - if the route is unclear or incorrect, the OpenStreetMap is, well, open to modification by its users. Take some time to fix the underlying data for the benefit of everyone :)

  8. Greg J Preece

    Election reporting

    "but due to the strictures of election reporting they are not allowed to answer our questions for at least a month."

    Not heard of this before. Could you elaborate?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      For the interested

      The base case is the circumstances, called "purdah" inside the tent, that occur once an election has been called.

      The Civil Service response to any enquiry is limited to a report of the facts (yes there is a website) rather than the policy (why there is a website)


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      chinese walls thing

      Probably true, its certainly correct that once an election is called local gov employees are not supposed to talk with councillors etc.. as they are not supposed to show any bias to any particular party. So although it may sound convenient it is true.

      Note the above is based on a chat with the wife the other day who used to work for local gov and I was only half listening (as you do) but there is a legal term similar to "Chinese walls" for it :)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    UK uncivil servantry strikes again!

    And that dear people, is why Whitehall, regional and local mandarins have to go.

    I'd top the report with observation that the costs and inefficiencies involved can be extrapolated out inferring and implying a humungous level of waste of public funds.

    I'd also guess that 95% of the costs went in administrative layers with the 5% front lines doers receiving less than £120k hence the poor level of information.

    You see, unfortunately, the main drive in publicly funded initiatives is for staff to secure their own positions and to increase their own salaries and that is a practice over many a year.

    It is important that all publicly funded initiatives state quite clearly and unambiguously the level of funds spent on administration and the level of funds actually doing what the initiative was designed and intended to do.

    I could go on but I won't.

    Uh - ok - a parting shot, let's introduce the notion of a "Cuckoo model".

    In the cuckoo model organisations receiving public money resource it in terms of who shouts the loudest.

    That is usually managers, accountants, employees, trade or sector practices with no voice to the service user.

    The Tories, should they be elected to government, have great scope to whittle away huge levels of over-management and equally huge layers of over enthusiastic income attracted by that over management.

    Note that the problem persists whatever government is elected.

    The practices observed in public sector IT procurement are exactly the same as those used by UK (un)civil servantry its just that the UK (un)civil servantry does not attract eye watering attention and does what it does with regular and monotonous consistency year on year on year ...

    Excellent articles el reg! That typifies 21st century practices in UK (un)civil servantry.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Oh. Hahahahahahaha. Wanker.

  10. Peter2 Silver badge

    A title is required.

    >"where end-users have already put in the ground work, central IT should make use of what has already been done, rather than try to reinvent the wheel."

    Personally, I agree wholeheartedly with this.

    However, having briefly suffered (on a contract) as a junior manager with the civil service I'm pretty sure that an objection would be raised that the civil service can't promote any particular service for fear of upsetting the market by favouring any particular service. (so they'll launch their own at massive cost and upset the market that way instead. They aren't required to be consistent!)

    1. OSC


      ... this adminstration at least has always promoted one brand of aoftware at the expense of others. For example (true about 12 months ago) to join the management trainee scheme, (become a Fast Stream candidate) you need to use Microsoft software.

      Further, the objection is the classic argument of convenience, to make it clear that any and every provider (with all the leaden caveats) can do something, obviates the problem associated with first movers.

      Moreover, even where someone has thought of something already, government can use its size advantage to compete (unfairly? I leave that for someone else to judge)

      UK Online (remember that) was determined to compete with (four blokes and a dog, or something, at the time) and tried to provide its own change of address service. (We're still waiting, I believe it's now simmering along as "Tell Us Once")

      It did point to the iammoving site (white labelled into quite a lot of Local Authorities today) but with the most dire health warning just in case you intended to use it.

  11. Jonathan

    we need tory MP blokie..

    back here to say "see, thats the sort of thing i was talking about, but everyone only seemed to care about saying iPhone was open source"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, what should they do?

    Probably not do anything, but to imply they should use other peoples work. They would have been told to Foff. They could not promote this service, as Peter2 pointed out. They could not try the same approch. Could you imagine the mayhem it would cause. It would be attacked by scamers spamers and people "having a laugh" left right and centre.

  13. Francis Irving

    Worth helping CycleStreets

    @lead352 "the route it just suggested to get from North to Central London was frankly bizarre"

    Please do let CycleStreets people know about routes that are bizarre - and/or help fix the underlying data.

    The main advantage of CycleStreets is that it is a community project. The data (stored in OpenStreetMap) is open, so we can all collaborate to make it generate good cycle routes for everyone. Not going to happen with TransportDirect, where you have no influence over the output.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Truth is stranger still?

    The truth is that UK (un)civil servantry will not follow on from, further commission or use a presently available business model that might exist because it will import raw, new talent into the sector and we can't have that now can we!

    Imagine it: raw, innovative talent usurping and bringing about or threatening existing career tramlines.

    So, I guess you are right but not for the reasons you state.

    Such an initiative will be sunk not by threat from without but by present danger within.

    It will be managed to flop and to flop at vastly increased cost (see, I told you that our way is best Minister)?

