Tag Archives: Greater Anglia

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.

Not on our trains! Greater Anglia’s cycle ‘consultation’

Reposted, as a catastrophic failure of my website has lost the original, posted at the beginning of Oct

crocyclistMy goodness. Greater Anglia’s ‘consultation’ on the future of passenger transport is stating pretty unequivocally that their intention is that they will no longer carry cycles on our trains.  Their reason? They cite “ the views of our customers as a whole, some of whom are beginning to voice understandable concerns about the safety of carrying large numbers of cycles at peak times”.

So,  some people on some trains have some concerns.  These would probably be the customers as a whole who would like to be able to sit down,  and are unable to do so because the company is providing both an inadequate number of seats in second class  AND an inadequate number of carriage spaces for bicycles? I have heard a lot of these complaining about the lack of space in second class – often on intercity London-Norwich trains without a bicycle in sight.

Greater Anglia could respond to this situation in a number of supportive and inventive ways. If they will persist in doing away with the good old Guard’s Van, how about removing all seats from one of their excess of first class carriages, to create a standing and cycle zone? But no, instead they appear to be  “hoping to stimulate behavioural change“. They are “conscious that we need to work with stakeholders to find alternative solutions to this problem.”  But not too hard, because they have already come up with a single option for the stakeholders to choose from. This is that they adopt:

“ a ‘corridor approach’ where a specific problem exists with cycles on trains, and to provide secure cycle parking and hire at both ends of the train journey so that customers are encouraged to either have a cycle at both stations, or to take advantage of cycle hire or possibly another sustainable mode of transport from their destination

In other words, Boris bikes – and no provision for any other than the routine business cyclist who can afford the hire, or to have a bicycle at both ends of a single train journey. This will go down a storm with those passengers who need to take a train to and from a rural destination, such as Wickham Market – where there IS no sustainable transport and no likelihood of cycle hire. Or join, say, an Ipswich to Cambridge train at a rural station en route? Or those who don’t have enough money to add an additional £3.80  for hire

So, then, here is option 1. What are the other options? Crikey – there are none, apart from  ”around the wider use of folding cycles, provided that these are used with sensitivity for the needs of other customers.” O fell phrase ‘issues around.’ What actually does it mean? And have we now got a future where folding bicycles are considered as less of a form of luggage than any other piece of luggage of the same size? It certainly sounds that way.

As you know, I have epilepsy which disables me from driving. I can only travel by public transport, bicycle or a combination of the two and have the cards to prove this. On a personal level I am deeply interested in how Greater Anglia plans to handle the carriage of my bicycle which has in my life the same status as a wheelchair in the life of other disabled persons.

One should have the strongest possible objection to any consultation offering a single outcome flagged up in advance  by the consultors. And particularly a company that is supposedly providing a public service.

I mean, I know the privatised rail companies have to make a profit for shareholders, but don’t forget the taxpayer is funding them and we really should expect them to be providing a public service. In 2012 the BBC reported that

Every time you travelled a mile on a train last year, the government effectively gave the train company an average of 7.5 pence. Or put it another way, assuming you are a taxpayer, you subsidised your own journey by an average of 7.5p per mile. That’s on top of buying the ticket of course.

You’d think, as we are paying for it – and if second-class, a relatively much higher proportion of our ticket for a much worse service –  we could be allowed to retain our bikes.

By the way, the consultation relies on one to download a pdf on a website and then make a  response in writing, or by email  – not that I am suggesting that this is in order to discourage you from responding. Just that its made it very much harder to identify GA’s intentions, and to respond to them.  No hotlinks for online reply are included anywhere – with the possible result that it might discourage all but the most determined.  I urge you to persevere despite this.

Indeed I urge anyone interested and/ worried to track down the consultation document for yourself via this link http://www.greateranglia.co.uk/about-us/news/2013/09/greater-anglia-consults-on-cycle-strategy-and-further-cycle-rail-improvements  and respond via email/snail mail to the addresses  below.The  end date is 1 November.

Cycle Strategy Responses
Greater Anglia
11th floor
One Stratford Place
LONDON E20 1EJ
cyclestrategy@greateranglia.co.uk

Please clearly mark your response ‘Draft Cycle Strategy’

As another part of this consultation, Greater Anglia are planning on setting up a Cycle Forum to assist them in decisionmaking. I have already written to ask that I be included in this, and await their response with interest.

 That draft cycle strategy as written:

“Our policy in the short term continues to be that we will try to accommodate the carriage of cycles on trains free of charge wherever we possibly can. However, we have to balance this demand with the views of our customers as a whole, some of whom are beginning to voice understandable concerns about the safety of carrying large numbers of cycles at peak times. Our objective for the medium to long term is therefore to reduce the carriage of cycles on trains by stimulating behavioural change.

Many of our trains carrying commuters into London and regional centres such as Cambridge are becoming increasingly crowded, and it has already become necessary to impose restrictions on the carriage of non-folding cycles at these times. We will keep these restrictions under review, but as the use of our services continues to grow, we believe that we and future franchisees will have to consider a widening of the restrictions to cover other routes and services. Unfortunately, it is not a simple matter to provide additional carriages, and the priority will always be to provide seated or standing accommodation for passengers.

We are therefore conscious that we need to work with stakeholders to find alternative solutions to this problem. These need to be viable alternatives, rather than just more punitive restrictions.

We believe the options are to take a ‘corridor approach’ where a specific problem exists with cycles on trains, and to provide secure cycle parking and hire at both ends of the train journey so that customers are encouraged to either have a cycle at both stations, or to take advantage of cycle hire or possibly another sustainable mode of transport from their destination. This reflects the culture in force in many parts of Europe and 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.

There may also be options around wider use of folding cycles, provided that these are used with sensitivity for the needs of other customers. We appreciate that there needs to be a considerable amount of partnership working and goodwill from all parties to manage this difficult situation. We undertake to work with other train operators on shared sections of route to manage the problem consistently and as sympathetically as possible. We will also engage with local authorities and cycling groups to implement the ‘corridor’ approach where it is practical to do so”

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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!