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.
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.
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.
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.