Financial incentives should be offered to cyclists to reduce road congestion as Victorians shun public transport because of COVID-19, a new report says.

Infrastructure Victoria has proposed incentives such as a discount on payroll tax or a direct payment for employers, with employees in turn paid an allowance to ride to work.

“At a time when public transport crowding is also unsafe, such a payment would be even more justified, and may help people make the shift to active transport,” the state’s independent infrastructure body said in a report released on Wednesday.

The state government immediately rejected the proposal.

“I don’t think that people want to see us paying cyclists to cycle,” Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville told reporters following the report’s release.

She pointed to previous government commitments to extend bicycle paths and routes.

An increasing number of Victorians have relied on their cars during COVID and public transport use remains “way down” on pre-pandemic numbers.

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Ms Neville stressed trams, trains and buses were subject to extra cleaning and safe to use.

But Infrastructure Victoria warned public transport use was unlikely to return to above 60 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger numbers without government intervention.

Car use in inner Melbourne was also projected to increase to around 15 per cent, the equivalent of 100,000 extra car trips a day.

“Congestion costs our economy, hinders growth, increases transport emissions and is wasted time away from our families and friends,” Infrastructure Victoria chief executive Michel Masson said.

A cycling incentive scheme would need to be accompanied by safe bicycle routes to be successful, the organisation said.

It could also take the form of a payment directly to employees based on the number of trips taken or kilometres travelled, or to reimburse equipment costs.

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As well as cycling incentives, Infrastructure Victoria said a proportion of employees should be encouraged to keep working from home for part of the week.

Private workplaces were permitted to return to 50 per cent capacity from Monday, and public service offices to 25 per cent capacity.

The government previously announced it would discount off-peak fares, between 9.30am and 4pm or after 7pm, by 30 per cent for three months from the end of January.

Mr Masson hailed this as a great start, and said the government should also make bus fares cheaper to free up more space and allow for better social distancing on trams and trains.

AAP

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