TransPennine Express Fails Basic Cycle Proficiency

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Last year the Department for Transport published its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, bolding asserting:

“We want to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey “

It came with a slew of transport policies – supported by investment – that promote active travel, and aim to facilitate cycling and walking at every level. Unfortunately, TransPennine Express has failed to get the memo.

From 20 May 2018, TransPennine will be changing its cycle policy to require that cyclists wishing to take their bicycle on a train book their bike a space at least 24 hours before travel. Sure it’s free, but mandatory booking 24 hours before travel?

This is, in no way, going to encourage cycling and active travel. It’s a barrier to sustainable travel which will affect commuters and leisure cyclists alike. Miss your allotted train and you no longer can take your bike to work (no matter if you need it at the other end). Get up on a bright sunny morning and you can no longer decide to go mountain biking in the Lakes or the Peak District by train. There’s no longer the ‘bail option’ – and who hasn’t occasionally needed to catch a train home because their ride took longer than expected or the weather turned or an old injury decided to rear its ugly head?

While being able to book your bike onto a train can be useful for those planning a complex trip in advance, making it obligatory – and with a 24 hour lead – really is not.

Who will it affect?

TransPennine covers some of the great cycling areas of the north – including the Lake District and the Peak District – and is a route into Scotland. Those who want to use the train to go touring, mountain biking or road riding in these areas will be affected. While its main routes are out of Manchester and Leeds, basically anyone connecting with a TransPennine train to make their journey will be affected.

This is particularly sad when the Lake District National Park is trying desperately to lower its carbon footprint by persuading fewer people to arrive by car. TransPennine’s new policy is not going to make that more likely.

But TransPennine is not just a train service for day trippers and holiday makers. It carries serious volumes of commuters and serves the major cities of the north – Manchester and Leeds, Sheffield, Durham and Newcastle. While the major routes are well connected, the issues for commuters are not the connection between conurbations but the connections between their homes and workplaces and train services. The journey between say Holmfirth and the Leeds Beckett campus. Or Mossley to Salford.

Cycling is an ideal way to connect these first and last miles. TransPennine’s solution of expanding bike parking provision so you can leave your bike at the station fails to recognize that people often need a first and last mile solution to make their commutes work.

The pre-booking requirement is crazy for those who use season tickets – you can only book a bike on online if you’re buying a ticket so commuters presumably would have to phone customer services every day or go to a ticket desk. I presume they probably have better things to do (like sack off the train and go out and buy a car). The policy excludes the life jugglers – those who need to be a bit flexible, who might work late or need to juggle children’s itineraries with their daily commute.

But the most astonishing thing about this whole ‘initiative’ is that it’s (as of today) not even an option to book your bike on a train via the TransPennine website. It seems like a policy actively designed to exclude cyclists.

Erm, so how do we book our bike on?
If you figure out how to book a bike on, let us know!

In the absence of any sensible bike booking infrastructure and the face of national transport policy, TransPennine is excitedly announcing that this retrograde step occurs while simultaneously doubling its cycle provision. To a massive four bikes per train.

To put in context what a laughable advance this is, let us cast our eyes over the channel and look at cycling provision in Germany. Noone can deny Germans love their cars, but despite this they are also impressive users of bicycles – to go to work, school, shopping and socialising. It’s ridiculously easy to combine your bike with train travel.

Here we have a German double-decker urban train. Each carriage has 10 bike spaces.

Anyone who has wrestled their way onto a Pacer train may now weep quietly.

This intercity German train has a whole bike carriage. True it costs €6 but I basically travelled the length of Germany for this fee. People do all sorts of fun things facilitated by bike carriages – I met a group of mountain bikers on the first train of the day on their way to do the Rennsteig trail in Thuringen (it’s like a German Mary Towneley loop) then have a beer and get the train home.

Bring your bikes! All of them!

Back in the UK we aspire to this behaviour. National policy is to encourage cycling, there are whole conferences (there’s even this one in Manchester supported by a whole cross section of organisations), think tanks, campaigns and funds devoted to getting us to cycle more.

Cycling is loudly and proudly promoted across the city authorities of the region – Welcome to Yorkshire aims to make Yorkshire the European capital of cycling whilst Manchester appointed Chris Boardman its first Cycling and Walking Commissioner in July 2017.

Come on Transpennine, the future is cycling – you need get on your bike.


Beate Kubitz is a transport consultant, author of the First Annual Survey of Mobility as a Service, published by Landor LINKS, writes for Local Transport Today, Parking Review and advises Landor on events including Cycle City Active City. She is also COO of mobility as a service think tank TravelSpirit.

