Early in April, a very cross rail commuter got in touch with us to tell us that WAGN Railway (the main operator of trains in this area) was going to ban bikes from morning peak hour trains into Cambridge. In the weeks that followed we were deluged by complaints from many other rail travellers whose morning journeys are going to become much more difficult as a result of this decision.
We have had a good working relationship with WAGN over the past few years. We were therefore very disappointed to hear this news, especially because we heard about it second hand.
Bikes can currently be carried free of charge on most WAGN trains that serve Cambridge, either in the doorways or in a designated area for carrying cycles. There is no need to book: you just turn up and carry your bike onto the train. The only restrictions at present are on commuter trains to and from London: cycles are not allowed on services south of Stevenage and Broxbourne that terminate in London between 0700 and 0930 or leave London between 1600 and 1900, Mondays to Fridays.
In contrast, both other rail operators that serve Cambridge allow bikes on all their trains but impose limits on the number of bikes that can be carried and charge a £1 fee. Anglia Railways (to Newmarket and Ipswich) has space for only four bikes on their trains into Cambridge. Central Trains (to Stansted Airport and Peterborough) has space for only two bikes, which must be reserved in advance.
The cycle ban
With so little information being made available by WAGN, and some of that being at best ambiguous and at worst contradictory, we’ve had to spend quite a lot of time just trying to find out exactly what is going on and what the ban will mean.
The first working day of the ban is Tuesday 30 May. WAGN have told us that:
[The ban is being introduced] to increase safety and the comfort of the majority of customers on these trains. Bikes will not be allowed on trains that are scheduled to arrive in Cambridge between 0745 and 0845 Monday to Friday. This includes trains that pass through Cambridge. It does not, however include the 0715 or 0745 from King’s Cross. Neither does it include Bank Holidays.
This affects two trains from each of Liverpool Street, King’s Cross and King’s Lynn, and one from Ely.
The new timetable states that bikes are also no longer permitted on the two non-stop trains from Kings Cross, but after reports that there were very few bikes on these trains, the planned restriction on them has now been withdrawn.
Free cycle hire
We have been aware for more than a year that WAGN has been worried about the number of cycles being carried in rush-hour train doorways. To try to reduce the number of bikes on trains, the company introduced a ‘free cycle hire’ service last year, for season ticket holders arriving in Cambridge. The bikes are provided by Cambridge Pursuits, which already runs the cycle hire business at Cambridge station. It was initiatives such as this that prompted us to nominate WAGN in 1999 for a ‘Cycle Mark’ award for services to cyclists.
WAGN have now announced that to reduce the impact of the new cycle ban, the free bike hire service will now be offered to non-season ticket holders who arrive on trains affected by the ban, regardless of whether they have previously travelled with a bike.
We asked how the scheme would work. They told us:
Register for the scheme and a bike will be prepared for you. Once it is ready you will be informed that it is ready for collection. You will need a deposit of £50 and a form of identification to collect the cycle. The cycle will be maintained by Cambridge Pursuits at no expense to the customer.
There is no need to return the bike to the hire shop each evening: customers can park their bikes overnight at Cambridge station. The bikes will have locks, lights and a pannier rack.
WAGN have told us that take-up of the original cycle hire scheme was very poor. We have received many comments from cyclists that may explain why.
- Cycle security at home stations has been the biggest concern. One cyclist told us ‘I only left my bike at Meldreth station once. That was the only occasion on which I have had a bicycle vandalised in the entire time I’ve lived in or around Cambridge.’
- It is clear that many cyclists are not prepared to leave their bikes unattended all day at un-staffed stations. We suspect that the only solution to the security problems at these stations is the provision of good quality cycle lockers.
- There’s also the problem of finding somewhere to park a bike at Cambridge station. ‘It’s already quite hard to find somewhere to park a bike at Cambridge’, another cyclist reported. ‘All those extra hire bikes are going to make it worse.’
It has also been pointed out that the scheme doesn’t help people who travel through Cambridge, or change trains at Cambridge.
However, it has to be recognised that the bike hire scheme is unique, as far as we know, and that WAGN is making an attempt to alleviate some of the inconvenience their restrictions will cause.
For up-to-date information on the ban:
There has only been room here to scratch the surface of the issues raised and the problems caused.
To inform ourselves, and to allow members to find out about the ban first-hand, we invited two members of WAGN staff to our May monthly meeting. It was the best-attended meeting we have had for some time. Much of the concern expressed at that meeting centred on the apparent lack of long-term solutions to accommodate cyclists. WAGN has been worried for some time about the safety of large numbers of bikes in train doorways, yet so far as we know, the only solution they have considered has been simply to ban those bikes from their trains.
At the May meeting, Cambridge Cycling Campaign members approved the following motion:
The Cambridge Cycling Campaign deplores the bicycle ban but wishes to work with WAGN and other organisations towards a solution that will enable bicycles to be carried safely on all trains.
The Campaign will now press hard for improvements to minimise the impact of the new restrictions. In particular we will work to make the bike hire system work properly and to increase the security of cycle parking at local stations. We will also lobby for changes that will bring about properly planned provision for cycle carriage in trains through Cambridge as soon as possible.
We hope to coordinate our lobbying with other concerned organisations. Please contact us if you would like to be involved in this.
Many of the people complaining to us were affected by a pre-WAGN ban on cycles some years ago, and they or their partners all switched to travelling by car instead. Based on the comments we’ve received so far, it rather looks like there will be many more single-occupant cars driving into Cambridge from 30 May.