Tag Archives: cycle

Greater Anglia’s proposed Cycle Strategy: my response

My mobile 479Below is my response to  Greater Anglia’s  worrying proposed cycle strategy – fuller details of which can be found  here.

I am writing as SCC Lib Dem spokesperson for Transport, as County Councillor for Woodbridge, and as a constant rail user and cyclist, to respond to the Greater Anglia consultation on its proposed Cycle Strategy.

This strategy consists of a single option: proposing to remove cycles from Greater Anglia trains. Greater Anglia would prefer people to keep bicycles at each end of their daily journey or to use Greater Anglia’s own version of Boris bikes at an extra cost of £3.80 a day to the commuter.

This is an idea in which the benefits seem universally to accrue to Greater Anglia rather than to the cycling commuter.

The proposed strategy might not significantly affect the lives of some  inter-city commuters  – but only those who can comfortably afford two bikes – or the extra £3.80 a day to hire one of Greater Anglia’s Bike and Go bikes (and not worry too much about its calibre).  However, there are many travellers who do not fit this profile, and the impact on second-class passengers could be very great indeed, particularly those using the trains from stops in rural areas, those with complex journeys, and of course the young and less affluent. (For example, many young people in East Suffolk use the East Suffolk line with their BMX bikes, travelling to the skate/bike parks of Ipswich and Woodbridge.)

When it says in the document: ”there may also be options around wider use of folding cycles, provided that these are used with sensitivity for the needs of other customers“ this is hard to disambiguate. Why may there be options, and what exactly might these options be?  Currently those able to afford folding bicycles can carry them as people carry any other form of luggage. Does this mean that GA will now start treating folding bicycles as separate from any other form of luggage? How is this possible? And if so what is the status of a pram or a wheelchair?

Another issue here is that folding bicycles might well be easier for GA to carry but they are disproportionately expensive. If these are the only bicycles Greater Anglia wishes to carry, it will again discriminate against the poor and the young of Suffolk.

The consultation document refers to crowded trains from Ipswich to Cambridge, yet it fails to mention – maybe even to recognise – that many of the travellers on these trains get on and/or off at intermediate stops . The solution put forward for this overcrowding – a ‘corridor system’ -would hardly help the schoolchildren who travel with bikes from Cambridge to  intermediate stations as far as Bury St Edmunds, or those getting on the train with their bikes at BStE and Stowmarket. Yet young passengers on the 15.44 and 16.44 from Cambridge, are significant contributors to the  overcrowding on these services.  As Vice-Chair of the Suffolk Educational Transport Appeals Committee, I am concerned that a change of bike policy here may cause knock-on issues for pupil transport.

The other route that is specifically mentioned in this document as overcrowded  is the Intercity Norwich to London service. Again, the document fails to mention that few travellers on these trains are through passengers; most are making smaller journeys  – and that their  bicycles are in the guard’s van, not in the carriages. These intercity trains are often very crowded in the second-class carriages and the convenient fiction that bicycles are responsible for overcrowding cannot apply.  Does this mean that Greater Anglia is planning to do away with the guard’s van on future intercity trains without providing other accommodation for bicycles?

Overcrowding being the stated problem, Greater Anglia says “Unfortunately, it is not a simple matter to provide additional carriages.”   Why is it not a simple matter to provide additional carriages? It is a simple matter in many other countries. And GA is happy elsewhere to refer selectively to practices in other countries when it supports its argument. Perhaps another franchisee might find it easier.

The document goes on to say that Greater Anglia’s “ priority is to provide seated or standing accommodation for passengers.” I am assuming it mentions ‘standing accommodation’ because so many second class passengers have no other option on Greater Anglia trains due to lack of sufficient rolling stock. However it is very worrying that neither luggage space nor accommodation for prams or wheelchairs are mentioned here. Is Greater Anglia going to continue to provide these?  If so, why not accommodation for bicycles too? For people with certain serious disabilities (such as epilepsy), a bicycle is the equivalent of a wheelchair.

I have concerns that in many places the wording of this document is used to obscure Greater Anglia’s intentions. For example the phrase:“Our objective for the medium to long term is therefore to reduce the carriage of cycles on trains by stimulating behavioural change.” If GA means that it is not going to carry cycles it should say so directly! Prohibition is not, and never will be the same thing as “stimulating behavioural change. “ And if GA means it intends only to ban cycles on some services, it should be equally upfront. The wording of this consultation suggests no such thing!

Similarly the document goes on to say “We believe the options are to take a ‘corridor approach,” but there are no other options. This sentence should more accurately read “We intend to take a corridor approach”

My greatest concerns however are about the rationale for Greater Anglia’s proposed strategy, which is fundamentally flawed. The argument for the ‘corridor approach’ is based on the following:

  • that every train only travels from point a to point b – forgetting all the stations in between. Yet, as I mentioned above, most train journeys are not like this
  • that train travellers are affluent cyclists who are happy to invest in a second bike, or rent one of Greater Anglia’s rather than retain their own when travelling. I would argue that most train travellers would fall outside this specification for one reason or another
  • it ignores the concept of all train journeys which involve travelling onwards in transport-poor areas. Rural Suffolk is one vast transport-poor area.
  • When likening the British situation to Europe GA is comparing apples and pears.  GA’s rationale totally ignores the fact the rest of Europe didn’t have a  Dr Beeching and that therefore it is possible for people elsewhere in Europe to travel by rail closer to their destination  than we can in rural Suffolk. Much of Europe has good and properly integrated bus services too.  Rural Suffolk has neither.