Comments (13)

    Virgin trains and Arriva trains Wales are the same. book in advance, for free granted, but no ticket for bike – no journey. Virgin run the east coast main line, connecting london to Edinburgh and beyond. 9 carriages for passengers with only 4 spaces per train for bikes. its a joke. and good luck trying to buy the ticket online and request the bike space at the same time, you’ll be a while.
    contrast that with Northern trains, little two carriage commuter trains with dedicated bike areas for at least two bikes (i’ve seen nearer 6 in there before and still room for people to get past). great for nipping over the yorkshire moors for a few hours and back.

    TPE will be taking on the service from my home station (Greenfield, Gtr Manchester) from 21st May that I use several times per week to commute to Salford Quays via Victoria (soon to be via Piccadilly but that’s another story). Most days I use a Brompton to cover the 3 mile journey at either end and have happily been doing this for 6 years. I occasionally take a non-folding bike. There are at least 4 bikes on the train every morning and afternoon and Northern (for all their issues) have generally been great with the cyclo-commuters. This stupid change in policy needs to be stopped.

    I thought the Peak District service (Hope Valley line) was Northern, not TPE?

    Everyone should email them telling what a stupid idea this is.

    Agree Midland Mainline require you to book bikes on trains, such a ball ache. Northern were great for our journey when doing the C2C a couple of years back. The guys on the train couldn’t have been more helpful at getting our bikes onboard and no need to book.

    I used to use Northern several times a year. There were rumours that individual conductors could be bad news but I never had any grief over the bike.

    As for LDNPA – they are a pretty dirty bunch when you get up close and personal. They might say what you want to hear, but when they think they can get away with it they will act in accordance with the wishes of vested interests.

    Scot advertise very limited bike carrying but I’ve done impromptu trips in the past and not had a problem.

    Staff on the Caledonian Sleeper last year reckoned future improvements would reduce bike carrying capacity, which is a shame because it has to be one of the cheapest ways of getting your bike to the Highlands.

    I really despair sometimes. Is nobody in transport listening?

    Also from May 20 th , TPE, will be running mk 3 coaches on services from liverpool to manchester and onwards, there will be no cycle spaces or DVT just a loco each end, class 68,s.

    Then in june and july no TPE trains will be running from liverpool or into liverpool from Manchester, due to lime st being closed for remodeling.

    If the choice is between bikes or fare-paying passengers, I know which the operating companies will prefer.

    Bikes aren’t allowed on Great Northern services to or from (16:00-19:00) London around rush hour Greater Anglia operate similar restrictions and dont allow bikes on the Stansted Express. Other services offer four to six spaces per train.

    I was denied boarding on one of their trains because I hadn’t booked a space for my bike, although there were no other bikes.

    If we want to promote cycling, rather than mouth platitudes, the government should mandate a minimum number of cycle spaces per carriage without restriction.


    Did you see that pig flying?

    Gubberment is currently frying bigger fish…….Windrush/immigration, Brexit etc.

    This has been an ongoing problem for 100+ years.

    It’s time there was legislation making it mandatory for train services to provide plenty space for cycles (and other bulky items).

    And legroom for that matter…

    I’m looking into whether there’s a train franchise issue which is causing this stupidity. Someone else has independently said that he no longer cycles in the SW because of this policy on Great Western. In the meantime don’t let sloppy journalism go unchallenged – the Northern Echo has just repeated the TP press release as though it’s good news – please comment or tweet the journo (@mattwecho).

    Currently feeling a bit like Renton walking into Sickboy’s pub in T2 – hi Iamsporticus where have you been for the last 20 years? But anyway…..

    Today was the day I learned of TPTs excellent new bike strategy
    Id booked a ticket on the and had no mention of the TPT changes

    Fortunately for me my allocated train was empty and so I was issued a bike ticket but when I got home I tried to buy a ticket for next week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, next month etc etc etc and each time when I clicked the bike bit got red text saying ‘no availability’

    On the one hand I find it hard to believe that every train on the route has 2 bikes block booked, and on the other the bike space on todays train was directly in front of 4 pull down seats


    Their T&C’s are a bit scary too, even if you have a bike ticket the guard can unilaterally refuse the bike and suggest you secure it at the station. Well woopidoo Im really gonne do that after an all day ride without a BFO lock when I book a train ticket to get me back to my mates house arent I??


    This is pretty poor all round
    Is anyone aware of a campaign to challenge them?
    British Cycling, Twitter, STW, etc, etc, etc
    If so Im in with all guns blazing


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