On behalf of the membership of Wolves on Wheels Cycle Campaign Group, Wolverhampton, I wish to raise some points regarding trains and cycling which we are concerned about. We want to see improvements in the service, whoever gains the franchise.
In the consultation documents, it is stated several times that there is an overall aim to encourage passengers to travel sustainably to and from stations, including:
1. specific mention of cycling,
2. a recognition of the fact that passengers' journeys are not simply from one station to another (implying that the successful franchisee should also demonstrate this recognition in the nature of the service they provide)
3. that there are wider benefits, economic, environmental and social, to be taken into account beyond the necessary but narrow focus on 'value for money' and financial benefit to cost ratio.
4. A desire to ensure that the service makes a positive contribution to economic development, access to employment and educational opportunities, improved public health from more active and sustainable travel choices, reducing road congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.
5. That the design of trains and the onboard facilities and storage will be a consideration in the process
It is good to see these included in the aspirations of the DfT and West Midlands Rail but we are concerned that provision for people wishing to travel with bikes, so that they can continue easily to their ultimate destination, will be further squeezed or even omitted altogether in an effort to pack as many seated passengers on as possible; if there is already serious consideration being given to remove toilets* from trains, what hope for bicycles, pushchairs and bulky luggage?
We have discussed these issues as a campaign group and a summary of members' views on the rail franchise in the West Midlands is laid out below:
1. the core conditions of the franchise should include an explicit requirement [not just 'encouragement'] on the franchisee to make adequate provision for people to travel easily, without need for reservations or extra fees, with full-sized bikes on all services.
2. Since rail privatisation, provision for cycle carriage has deteriorated, this is in contrast to the previous ease of when trains had the large “guards' van” compartment for all sorts of bulky luggage. Train designs with a similarly easily accessible space for cycles and other items should be introduced.
3. Make it easy - The simpler it is made for people to travel with bikes, as well as improving facilities for storage and hire at stations, the more people are enabled to travel healthily and sustainably. This will improve access to employment opportunities, overcome a significant barrier to travel for those in difficult economic circumstances to access jobs and education. It will reduce the need for car use for many journeys in the franchise area and facilitate gaining the benefits to health, environment and economy that are repeatedly stated in the Consultation document.
4. Access to stations - There need to be safe routes into and out of the railway stations, Wolverhampton is not too bad in this regard but others, such as Selly Oak, are difficult to access safely by bike, particularly for inexperienced or unconfident cyclists – the very people whom we need to attract to travel actively and who will benefit. The franchisee should be required actively to build links with local councils and planners to enhance and improve access for pedestrians and cyclists as well as improving cycle parking at stations.
5. Cycle stowage on board trains as well as at stations needs to enable easy self-securing (bring own lock) and not require a person to be able to lift the bike up. It needs to be designed for youngsters and elderly to use with ease. Some specific points about individual train operators are listed below.
6. The cycle stowage section of the train needs very clear signing, which is highly variable depending on train operator. This is particularly important at busy (not just peak) times. Having a light on the outside of the train over the cycle door would help, as would consistent standards between operators on where on the train the cycle and disabled access sections are. Platform markings and consistent stopping positions, as used by some Virgin trains, could help with this to allow passengers to get into position early.
7. Changing platforms, especially in a hurry when trains are switched to a different platform, needs to be made easier at many stations. If it's easy to do so with a bike this also benefits other wheeled users (wheelchairs, pushchairs, mobility scooters, people with heavy bags) – large lifts and ramps at stations make this possible.
8. Toilet Facilities - as a footnote, given that our focus is on cycling, toilets are essential facilities on local and long-distance trains. Passengers often arrive in some haste, following other delays outside their control, on cold days, after a meal, feeling unwell, being pregnant or having had children, having consumed alcohol or coffee, being young or old or having had recent surgery... and so the list goes on, not to mention delays during the journey. To remove toilet facilities from trains is at best ignorant and at worst callous and will dissuade people from travelling on trains. It is a question of basic human dignity and comfort. This suggestion should be dropped from the list of ideas for increasing capacity.
All of us in Wolves on Wheels value the train infrastructure highly and would like to be able to travel easily on the trains both with our bikes and having the option of safe, secure storage at stations, whichever better suits our needs at the time. The franchisee must be required to deliver a service that meets the needs of all passengers, especially with a view to encouraging more people to travel sustainably and actively.
The rail infrastructure is not just any old business, it is an essential and very beneficial asset to our country, our economy and society, as well as the many environmental and related public health benefits associated with reducing the numbers of individual cars on the roads. Any public funding or subsidy paid into it should be seen as an investment from which we all reap the benefits, hence the breadth and quality of its service provision and ease of use by all should be the priorities in selecting the successful bidder.
Chris Terrell, Chair – Wolves on Wheels Cycle Campaign Group
Some quotes from Wolves on Wheels members:
Some specific examples of train operators and their limitations regarding cycle provision:
“Virgin Pendolinos. They have disability sections and these should be adapted to provide for cyclists as well as the disabled. Their present scheme of putting bicycles into the locked driver’s cab is half baked!
Virgin Voyagers. There is a cycle section for 3 bicycles but they have to be booked. There should be no booking requirement.
Cross Country Voyagers. There is a cycle section for 3 bicycles but 2 of the 3 have to be booked. As they invariably operate with only 4 carriages people are always standing in the cycle section.
London Midland. They at least don’t require booking. But there is no cycle section. There is a small Disabled section, which is invariably occupied, where a bicycle is ‘permitted’. There is only room for one bicycle even if the section is not occupied.
Arriva. They have a section where 2 bicycles can be fitted with difficulty and do not require booking. The carriages are 40 years old and in very poor condition!
South West Trains. Ditto Arriva.
First Great Western. Ditto Arriva. They invariably operate with only 3 carriages and people stand in the cycle area. They are not called ‘Late Worst Western’ for no reason!”
[regarding ease of access to platforms] “Ramped or lift access is much easier than stairs and also benefits those in wheelchairs or with pushchairs or heavy luggage.”
“I agree wholeheartedly with all your points. ... I remember when it was so simple just to dump it in the guard's van! ”
“I use London Midland and I used to feel like I was getting in the way with [my bike] But now I think the train company has purposely got in my way, it's time they gave cyclists their money's worth, as the price has gone up every single year the space has become more and more claustrophobic. Not all cyclists drive and the trains are an essential part of our travel needs.”