August 08, 2004

Should trains carry bikes?

Patrick Crozier | Cycling

In a comment on "The UK rail problem", tom said:

How about the most disgusting of all, rush-hour train bans [of bicycles], they weren't around pre-privatisation.

The assumption being that bikes on trains are a good thing. To which I am inclinded to ask: "Good for whom?"

But there's another assumption here and that is that bikes are a good thing and therefore should be promoted. I think this is debatable. Bikes have their plusses and their minuses. The shame is that one of their big plusses ie that they don't cause pollution, is not reflected in the price. Of course, it should and I believe there are ways it could.

Having said that even if pollution costs were reflected in the price of transport I would have severe doubts as to whether cyclists would find it worthwhile putting their bikes on trains or that train companies would find it worth their while allowing them to.

Trackbacks

should trains carry bikes?
Patrick Crozier over at Transport Blog responded to my comment about his post where he measures progress (or not) on the railways since privatisation. His recent post, Should trains carry bikes? however only touches on abstract economics and not ...
tomment on August 8, 2004

Comments

Let's take a step back from abstract economic theory for a second, and take a look at what my comment really meant.

You set the question up by basing it on the assumption that bikes are 'good', semi-refute it but then never actually give any reason as to why bikes are not 'good'.

Is a wheelchair or a pushchair 'good', should they be allowed on a train during peak periods?

My point is that these cycle bans recently came into being through what would seem to be mismanagement. Trains today have specific storage space for cycles, train companies want to (and should) actively encourage bicycle as a good form of interchange with a train (after all, it offers more freedom than a bus). So why do they ban bikes in peak periods? Because the trains are too busy to accommodate them. Exactly, mismanagement - if the trains are too busy then they haven't sufficiently estimated the task of running trains in peak periods.

When I read the Wessex Trains guide to Cycling by Train, it points to their new train ban, and yet makes no indication that this is a fault on the side of their planning. They do not apologise for the short-term inconvenience, and indicate they intend to rectify the problem. This is a ban which is likely to stay in force because as a train operator they have managed their train provision badly, and they don't intend to change.

To take it to the extreme, one sunday a few months back, South Central completely banned bikes from their whole network due to the London - Brighton bike ride. They claim that their new rolling stock simply cannot accommodate the volume of bikes who would need to travel back from Brighton to London after the ride. So why, exactly, didn't they use some of their old rolling stock? They're used every day for commuters, why didn't they save themselves the hassle of putting heavy-handed security outside Brighton station, and put the old rolling stock on that day, who knows - maybe even like had happened previously, they might have planned ahead of time and exchanged some regular carriages for more guards vans to put bikes in.

So back to the point of whether bikes on trains are a good thing. Well if I can't take my bike on a train then I will drive with, or without, my bike - and that has got to be a bad thing.

Posted by tom on August 8, 2004

…if I can't take my bike on a train then I will drive with, or without, my bike - and that has got to be a bad thing.

Why?

Posted by Patrick Crozier on August 8, 2004
So why do they ban bikes in peak periods? Because the trains are too busy to accommodate them. Exactly, mismanagement - if the trains are too busy then they haven't sufficiently estimated the task of running trains in peak periods.

Sounds to me that it is more likey a consequence of price controls on the part of the regulator than mismanagement on the part of the train operator.

Posted by Andy Wood on August 8, 2004
Sounds to me that it is more likey a consequence of price controls on the part of the regulator than mismanagement on the part of the train operator.

How so Andy? You believe that commuter fares are too low, kept artificially so by the regulator, and hence trains are overcrowded?

And if it were up to market forces then the train operator would raise their prices and reduce patronage? Maybe that is the case, but in a natural monopoly, the regulator will always need to be there; perhaps therefore this is something the operators should adjust to.

Operators clearly make a profit on commuter trains, and so given the constraint that a regulator exists, then it makes economic sense to increase the size of your trains, rather than turn customers away.

Let's remember I'm not even given the opportunity to pay a higher price to take my bike on the train (it is unlikely I'd pay it anyway), like a 'peak train surcharge', similar to the way that tickets on peak trains are more expensive. This is an out-right ban.

Posted by tom on August 8, 2004
How so Andy? You believe that commuter fares are too low, kept artificially so by the regulator, and hence trains are overcrowded?

Yes. It is a well established fact that when producers are forbidden from charging the marginal cost for their product, shortages are the result. I believe that rail fares are controlled by the regulator. If I'm mistaken, I'm sure someone will correct me.

...a natural monopoly...

But the railways aren't a monopoly. They have to compete with road travel for cummuter journeys and also air travel for long distance journeys.

...the regulator will always need to be there...

