Our response to the Greater Anglia cycle strategy

Greater Anglia Draft Cycle Strategy, September 2013 [Download from here] [PDF version]

Consultation Response by Ely Cycling Campaign [PDF version]

1. Introduction and general observations

1.1 We have read the draft Greater Anglia Cycle Strategy with interest. We are heartened to see the statement that Greater Anglia is ‘a vigorous supporter of the development of cycling as a sustainable transport mode with strong health, environmental and societal benefits’ (p. 3), and hope that this support will consistently manifest itself in Greater Anglia’s approach to those of its passengers who wish to combine train and bicycle travel. Travel by a combination of bicycle and train adds enormous value to both modes of travel, and in our view facilitating this combination is of great importance.

1.2 We welcome the investment which Greater Anglia is proposing to put into cycling facilities, and its proposals to engage with groups interested in cycling.

1.3 We believe, however, that the draft contains a number of weaknesses, which this response seeks to identify with a view to improving the final strategy.

1.4 This response commences by considering questions concerning the carriage of bicycles on trains, before addressing other matters. A primary division is made between carriage of standard non-folding bicycles, and carriage of folding bicycles: as the draft strategy implies, the questions raised by these two types are sufficiently different that they merit separate treatment.

1.5 If the strategy is to carry conviction, and be capable of forming a basis for ‘behavioural change’ (p. 3) (assuming such change is desirable), it will need to carry conviction to those who currently take bicycles on trains, and to those who might wish to do so in future. This requires both that the strategy support its key assertions with evidence and argument, and that the strategy refrain from presenting those wishing to take bicycles on
trains as giving rise to a ‘problem’ and a ‘difficult situation’ (p. 11), in terms which tend to suggest – whether correctly or not – that Greater Anglia’s ‘vigorous’ support for cycling may mask a view of those wishing to take bicycles on trains as little more than a troublesome minority.

2. Non-folding bicycles on trains

2.1 A key element in the strategy is ‘to reduce the carriage of cycles on trains by stimulating behavioural change’ (p. 11). We take it from the wording of the ‘Cycles on Trains’ section that this key element is directed primarily, or exclusively, at non-folding bicycles. It would be worth making this more clear.

2.2 At the heart of this approach to non-folding bicycles is the assertion that ‘it is not a simple matter to provide additional carriages, and the priority will always be to provide seated or standing accommodation for passengers’. If the strategy is to carry conviction, the difficulty of providing additional carriages requires to be substantiated and explained.
Mere assertion is not sufficient. We regard it as essential that detail and argument be given to support this statement. Is the difficulty, for example, to do with the terms of the franchise, or with Greater Anglia’s profit margin, or with the lead-time for ordering new rolling stock, or with the length of platforms? Could a company which is ‘vigorous’ in its support of cycling not do more to overcome the difficulties? Has any attempt been
made to do so?

2.3 We note that the observation that ‘the priority will always be to provide seated or standing accommodation for passengers’ tends to suggest that passengers and their belongings (including, but not limited to, bicycles) are separate items. In fact belongings come with passengers. In other words, providing accommodation for passengers must mean accommodation for passengers and their belongings.

2.3 While brief, but unsubstantiated, reference is made to difficulties in providing additional carriages, no mention is made of the design of existing carriages. We believe that the strategy should address the question of whether the interior layout of existing or future rolling stock could be re-designed so as to provide more space for bicycles, or for luggage, wheelchairs, or baby-buggies. In our view there is a tendency for British train carriages to be designed on the unrealistic assumption that passengers will generally have with them no more than a small bag which will fit in the overhead rack. Experience strongly suggests that this is not the case. Would it be possible, for example, to remove some fixed seating in existing carriages and replace it by areas of folding seating which could be used flexibly for seating or for the carriage of bicycles, luggage, wheelchairs or baby-buggies, as appropriate? We suggest that these points should be addressed by the strategy.

2.4 As indicated above, the strategy does not do enough to convince us that nothing can be done to increase capacity to carry non-folding bicycles on trains (either by provision of more carriages or by redesign of carriages, or both). But on the assumption for the moment that this is the position, we turn to address the alternatives suggested by the strategy.