  15. Rogerborg

    Indeed, many cycle routes are a joke

    They're lines drawn on a map to meet a quota. We've all been down them; 6 feet of lane ending in a railing or gravel pit, routes that have you criss-crossing dual carriageways every 200 yards.

    Spend the money on sending actual cyclists out to select or improve the routes on the ground, rather than nobbing around with maps like a bunch of wargame nerds.

    1. tomdue

      Not quite

      I've just had a quick look at the Foi response and to be fair it's clear the gvt one is doing surveying, but based on ordnance survey references, which I guess means that our tax money is being spent on something we would have to buy back to be able to use! Shame it's not open data. And the costs are pretty high though.

  16. OSC

    Open networks, open standards, open markets

    If we believe that given the opportunity the Conservatives implement the following

    (last two pages of a long document on energy and climate change available here:

    (I've excised text for brevity and to stay on topic)


    This will be achieved in three main ways:

    • Open networks – In making decisions on the renewal of transmission and distribution network infrastructure, our priority – as in the case of smart meter roll-out – will be to establish a flexible open platform for ongoing technological and business development.

    • Open standards – In establishing common technical and non-technical standards for the industry, our default position will be to play a supporting rather than a directing role. There may, however, be occasions on which direct involvement is necessary. For instance, where governments are involved in agreeing international standards; or if established industry players attempt to use proprietary standards to restrict competition and consumer choice.

    • Open markets – Wherever Government influences the shape of markets for smart grid technology and services, they are open the widest range of providers. This means that the measures we enact to rebuild Britain’s energy security [...] will be structured to enable smart grid based solutions to compete on equal terms with other options.

    Smart grids need smart policy


    This will create an opportunity to equip the machinery of government with the expertise necessary to contribute usefully to the transition from dumb grid to smart grid. This is not because we expect government to make the detailed technical and business decisions that will shape the future of energy in the 21st century, but because we need a government capable of understanding and responding to the needs of the innovators, entrepreneurs and investors who will be making those decisions.

    That means learning all the lessons from government’s role in the development of other hi-tech infrastructure sectors, above all, our information and communication networks. Whether as a Whitehall department, a facilitator of investment or a policy implementation body, the smart energy enterprises of the 21st century need to have faith in government as a arms-length, objective and, above all, informed source of support.

    The energy internet

    The technology writer, George Gilder observed that “in every industrial revolution some key factor of production is drastically reduced in cost… relative to the previous cost to achieve that function, the new factor is virtually free.”304 In the 21st century, that factor of production is the processing power and communications bandwidth provided by information technology – where costs per unit are falling at an exponential rate. In this context, the significance of the smart grid is twofold:

    • Firstly, it allows us to apply an increasingly abundant resource (IT) to improving the productivity with which we use an increasingly constrained resource (energy).

    • Secondly, it represents a breakthrough for our use of IT networks – from the virtual world in which only data was networked to the intelligent networking of physical commodities like energy.

    This won’t just encompass power grids, but also other utilities such as water and even transportation systems. Bringing intelligence to infrastructure will have game-changing implications – even for those things, which due to their unconnected components, we don’t even regard as infrastructure. For instance, the intelligent networking of cars is already underway thanks to the spread of satnav systems, which cut fuel costs by reducing navigational errors and could save their owners even more by incorporating live traffic information and automatically computing routes to avoid congestion.

    Consumers, however, are entitled to ask “where will this all end?” and “who gets the benefit?” The answer depends on the choice we make as a nation between two very different models:

    • The hyper-bureaucratic model in which IT is used to reinforce top-down power structures, enhancing and extending the control that politicians and their corporate clients have over our lives

    • Or the post-bureaucratic model, in which on the basis of intelligently shared information, not top-down control, millions of independent actors freely work together in an endless variety of ways to the benefit of all


    1. Gordon 10
      IT Angle

      Techno-utopian babble

      Will believe it when I see it. The same cut in material production and distribution costs is matched by a significant increase in the cost of maintaining and supporting the technology that supports it.

      Whilst there will be significant change it will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

  17. Gordon Stewart

    Cost breakdown

    Did the FOI response include a breakdown of the costs, or just the total amount?

    It would be very interesting to see how they could possibly spend so much on this...

    1. spaceyjase

      Break down of costs

      Yes, although posted in the linked article's comments:

  18. tomdue

    Shame, this happens all the time

    Yet another case of big government IT projects rather than mandating open standards and releasing data. I've just tried the Cyclestreets website, and it's clear they've got a lot done on a tiny amount of council grant money. It's not perfect but as a community project using open data, I'm sure it'll be pretty sparky over time. One route I tried was pretty much exactly what I do to work each day - another route near where my parents live up north was not so good, but it looks like one particular road isn't in their data yet, so it took me on a longer route. Good start, and I hope they get some funding!! The place searched worked pretty good for me ok btw.

  19. Mark_W

    They even compete with themselves

    I love the CycleStreets software, and use it and BikeRouteToaster regularly.

    However, this isn't the first time the government re-invent the already functional rotating rolling object called the Wheel.

    You can get an iPhone app from the Department for Transport that shows you where there are traffic issues. However, you can also get a much better and functionally rich app from the Highways Agency. So that is two sections of the government developing essentially the same software. I wonder how much money got wasted doing that??

