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Coronavirus: Google working with UK government on app as £2bn travel package unveiled

The UK government is working with Google to develop a travel app. Photo: Getty

The UK government is working with tech giant Google (GOOG) on an app that will help people avoid large crowds when travelling to work.

In the daily Downing Street press conference on Saturday, secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps said he had chaired a meeting with Google, Microsoft (MSFT), and Citymapper to develop the technology, as the government looks for ways to get workers back into offices.

“Digital technology will help us be more informed about the choices we make to battle against COVID-19 at a time when transport demand could quickly become overwhelmed. We need urgent access to real time travel information,” said Shapps.

“With the right mobile apps people can find out which parts of the transport network are overcrowded and avoid them. People can chose alternative travel options to help maintain social distancing or they can get information to help stagger their journeys and lift the burden on public transport at peak times.”

Shapps also unveiled a £2bn ($2.48bn) package to put cycling and walking at heart of the UK government's transport policy.

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A national cycling plan is due to be published in June to help double cycling and increase walking by 2025. 

"Swift emergency plans" to be put in place include pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements for pedestrians and cycle and bus-only streets, Shapps added. 

The government will also publish fast-tracked statutory guidance requiring councils in England to cater for increased numbers of cycling and pedestrians.

The need to maintain social distancing will mean the public transport system cannot go back to normal — and with social distancing in place there would only be effective capacity for around one in 10 passengers on many parts of the network, Shapps continued. 

So many more people will need to walk and cycle to get the country back to work and prevent roads becoming gridlocked with cars.

There have been nearly 4 million people confirmed to have contracted coronavirus across the world, with a death toll of 275,000. Latest data on Saturday revealed that another 346 people have died in the UK after testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 31,587.

“Tomorrow, the prime minister will set out a roadmap for the next phase in our strategy to tackle coronavirus,” said Shapps in the government briefing.

“In support of this, I am setting out today an ambitious programme to help prepare our transport network for the critical role it will play as we emerge from this crisis.

“Importantly, it is true to say that moving beyond COVID will be a gradual process… not a single-leap to freedom.

“When we do emerge, the world will seem quite different, at least for a while.”