2.5 The strategy concentrates upon those wishing regularly to commute by a combination of train and bicycle. This is an important constituency, but we there are others as well, including those who wish to combine travel by train and bicycle as a means of transport on an occasional basis, e.g. to attend meetings, or to visit friends, and those who wish to carry a bicycle on a train in order to use the bicycle at the destination for purposes other than transport, e.g. for leisure rides, or to take part in races. It should not be assumed that those who are not regular commuters by bicycle and train will always travel off-peak. It needs to be recognised in the strategy that the needs of these various constituencies are not the same.

2.6 The ‘corridor approach’ (p. 11) seems most applicable to those commuting by a combination of bicycle and train, and to those who wish to combine train and bicycle as a mode of transport on an occasional basis. It may not be applicable to those who wish to carry a bicycle on a train in order to use the bicycle at the destination for purposes other than transport: such people may well need to use their own bicycle at the destination, and the destination may well not be a station at which cycle hire facilities are available.

2.7 The ‘corridor’ approach seems fairly clearly less attractive for most purposes than taking a non-folding bicycle on the train. Having a bicycle at both ends requires expenditure on a second bicycle, and increases the time needed for a journey by adding the time taken to find a parking space and to lock or unlock a bicycle, and is entirely unrealistic other than for regular commuters. Hiring a bicycle at one end will also add to the cost of the journey, and may make travel less flexible. In other words, the ideal
seems likely to remain taking a bicycle on the train.

2.8 The draft strategy gives very little detail about the proposed bicycle hire scheme. For example, there is no indication of cost, or of the period for which a bicycle could be hired (e.g. would annual hire for a commuter be possible?). If a hire scheme is to be workable, it will be essential to provide sufficient bicycles to satisfy demand and avoid any risk that a
bicycle is not available for hire, and it will be necessary for hiring or return of bicycles to be possible from the early morning until late at night (that is, from the first train in the morning to the last train at night): any scheme which would prevent hire or return of bicycles outside normal working hours would be seriously deficient.

2.9 As indicated above, the strategy does not carry conviction as to the difficulties of providing additional space on trains to enable non-folding bicycles to be carried. But in the event that some restrictions on carrying non-folding bicycles continue to be found necessary, we would strongly suggest that they be limited to peak times only, and based upon evidence of actual total passenger numbers on a service-by-service basis, rather
than upon blanket assumptions about passenger numbers at particular times of day.

3. Folding bicycles on trains

3.1 A folding bicycle occupies no more space than does a small to medium sized suitcase. This being so, and assuming that it is not proposed to impose restrictions on the carriage of other luggage, we are strongly of the view that (folded) folding bicycles should be allowed on trains at all times without restriction. This argument can only be strengthened by the strategy to reduce the carriage of non-folding bicycles.

3.2 We are seriously concerned by the material concerning folding bicycles in the section headed ‘What we expect from our customers’ (p. 14), which we see is already published on the Greater Anglia website. This material is so unrealistic that it is clear that it has been written by someone entirely without experience of travelling by train with a folding

3.3 It is suggested that the bicycle should be folded before entering the station, and that helmet and lights should be ‘packed away’ at that point. On many (if not most) folding bicycles it is in fact possible to leave the lights in place when the bicycle is folded, and this will be common practice. It is much easier to continue to wear a helmet than it is to ‘pack it away’, and it is very difficult indeed to see that Greater Anglia has any interest in whether train passengers wear a bicycle helmet after entering the station.

3.4 Folding the bicycle outside the station requires it to be carried through the station and to the relevant platform. In some stations this represents a considerable distance. A folding bicycle may weigh up to about 11 kg, and (unlike suitcases) folding bicycles are not designed to be carried over significant distances. For some passengers with folding bicycles carrying the folded bicycle from outside the station to the relevant platform will be
physically impossible, and for all those using folding bicycles it will be significantly more difficult than pushing the unfolded bicycle. It is not easy to see that a person pushing a bicycle causes more of an obstruction or difficulty for others than a person wheeling a large suitcase. In short, we regard the instruction to fold folding bicycles outside the station as entirely out of touch with reality, and very strongly suggest that it should
be removed from your literature. This guidance is utterly irreconcilable with the claim that Greater Anglia ‘vigorously’ supports cycling.

