Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has criticised Great Western Railway's new rules on booking cycle reservations by 6pm the day before travel for discouraging cycling


Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has expressed concern a new rule for passengers bringing bike’s onto Great Western Railway’s (GWR) high speed trains.

From 16 May, passengers with a non-folding bike need to book a cycle reservation by 6pm the day before travelling on GWR trains due to limited space on trains, although a bike can be brought on board without booking if space allows.

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Mr Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport between 2009-2010, criticised the new rules for making it difficult for people with unfixed working hours who commute by both train and bike.

“I had serious concerns about this when it was first announced, not least as it would affect my ability to do my job,” Mr Bradshaw told the Exter Express and Echo.

“Because of the uncertainty of parliamentary hours and constituency commitments I often don’t know in advance what time train I will be able to get to and from London.

“I sought urgent clarification from GWR and they confirmed that you will still be able to put your bike on their trains if there is space, while encouraging people to book in advance.

“But they must do more to improve their booking system. It is ridiculous that you can’t book a bike online if you already have a ticket, but have to phone a call centre in India. I tried this on Sunday evening and couldn’t get through.

“Rail companies should be doing their best to encourage not discourage bicycle use.”

But Dan Panes, GWR head of communications, said: “It’s getting more and more of a problem as more and more people bring their bikes on.

“It’s much more popular than it was, even two or three years ago.

“What we’re seeing is that people with bikes and tickets, turning up and finding that there’s no space on that train, having to buy another ticket or pay a little bit more to get on the next one.”

Sam Jones of Cycling UK said he was pleased that GWR were still allowing bikes on board without a reservation, but called on the train operator to clarify the policy.

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“We’ve been hearing from concerned members that Great Western is currently not allowing cyclists and their wheels to board without cycle reservations since the new system was introduced.

“Cycling UK welcomes the involvement of Ben Bradshaw MP as, judging from the response he received, this is not the case and in fact their previous policy is still in play – just not necessarily practised by members of staff.

“Cycling UK would urge Great Western to make this latest return to policy clear to both members of staff and the public, so as to prevent further misunderstanding and misery.

“Last week we heard how there is an increase in the number of people turning to cycle-rail as a means of travelling and commuting. Until Great Western provides a booking service that will facilitate easy, fast and up to the last minute booking for cycles, the implementation of a mandatory booking system unnecessarily penalises those increasing numbers of commuters and season ticket holders who want to use cycle-rail.”

  • I’ve started a petition around this issue – we’re getting momentum at around 1200 now, so please sign

  • avlowe

    Cross Country Trains has a different policy for their trains using the same routes, and GWR also has a different policy for all their local services (like the one you’ve unfortunately used to illustrate this story with at Guildford Station), as do Arriva Trains Wales, South West Trains and London Midland, who also share some of the routes affected by the proposed change.

    Across the UK we have no standard policies, and there are often cycles refused on trains where the reserveable space is available, and on non reserveable trains no clarity of appropriate action or empowerment to staff on permitting sensible use of the available space. Where this does happen, typically I’ve noted that with a remarkable consistency on popular routes for cycle carriage, 10% of the passenger count will be travelling with bikes.

    I really think that those who want to make the case have to build their case, and the commuters (with GWR) travelling out from Bristol on the Severn Beach line. Regularly doing bike & passenger counts on the 102-seat and 140-seat trains and noting that typically 50% of the reverse-commuting passengers were travelling with bikes so they could get the 2-3 miles from the stations (where there were no bus services and nowhere safe to leave bikes overnight), to their places of work – up to 16 bikes were going on these trains at times. The best figures however come from the groups who organise weekend rides out from London where an impressive 70% of the FARE PAYING passengers on one Sunday morning train were a single cycling group (OK it was 14 of the 20 passengers on a 250-seat 180-ton train, and moving 9 tons of train per passenger was hardly low carbon, green transport!)

    A clarity about the approved places to put bikes, can be delivered by each TOC in their safety assessments, and when trains are not heavily loaded some remarkable bike capacity can be delivered – 16-18 on a 3-coach train 30+ on a 4 coach train, often working with cycling groups and partially dismantling bikes/wrapping them in a groundsheet etc to use luggage racks, and space between seats.

