Sunday, October 5, 2008

City loses cycling subsidies

This is quite old news, happened in July, but still relevant, I believe, as it gives an insight to behind-the-scene problems that undermine the development of cycling in Budapest. Basically, Budapest had an opportunity to collect several million forints of FREE EU MONEY to improve cycling infrastructure but muffed the necessary paperwork and instead got much less than it could have.

I sent and resent an email four or five times seeking an explanation from City Hall, but never got a reply. That's partly why it's taken so long to post this entry. I'd wanted to include the city's side of the story but finally had to give up.

The following information was given to me by Ádám Bodor, the cycling affairs coordinator with the national government who's overseeing the distribution of this money to municipalities.

The money originates from a programme called the Cycling Hungary Programme that allocates HUF 56,000 million (EUR 250 million) in EU sudsidies from the Road Fund of the European Regional Development Fund. The money is for municipalities only, and targets bicycle road planning and construction between 2007-2013. Three quarters of it is for commuter cycling, not recreation. Already EUR 53 million has been allocated, with Budapest having won approximately EUR 5 million.

In the last round of applications, Budapest applied for funds for:

  1. commuting facilities, including lanes and separate paths,
  2. a recreational path, and
  3. a bike-and-ride parking facility.

There was enough funds for all of this, but the application for the bike and ride facility was not ready for evaluation (with compulsory anexxes missing and a lack of consultation with the national development agency). Applications for the first two elements were submitted in "very poor condition," according to Bodor, but thanks to the good graces of evaluators, accepted. For these path and lane projects, the evaluators asked that, as a minimum, before contracting be done, that at least the most important annexes be submitted. But the city missed the deadline and lost approximately HUF 650 million (EUR 2.7 million).

As partial consolution, several district governments (II, XI, XXI, XIII) submitted some successful applications for some 35-40 smaller projects.

When the mayor is asked why cycling development doesn't advance more quickly in Budapest, the stock answer is a lack of money and competing priorities. But here you have EUR 250 million in FREE MONEY that is earmarked for cycling. What's the problem?

I don't think it's incompetence. The city has employed a dedicated cycling affairs officer for more than a decade. However, it's a fact that his cycling duties were curtailed a few years ago so that he could contribute to transport projects the mayor deemed more important. I can only guess that there simply isn't enough dedicated staff at City Hall to submit quality applications for Cycling Hungary funds. What a waste. The city spares a few thousand euros in payroll expenses -- and ends up sacrificing millions of euros in bicycling subsidies.

Anyone who could shed some light on this is more than welcome to submit a comment.

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