This is debatable, but since the arguments are a lot more complicated and irrelevant in this case (since the railways aren't a monopoly), I'll leave that argument for another time.

Operators clearly make a profit on commuter trains, and so given the constraint that a regulator exists, then it makes economic sense to increase the size of your trains, rather than turn customers away.

Not so. It is only in the interest of the train operator to add more carriages if the revenue from the additional fares covers the cost of the additional carriages. That the operator makes a profit on a five-carriage train tells us nothing about whether his profit will go up or down by adding a sixth carriage.

It is quite possible that additional carriages will be profitable with the price controls removed, but unprofitable with the price controls in place.

Let's remember I'm not even given the opportunity to pay a higher price to take my bike on the train (it is unlikely I'd pay it anyway), like a 'peak train surcharge', similar to the way that tickets on peak trains are more expensive. This is an out-right ban.

But if the train operator has been forbidden from charging a high enough surcharge to cover the costs of turning one or two passengers away to make room for your bike, a ban makes perfect sense.

To clear this up, the questions that need to be answered are: On a rush-hour train, how many passengers, on average, need to be turned away to make room for a bike? What fare do they pay? If the train operator decided to lift the ban, what is the maximum surcharge it would be allowed to charge?

Posted by Andy Wood on August 8, 2004
To clear this up, the questions that need to be answered are: On a rush-hour train, how many passengers, on average, need to be turned away to make room for a bike? What fare do they pay? If the train operator decided to lift the ban, what is the maximum surcharge it would be allowed to charge?

I will take South West Trains as an example - as they are reviewing their cycle policy and are my local train operator.

Old Slam-Door Stock:
No passengers have to make room for bikes as these all have dedicated luggage compartments - one per four-carriage unit. However, when these trains operate in multiple units, only the rearmost luggage compartment might be available, as the guard is responsible for it and normally travels near the rear of the train.

Modern Stock:
Wessex Electrics (generally London to Weymouth)
No passengers have to make room for bikes as these all have a dedicated luggage compartment (per 5-carriage unit) (similar to the slam-door stock) with 5-cycle racks.

Desiro Express (generally London to Portsmouth)
No passengers have to make room for bikes as these all have 9 dedicated cycle racks per 5-car unit.

Desiro Surburban (generally local outer London services and rural stopping services)
2 bike spaces per 4-car unit with 3 tip-up seats for extra seating if required.

Older Inner Suburban Stock
These have no cycle spaces at all - however, they are now undergoing an extensive refurbishment program which will see them acquire dedicated cycle spaces (but apparently without any tip-up seats).

Diesel Multiple-Units (generally London to Exeter or Basingstoke to Brighton)
The newer units probably have tip-up seats. The older units have dedicated space for two cycles per 3-carriage unit - however, due to the general poor design of these trains, this space is frequently used for passengers' luggage or refreshment trolleys. Reservations are required at all times anyway.

A Further Observation:
Most of the modern trains also have a wheelchair space with tip-up seats. Is anyone here suggesting that wheelchair users should be turned away if their space is required for other passengers?

Inspite of most of their trains having permanently dedicated cycle spaces, South West Trains have proposed some quite unnecessarily draconian restrictions for bicycles on all their services. Their official line is that cyclists getting on and off hold up trains - however, it should be observed that their modern express trains are not generally designed for the embarking and disembarking of large numbers of people all at once - and this can be as much as a problem on a summer weekend as during a weekday commute.

For example, a Desiro Express carriage can take on average 75 people seated, but only two people can leave each one at the same time (the Surburban ones take 60 and 4 can leave simultaneously). Compare this to the slam-door mainline stock that takes slightly fewer people, but three can board/alight simultaneously.

In conclusion: The perceived problems with bikes on trains are due to poor train design and management. Economics of usage is of little relevance.


Posted by Devil's Advocate on August 8, 2004

"I would have severe doubts as to whether cyclists would find it worthwhile putting their bikes on trains"

I used to live in Croydon, about a mile from East Croydon station, and work in Fleet Street (near the Wig and Pen). Generally, I would cycle the distance. Occasionally, when the weather was particularly wet, I would take the train instead from a Croydon station to a London terminal (the detailed route varied for a number of reasons). In those circumstances, I found it "worthwhile".

More recently I have to commute from Maidenhead to Langley. I have now settled into a car sharing routine (4 in a car). However, when I first started I seriously considered train assisted cycling. What stopped me? The fact that Thames Trains (as they then were) have a peak hour cycle ban and when I looked at the cost of a Brompton (or any other usable folder) to get around that ban I go a bit of a price shock.