    The GWR move is in preparation for the new trains, which will be 234 metres long and have up to 5 x 2-bike stowage cupboards distributed along the train at 1-2 units per coach, so you will need to know where to stand as rushing up & down the platform to find a space will be a problem.

    However I’d note the following details
    1) Cross Country us apparently the ONLY TOC who transfer their seat reservations and advance fares at midnight every day to a phone app and also a system available to the train manager, so that seats can be reserved en route.
    2) Because the railway seat reservation and ticketing system was developed many years ago, it is both locked up when compared to a more modern package that can be more easily upgraded, and it is fragile and potentially very costly to tweak (remember when everything crashed in 2004-05 and took months to untangle)
    3) Because of 2) bike reservations are actually pseudo-seat reservations, but this breaks the ‘rules’ of the seat reservation system, as the system in theory refuses to issue 2 seat reservations for one travel ticket (which is why the independent sellers often refuse to (or make excuses not to) issue the free bike reservations, which they get no commission for.

    I’d strongly advise those using any rail services regularly with (or even without) their bike to do some spot counts, take photos, make observations. Typically some recent observations are on Cross Country services which set off early and are used mainly by commuters from say Sheffield to Leeds, Bristol to Cheltenham, Newcastle to Durham, and these services are not generally used by passengers with huge cases – so the massive (and badly conceived) space in Coach D (replacing the old buffet counter) lies empty, and can accommodate at least 3 further bikes easily, working with the train manager, who knows that the bikes come off well before demand for ‘case space’ takes over.

    GWR has already shown what can be done for the big bike events at Blenheim Palace. Staff at Oxford Station had information from the crew on incoming trains, so that bikes were placed on the platform in the right places and quantities to load quickly into the available spaces – not exactly difficult to sort out if modern communications are used – the twitter customer help services now make this even easier. SWT regularly do the same at Brockenhurst, checking on the space available on trains leaving Bournemouth and again lining up the right number of bikes to board at the right doors.

    The issue remains though that for regular commuters making relatively short utility trips, having a bike at each end of the journey (Dutch commuter practice) is really the way to ensure a reliable bike & train commute. There is a lot that needs to be done on both sides.

    Only 2 TOC’s have really got successful stakeholder engagement, with cycle forums. We need more of these with local cycle users, local councils and others finding ways to work with the TOC. We have a growing number of bike hubs – but no wide coordination of networked use (for example no deal to have a bike space in Leeds and one in Sheffield for a regular commuter – the 2 bike hubs have no reciprocal promotion or news of each other’s developments.

    We have a growing number of bike hire options, and secure parking compounds – many using RFID cards or key fobs with identical formats, which they also share with the smart cards now being rolled out by the TOC’s and ITA’s (Keycard = Go Ahead ; Walrus = Merseyrail ; Get Me There = TfGM etc). Press for this to be properly co-ordinated UK-wide, possibly with a iphone/Bluetooth/QR operation (all options available on some hire bike systems).

    For GWR specifically, note that you have Brompton Hire at Ealing, Reading, Didcot, and Bristol (2), hiring a bike long term to take on the train, for less than half the cost of the London Zones you might otherwise use, and delivering time savings of typically 15-20 minutes over changing on to Tube or bus services. Then there are bike share schemes in Slough, Reading, and Bath, the last scheme (Nextbike) offering access to bikes at every public scheme that the operator runs in 20 countries world-wide, and other UK schemes in Coventry, Milton Keynes, Belfast, Glasgow and Stirling.

    So to sum up do some surveys of what is happening NOW.
    Press to deliver immediate booking via iphone or the train manager of customer helpline.
    Make things easier – Cycling UK has always pressed to get bikes which have been dismantled or folded down to a compact ‘flat’ package to be accepted as luggage, as they are also accepted on most long distance coach services, and help everyone to fit bikes in to the space available by removing that bulky luggage. This can often see 4 or 5 bikes fitting in to the space which can only take 2 when packed to ‘standard’ density.

  • Dale Lindsay

    bring back the guard’s carriage.

  • Howmanyjackos

    Through my own experience GWR staff are quite strict..no booking no travel..
    It also removes the option of buying an open return ticket as you must specify what time and date you will travel?
    Its sad and unfortunately also cheaper to drive.