Someone’s had a COP of courage

He is electric, can we Bee electric too? Andy Burnham seems to think so, announcing ambitious plans this week for the Greater Manchester city region to become the first in the country to deliver a fully carbon-neutral transport network.

Announced at the end of a carbon-neutral commute with Transport Commissioner Chris Boardman - a trip starting at Wythenshawe Interchange, taking in an electric bus to Fallowfield followed by a Bee bike to Oxford Road - the network plan includes full electrification of the bus network within the next decade as well as the UK’s largest cycling and walking network. 

One message I’ll be taking back to COP26 this week is we’ve got to show how the drive to a net zero society can actually benefit people and reduce the cost of living.

The morning’s announcement also included a nod to the Greater Manchester clean air zone, the largest of its kind outside of London, which Burnham was keen to point out would not be a congestion charge.

Mayor Of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham And Transport Comissioner Chris Boardman Announcing The Plan To Make Manchesters Public Transport Network The First Carbon Neutral One In The Uk
Andy Burnham and Chris Boardman fresh from their morning cycle

Travelling together in electric dreams

This week’s announcement follows Andy Burnham’s presence at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last week, with the Mayor of Greater Manchester returning to the conference again this week for further events.

In his latest recent Evening Standard column, Burnham described the summit as a turning point that risks going in the wrong direction, criticising both international leaders and Insulate Britain protesters for “burning public support for climate action rather than building it.”

“One message I’ll be taking back to COP26 this week is we’ve got to show how the drive to a net-zero society can actually benefit people and reduce the cost of living,” Burnham said.

The New Manchester Bee Network Travel Options Which Were Paraded Outside Of The Tory Conference In Manchester
The new Manchester Bee network line-up with extra emphasis on integration

Back in Manchester, the message was one of big plans, with aims for a bus fleet that would be 50 percent electric by 2027 and fully electric within the decade, with funding secured as part of the recent Budget announcement in parliament last month.

Both Boardman and Burnham emphasized the integrated nature of the network, highlighting the potential for journeys that could incorporate both cycling and buses as part of daily commutes as well as the Metrolink tram, which already runs on 100% renewable energy.

Their own journey which began at 7am and finished up on Oxford Road at around 9am left some room for improvement, Burnham himself admitting: “It wasn’t bad. I think you could see it could be better.”

Burnham also highlighted the clean air benefits of the electric buses to communities across Manchester as well as the noise reduction that would come with the new fleet.

The Handlebars And Scanning Part Of The New Bee Network Bikes Which Will Be Available In Manchester
POV: you, saving the planet one pedal at a time

Will the Bee bikes end up in the canal?

Central to the carbon-neutral Greater Manchester transport scheme will be the new Bee Network cycle hire bikes, which were on show as part of the announcement. The public trial, which begins on 18 November, will see the bikes available in select locations close to Oxford Road, the University of Salford and Media City. The full scheme, which is run by cycle hire provider Beryl, will launch in June 2022.

Talking up the bikes, Transport Commissioner Chris Boardman said: “We’ve taken the time to look at exactly how the scheme should work and have invested in ensuring the bikes and infrastructure are high quality and there are the resources available to manage it effectively on a day-to-day basis, delivering a great level of customer service.”

When questioned about the obvious (will the bikes end up in the canal?) Boardman emphasised lessons had been learned from the previous Mobike scheme, highlighting the new bikes' robust 4-inch steel locks, CCTV monitored cycle hire stations, geofenced locking if docking stations are full and GPS tracking.

A Manchester Bee Network Bike Which Will Form Part Of The Carbon Neutral Vision For Greater Manchester Transport
A bee network bike by cycle hire provider Beryl, heavier than a Mobike thankfully

Boardman also highlighted service improvements, with a dedicated on-street team committed to finding missing bikes within 24 hours, with a standard response time of an hour for bikes that are not docked or reported to be in disrepair. A stolen bike alert system has also been agreed with Greater Manchester Police.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a conversation surrounding the potential of cycling infrastructure turns into a checklist of reasons why bikes will hopefully not end up in a canal, but Boardman was also keen to point out that if you wanted to steal one you would literally have to drag it, as the new bikes are noticeably heavier than their predecessors.

Let's hope the vandals aren't as ambitious as the Mayor's policies.

Follow Davey on Twitter and Instagram: dbretteats

Read next: The A56 cycling lane: 'a scheme that satisfies no one'

Read again: Andy Burnham on Manchester's climate goals - 'I see this as an economic opportunity for us'

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