What are the benefits to me of train assisted cycling? Much quicker transit from station to destination than walking or bus. Overall, in the Maidenhead-Langley case, a journey time comparable to car. Freedom to use the bike to pop out at lunch time. A certain "eco-smugness"!

Posted by Graham Harrison on August 9, 2004

The fact that there are cycle racks on a train does not imply that no passengers have to be turned away to make room for the bikes. If all the racks are already in use, then any additional bikes mean less room for other passengers and their luggage.

I also note that the cycle ban on South West Trains only applies within the suburban area on trains that arrive at Waterloo during the morning rush hour, or depart from Waterloo during the evening rush hour. You say that the inner suburban trains have no dedicated cycle space at all, and these presumably account for most of the trains affected by the ban.

Furthermore, isn't the assertion that cycles hold up trains entirely reasonable? If the bike is kept in a separate carriage, then the train has to wait for the cyclist to come round and collect his bike. A passenger without a bike gets off the train and is away.

So I don't accept your conclusion, yet.

Posted by Andy Wood on August 9, 2004
If all the racks are already in use, then any additional bikes mean less room for other passengers and their luggage.

If the bike racks are full, then no additional bikes can board, simple as that. If you happen to be boarding a train with a bike and the rack is full, if you have a reservation then the theory goes that a bike should be offloaded which isn't reserved, in order to make space for your bicycle.

Therefore this isn't an issue.

Regarding the assertion that cycles hold up trains, it is likely that a delay could also be caused by do elderly passengers and wheelchair users, but I am yet to see a ban for them during peak periods.

Posted by tom on August 9, 2004

In fact rush hour bike bans _were_ around pre-privatisation. I commuted to work in Cambridge by train and bike until one evening when a notice at Cambridge station said "from tomorrow, no bikes", and I stopped commuting by train.
This would have been about 1990.

Posted by Alan Braggins on August 9, 2004
If the bike racks are full, then no additional bikes can board, simple as that. If you happen to be boarding a train with a bike and the rack is full, if you have a reservation then the theory goes that a bike should be offloaded which isn't reserved, in order to make space for your bicycle.

However, Devil's Advocate also said that on some trains, the bike space is taken up by luggage, so it could still be more profitable to ban a bike, which pays no surcharge to make room for the luggage of an extra fare-paying passenger or two. Of course, it depends on how much luggage can fit in the bike space.

Regarding the assertion that cycles hold up trains, it is likely that a delay could also be caused by do elderly passengers and wheelchair users, but I am yet to see a ban for them during peak periods.

But how often do those sort of passengers travel on trains during peak periods? My casual impression of using buses in Glasgow and Cambridge was that elderly people tended travel outside the rush hour. There's not much point in banning passengers who don't use your service anyway.

Posted by Andy Wood on August 9, 2004

I'm reading this all with interest, but I just have to pipe up and say to Andy that no one is banning passengers - they are simply prohibiting the passengers from carrying certain things onto the train with them. The difference is not semantic.

Posted by Jackie D on August 9, 2004

It saddens me to see this debate. I regularly used the bike racks on ScotRail and have been going around the US telling everyone how much better the UK treats bicyclists than we do (we don't let bicycles on our major passenger train service at all).

Don't limit the discussion of slowness to elderly and handicapped, remember to include the pregnant, the parents with strollers (including the double-wides), and the clueless American tourists who don't know where they're going and insist on talking loudly about their own stupidity... They all get in the way and gum up the works as much as a cyclist.

Posted by taleswapper on August 9, 2004

Jackie,

I didn't say that anyone was banning passengers. I was just making a remark in response to Tom's observation that certain groups of passengers are not banned, where there is conceivably an argument that they ought to be. (ie if bikes are banned because they delay trains, then why aren't wheelchairs banned for the same reason?)

Posted by Andy Wood on August 9, 2004

"However, Devil's Advocate also said that on some trains, the bike space is taken up by luggage, so it could still be more profitable to ban a bike, which pays no surcharge to make room for the luggage of an extra fare-paying passenger or two. Of course, it depends on how much luggage can fit in the bike space."

Andy, this statement suggests that passengers might be turned away because their luggage does not fit on the train, which is untrue. Unless your luggage happens to be a bike.


Posted by Neil on August 9, 2004
...this statement suggests that passengers might be turned away because their luggage does not fit on the train, which is untrue.

I assume you really mean that if their luggage takes up as much room as a bicycle they will be turned away, otherwise I don't think your statement makes sense - I doubt that many passengers would leave their luggage behind if it didn't fit on the train.

But that comment invites the same response to the one about wheelchairs: how many passengers take such amounts of luggage on a rush hour train? If there's no policy, it might just be because it's always been an insignificant problem.