3.5 It is suggested that folding bicycles should be stowed in the luggage rack or behind a seat, where this is possible (p. 11). We would note that frequently this will not be possible, because the limited space available for luggage will already be full (either with luggage, or in some cases with passengers). It is also suggested that those with folding bicycles who
leave them in vestibules should ensure that the bicycle does not obstruct other passengers. Here we would repeat our observation that a folded bicycle is not larger than a small to medium sized suitcase, and observe that there is just a suspicion here that Greater Anglia regards a bicycle, even a folded folding bicycle, as in some way more likely to be obstructive than other types of luggage simply because it is a bicycle. This sense will not assist the strategy in carrying conviction.

3.6 It is also suggested that at the end of the journey a folding bicycle should not be unfolded until the passenger has left the station. The comments in 3.4 apply here in reverse. It is asserted that unfolding a bicycle on the train or on the platform ‘causes congestion and delays at the ticket gates’. We find the logic of this extremely difficult to follow. Unfolding on the train itself may perhaps be a difficulty if the train is
crowded, but it is utterly unclear how the process of unfolding the bicycle in a sensibly-selected part of the platform causes a delay at the ticket gates. If what is meant is that taking an unfolded bicycle through the ticket gates (having previously unfolded it on the platform) causes delay, we would observe that a person carrying a folded bicycle is more or less the same width (person plus bicycle) as a person pushing an unfolded
bicycle, and no wider than a person carrying a suitcase, and that a person struggling to carry a folded bicycle may find using the ticket gate more difficult (and so cause more delay), than a person pushing an unfolding bicycle.

3.7 In summary, the entire guidance concerning travelling with folding bicycles requires radical revision.

4. Charging policy

4.1 We are glad to see that your underlying principle continues to be that you will, wherever possible, provide free parking for bicycles at stations, and free carriage of bicycles on trains where they can be accommodated.

5. Investment in cycling

5.1 We are glad to see the proposed investments in cycling, e.g. in provision of better and more extensive cycle parking facilities, and in the provision of cycle points.

6. Summary

6.1 We welcome Greater Anglia’s proposals to invest in cycling, and regard it as very important that combining bicycle use (for all purposes) with train travel be made as easy and convenient as possible.

6.2 We recommend that the wording of the draft strategy be re-visited with a view to avoiding any impression that those wishing to take bicycles on trains are a ‘problem’.

6.3 We recommend provision of detailed argument and evidence to support the assertion that further capacity to carry bicycles on trains cannot be provided.

6.4 We suggest that if restrictions on carriage of non-folding bicycles cannot be avoided they be limited to peak times, and based upon evidence of actual passenger numbers on a service by service basis.

6.5 We recommend that the strategy include discussion of whether modifications to existing or future rolling stock could be made to increase space for bicycles, luggage, wheelchairs and baby-buggies.

6.6 We note that those wishing to take non-folding bicycles on trains have diverse needs, not all of which will be met by a ‘corridor’ approach.

6.7 We observe that both a two-bicycle and a bicycle hire ‘corridor’ approach will make journeys more expensive and more time-consuming than taking a bicycle on the train.

6.8 We ask for further detail of the proposed bicycle hire scheme, including hire periods, costs, and opening hours.

6.9 We recommend that there be no restrictions on the carriage of (folded) folding bicycles, observing that they are no larger than standard luggage, and that if carriage of non-folding bicycles is to be discouraged, carriage of folding bicycles becomes all the more important.

6.10 We regard the guidance on travelling with a folding bicycle as utterly unrealistic, and in need of radical revision.

6.11 We welcome the underlying policy to continue to make bicycle parking available free of charge, and not to charge for carriage of bicycles on trains.

One thought on “Our response to the Greater Anglia cycle strategy

  1. A copy of KLWNBUG’s submission is on my website at http://mjr.towers.org.uk/proj/cyclynn/gastrategy but we don’t agree with you 100%.

    We had a response from GA which didn’t really answer many of the points and offered a cycle forum in February which hasn’t happened as far as I know. I’ve been in touch with them again.

    One other development is apparently insurers won’t cover bikes left at stations over weekends, so I’m now even less convinced that the suggested two-bikes approach is useful to commuters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: