Below 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.