I get the feeling that I'm idly speculating now. If Mark Ellott or Andy Wakeford are paying attention to this, they might be able to answer all our questions.

Posted by Andy Wood on August 9, 2004

Taleswapper

They all get in the way and gum up the works as much as a cyclist.
Unfortunately it would be most politically incorrect to be seen to discriminating against those groups, so cyclists are always an easy and obvious target.

Andy Wood and Neil
Passengers are not normally turned away if their luggage will not fit on a train - as people are generally quite good at finding somewhere to put it, even if it means blocking gangways, corridors or vestibules. As I said above, cyclists are an easy target as cycles are essentially large and awkardly-shaped luggage.

The specific luggage-in-cycle-space problem I mentioned was caused by the luggage storage in the seating areas in certain trains being inadequate for what one might consider as 'normal' luggage for passengers. With some train operating companies, cyclists have had to pay a surcharge to take their bikes on trains, even though on occasion this has not in itself guaranteed space being available.

Andy, you are correct about the current peak hour bike-ban mostly affecting trains currently without dedicated bike space, although to be fair it also includes many trains that do as well.

However, I don't understand why you think that "if the bike is kept in a separate carriage, then the train has to wait for the cyclist to come round and collect his bike. A passenger without a bike gets off the train and is away." Our trains have had inter-carriage corridor connections for many decades, so all a passenger has to do is be aware of where they are, or listen to the on-board announcements, and be ready with their bikes/luggage at the nearest door when their train pulls into a station.

Any delay will be caused by the number of people trying to board/alight at any individual door, irrespective of how much or how little luggage of any type that they might have with them. If only one person is waiting to alight (and one to board) the whole process can be over in as little 30 seconds. Unfortunately, on trains with powered doors this is nearly impossible with the extra time taken to for the guard to unlock them and lock them afterwards.

Graham Harrison

when I looked at the cost of a Brompton (or any other usable folder) to get around that ban I go a bit of a price shock.
Given that Brompton prices are very much within the average range for any good quality bike these days, how much were you expecting to pay, and how do the costs of your car-sharing compare?

Posted by Devil's Advocate on August 10, 2004
However, I don't understand why you think that "if the bike is kept in a separate carriage, then the train has to wait for the cyclist to come round and collect his bike. A passenger without a bike gets off the train and is away." Our trains have had inter-carriage corridor connections for many decades, so all a passenger has to do is be aware of where they are, or listen to the on-board announcements, and be ready with their bikes/luggage at the nearest door when their train pulls into a station.

I suppose I misunderstood your descriptions, but the image I had in my head was that for some trains, the passenger wouldn't have access to his bike during the journey and the guard would unload it for him when he reached his destination.

As that's not the case, I guess we need someone who knows more about it to explain it. When I googled yesterday, I found something that said they caused congestion during busy times.

Posted by Andy Wood on August 10, 2004

Andy Wood
I think you mught have been thinking of this:

Old Slam-Door Stock:
No passengers have to make room for bikes as these all have dedicated luggage compartments - one per four-carriage unit. However, when these trains operate in multiple units, only the rearmost luggage compartment might be available, as the guard is responsible for it and normally travels near the rear of the train.

Posted by Devil's Advocate on August 10, 2004

Here in DC we also have a rush hour ban on bicycles. I think the big problem with this is that we subsidize Metro to (amoung other thing) reduce congestion on the roads and reduce pollution, but then we turn away a group that would like to leave their cars at home - so the rule is counterproductive.

It gets worse when the rule is so inflexible. I do an opposite commute, so even though my trains are empty, I can't take my bike on. What would be wrong with a rule that on an overcrowded train, bikes (and presumably their riders) are the ones required to get off and wait for the next train?

Or, coming up with a dollar value for what transporting bikes during rush hour costs and charging that to cyclists? It would be no different than a trunck fee. Except that you would have to charge people with luggage as well.

The rule is arbitrary and short-sighted in my opinion.

Posted by David Cranor on August 10, 2004

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Toll roads are safer - at least according to my reading of this Marginal Revolution post ...link
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Peking metro to hit 1000km mark - I'm not sure even London's is that long ...link
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August 15, 2004

Squander Two calmly talks about speed cameras ...link
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Parking anarchy in St Albans - Police withdraw traffic wardens, Herts council won't have any until October, it's bedlam! ...link
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The future of transport - as seen from the past ...link
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Trains less efficient than cars - yes, I know, it's old news ...link
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Ferry solution, please - Eamonn Butler wonders how you could introduce competition to a subsidised ferry service in the Western Isles ...link
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August 14, 2004

Drink less, speed less, save on insurance - Marginal Revolution has the story ...link
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