GA tells us that its proposed corridor  “will require considerable resolve on the part of our company and all of our stakeholders if it is to become the norm in this country.”  But why on earth should it become the norm in this country? After all, what is in this proposal for anyone but the Abiello shareholders? It is particularly poor that such a suggestion should arise at just the time when Suffolk Public Health is encouraging people out of their cars and onto more sustainable forms of transport. A car, after all, is the ideal solution to the difficulties  Greater Anglia’s proposals would create.

Wouldn’t it be better if a cheap reliable cycle-transporting rail network would become the norm in this country. That really WOULD require resolve on the part of the company!

We are currently in a situation where most (if not all) second class carriages are very crowded in rush hour. I am not convinced that Greater Anglia have been thinking divergently when they have looked at the problem. Instead  they seem to be making the carriage of bicycles a convenient scapegoat for  years of under-investment and a lack of forward planning for  rail services in Suffolk.

This strategy is fatally flawed. It would be more appropriate if Greater Anglia stopped making this link between overcrowding and insufficient rolling stock on the one hand, and carriage of bicycles on the other hand and tackled each issue independently.

It is admirable that Greater Anglia should intend to improve cycle parking and provide BikeandGo services at some of its stations, but not if these are at the expense of such passengers as wish or need to take their bicycles with them on the train.

Vanished content! apology

Two blog posts I have made for October have mysteriously vanished from the blog. These are,

Not on our trains! Greater Anglia’s commitment to cycling?   which links to Greater Anglia’s draft Cycle strategy and  details Greater Anglia’s stated intentions to move from carrying cycles on Suffolk trains.  This has attracted a lot of attention from  cyclists who were not aware of Greater Anglia’s intentions.

What’s been happening in SCC: September 2013

I have no intention that any gremlin should prevent people from reaching information they need to know. I do not know whether these blog posts have gone for good – but in the meantime, you can reach reconstituted versions of the missing pages by clicking the titles above.

My apologies for this!

Incentivised to drive: Suffolk’s County Councillors


As I mentioned recently, this year’s Public Health Report for Suffolk (Moving Forward? travel and health in Suffolk) aims to get more people out of the car and into more healthy means of travel. This is essential  for reasons ranging from health, through congestion, to potholes.

And yet, far from encouraging  county councillors to leave their cars at home,  SCC’s  current system of  councillor travel expenses is positively encouraging them to remain behind the wheel.  Lets look at the dilemma of a fictional county councillor living in my division,  Woodbridge. (I say fictional because, as we all know, I cycle or bus and don’t claim expenses anyway.)

It is an 18 mile-round cycle trip from Woodbridge to Endeavour House and back.  Assuming non-concessionary travel at morning peak (which gives the most expensive public transport fares)  the costs this councillor could legitimately claim for travel  vary as follows

  • Car ( 45p per mile): £8.10
  • Rail (return ticket):  £5.80
  • Bus (return ticket): £5.60
  • Cycle (15p per mile): £2.70
  • *Pedestrian: nothing

In other words, the amount of money claimable is in inverse proportion to the exercise undertaken.  Although the 18 miles -100 mins – cycling is the most healthy, all methods apart from  the car include some element of exercise. For rail one must walk, in my case,  1mile to the Woodbridge rail station, and a short distance at the other end to Endeavour house; for the bus I have to walk 20 mins from Tower Ramparts to Endeavour House -though one can also use the shuttle bus.

It seems totally anomalous that the claimable 15p per mile for cyclists (who are keeping fit, clearing the roads, preventing damage to the road surface  and saving taxpayers money in so many different ways) should contrast so starkly with the excessively generous 45p per mile currently accorded to those councillors who elect to save themselves effort and become health-riskers, air polluters and traffic jammers  – in short, drivers – at the expense of the taxpayer.  A show of hands in full council last week suggests these are the majority.

This is not just a matter of personal health and setting a good example. The number of such car-bound councillors MUST have a direct bearing on the number prepared to fight for a decent rural bus service – because they will not have experienced the difficulties of travelling by our currently poor, constantly changing and often unreliable rural buses. Indeed the lack of bus usage by elected members may actually provide some explanation for our poor rural bus services – ‘services’ that prevent so many people being able to rely on public transport . Councillors  might be personally motivated to challenge this state of affairs if they all got out of their cars and relied on the buses themselves.

In light of the Suffolk 2013 Public health report this seems particularly depressing.

At Full Council last Thursday  I asked the following question of Leader, Mark Bee

 “ as you have made it a council commitment that Suffolk should be ” the greenest county” and that we should  ”strive to improve the health, lifechances  and life expectancy of our residents”,  will you now commit to a reduction of the extremely generous mileage allowance Suffolk County councillors get if they use their own cars for transport on county council business – and instead to incentivise county councillors  to set a good example  to the residents of Suffolk by travelling by public transport or bicycle?

In response he promised to bring my question to the attention of the independent remuneration committee. I very much hope he will do so!


* I have made this journey by foot on a few occasions, but even I am prepared to say this is an unsustainable method of transport on a daily basis – as it takes five or six hours for the return trip!