  20. z0mb13e
    Paris Hilton

    £2 Mill on a web site?

    Seriously WTF! In fact WTFF! (What the Fucking Fuck)

    Someone somewhere, is feeding someone important, gold covered shit.

    Paris because you would get a lot more for your money if you spunked the cash on her...

  21. Captain TickTock


    Looks like could do with some of that money for a server upgrade.

    Or is it just me that finds it slow today?

  22. YP


    Just tried my old commute on the gov site and got told it can only plan journeys in a limited number of areas. My route, across London! The cycle streets one gave a reasonable route, apart from wehen it suggested I take the A40.

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Check those numbers

    Just viewed

    Feasibility study £91k

    Software licenses £81k/year

    Data management £292k (this year and rising)

    Data collection £548k (this year and rising)

    Project management £115k (this year and falling)

    Love to find out how those numbers compare with CycleStreets. In particular I would expect the bulk of the "data" is from the OS database.

    It's clear that a crowd sourced planner *should* be able to substantially reduce those costs, using a different updating approach. But this system only covers *certain* areas, not the whole UK.

  24. growls

    Bah Humbug

    As long as the painted on lane leads to the post office to make those idiots on bikes pay road tax I couldnt care less if their lanes lead.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Oh gods, not again...

      1) Road Tax was discontinued after WWII, you now pay "Vehicle Excise Duty", ie taxed on your ownership of a vehicle.

      2) Said ownership is based, now, on the amount of pollution a vehicle causes. How much pollution does a bicycle put out?

      3) The administration of such a scheme would cost much more than any revenue generated unless bikes paid similar amounts of VED as other vehicles, even though they cause less pollution and less damage to the roads and take up less space as well.

      4) etc etc etc in response to a tired old argument...

  25. Andrew Oakley
    Black Helicopters

    DAMN YOU, disgusting FREETARDS

    Surprised to see this Reg hack not adhering to the editorial line that FREE IS BAD, M'KAY? I expect John will be sent for capitalist re-education camp in the Arizona desert by the end of the day.

    Don't these freetards know that almost half a dozen civil service contractor's girlfriends may be relying on the income from this two million pound government overspend nobody ever thinks of the henchmen's families etc. etc. etc.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No one mentioned the base .... which is a special view of ....

  27. Jelliphiish
    Paris Hilton

    mandarin's interests

    MPs are supposed to register interests..

    Do the Mandarins in the upper hierarchy have to do this?

    Also, ..all these cuts/redundancies that we know are coming.. the smart Orange Bureaucrats will be positioning themselves to be the directors of the outsourced providers and not having to be answerable..

    I wonder how many already are indirectly connected to the IT pork barrel-mining industry as it stands?

    (with apologies for the truly awful stream of unconscious grammar)

    Paris: insert pork-related pun if you like.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's how much.

    "2) Said ownership is based, now, on the amount of pollution a vehicle causes. How much pollution does a bicycle put out?"

    If you measure it by the same standards as a car, quite a lot. I'd say ten grams of CO2/km. (25km/h average speed, heavy breathing)

    Not much but it's not "not at all".

    Or do you want to use different standards for different vehicles?

    1. Graham Marsden

      That depends...

      ... do you want to start requiring joggers and athletes to be licenced as well given that their CO2 output will be higher that everyone else's?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Between funding provider and front line worker

    Between funding provider (Government with your money) and front line service provider there is a lot of fat that can and should be culled.

    And just as an afterthought.

    To me, and I admit I may be wrong, there is a whole lot of difference between Government (elected members forming a governing body) and the bodies usually used to deliver Government policy (usually (un)civil servantry) so maybe the headline could just as well read:

    Government commissioned project badly let down by poor cost management.

    Civil servants cost the country a lot...

    Sure, the Government signed the cheques but the way these things work there tend to be bounds and limits. Not every Government minister investigates the value obtained in a 20 GBP cheque.

    I'd guess that the unofficial upper limit was set at 3 million by the people working on the project but Government minister was probably told it will be over one million in the proposal business plan.

    I'd also guess that some low level cheques are smuggled through with hope they will not be detected.

    Like I espouse: UK (un)civil servantry strikes again!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    To continue...

    The Government really act in capacity as payroll service provider.

    And I'd guess that something along lines of Government wishing information about cycle tracks should be made available to the people (after all the people is/are paying for it so might as well be informed about how to use it) = good idea!

    Get the executive body to draw up a plan of action, steel that up into a proposal with a business plan.

    It returns to Government minister for approval. Note that Government minister does not appoint staff, interview prospective employees for the project merely requests it is done as it accords with Government policy.

    Now for the shady bit: notice that the failure is described as a Government failure?

    That is another subtle slight of hand often used by UK (un)civil servantry.

    I am sure that the present enemy within UK is UK (un)civil servantry.

    Not "capitalist" concerns, not "communist" trade unions but straight forward UK (un)civil servantry.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Got it!

    I think this about sums it up nicely : sociopaths

    Apparently some thinking is along lines of intraspecies predators

    see wikipedia for more

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