Greater Anglia is Now Firmly Anti-Bicycle
A new policy for bicycles on trains implemented by Greater Anglia at the beginning of this month is a kick in the teeth to building a sustainable transport network and yet another example of the need for democratic public ownership.
Until the 1st March, Greater Anglia was one of the more relaxed operators when it came to taking bicycles on trains. In fact, the provision for bicycles on the Norwich to London route was the best in the UK. The large luggage area of the 'DVT' vehicles in use on that service, with no need for reservations was a shining light in how bicycles should be conveyed on the UK rail network: Cycle to the station, pop your bicycle on the train, travel to your station, cycle on to your destination. Easy. So what went wrong? To prepare for the introduction of new rolling stock, GA has imposed a huge U-turn from being one of the most supportive operators to walk on, walk off, no reservation cycle transport becoming one of the most restrictive. Under the new rules, rural routes (including the distinctly un 'rural' Cambridge to Norwich intercity service) are subject to a limit to four bicycles per train and mainline Norwich to London services are now subject to a reservation only policy, also with a four bicycles limit.
Travel on the network any day of the week and you'll see that the current demand for taking bicycles far outstrips this draconian implementation. Take the 0735 from Lowestoft to Norwich. By Oulton Broad there are normally four or five bicycles squeezed in. By Brundall, as many as seven or eight may be on board. It's certainly not ideal, but it is reality. Whilst many passengers from Great Yarmouth have drifted over to using the bus, the bus is no match for being able to take your bicycle with you to your final destination.
The tone of communinications from GA seems to follow the same line: they have invested in bicycle facilities at stations, so you can now lock up your bicycle and travel on the train. This approach misses a huge link in the essentials of a sustainable transport system, the final leg of a journey at the other end. A bicycle is not much good locked up if you need it to get you from your end station to final destination. It's no great surprise to hear Greater Anglia has been trying to discourage bicycles on trains since 2013. The organisational apathy and general discouragement of GA transporting bicycles is phenominal when you consider that their approach to supporting a major annual bicycle event in Suffolk, the Dunwich Dynamo, is to ban the transport of bicycles on all trains on the East Suffolk Line following the event. Considering this day always falls on a Sunday, a day when there are spare trains not being used, it is woeful. Even more baffling is that parent company Abellio's sister franchise, Scotrail, has converted Class 153 units like those used on rural routes into dedicated bicycle carrying trains.
A cynic might also wonder if the new restrictions on bicycles are also an attempt by the company to increase uptake on its unpopular 'Bike and Go' scheme which has really failed to take off since introduction. Only principal stations have hire bicycles, which is not much use to anyone using rural unstaffed stations who may need a bicycle to get home.
Vice versa, the new scheme gives no confidence to the passenger on the ability to actually get to their destination, as the original policy did. Now there's no guarantee you can travel on the service you intented to, for fear of being refused entry or for not having a valid reservation.
The implementation and imposition of this policy highlights yet again how disconnected privatised railway operation is from the real and human needs of people who actually use the railways. The new rolling stock that inspired the introduction of the policy is woefully inadequate for meeting rural and intercity bicycle demand and it is quite frankly a scandal that in the face of the existential crisis of climate change, we see yet another capitalist private company plodding on with the suicidal policy of 'business as usual'. As outlined in the NOR4NOR Charter, we see that the ability to take a bicycle on a train without a reservation an essential right of every passenger using our railway network. Only with absolute freedom and security to do this can railways offer a real alternative to the car and help us progress towards the kind of solutions we need for society.