Labour: on your bike? Probably not…

Labour today revealed their party manifesto…a 76 page document that I am sure is filled with a million worthy things, but my mind turned towards one of the pressing issues of the day for me. Not the economy, nor defence but rather transport.

Interestingly enough, there was a mention of a cycling based policy – more of a casual unperceivable nod to the cycling lobby but something all the same. On the 14th page of the pdf version, the manifesto begins to discuss rebuilding our transport infrastructure, which is truly a splendid idea. The current system is fantastically disjointed with each arm seeming to operate independently without really even acknowledging the existence of other forms of transport.

“Britain needs to invest in modern, high-capacity and low-carbon transport infrastructure.”

Which in political speech means more and faster trains and reducing road congestion. So far so good…great sound bites…but the devils will inevitably lurk in the details. Ah there’s one:

“We will extend hard-shoulder running on motorways, alongside targeted motorway widening including on the M25.

Right…so road congestion will be relieved by…ah by widening motorways. Brilliant. Genius plan…so instead of further encouragement for alternative means of transport such as better joined up facilities for buses with trains – or improved cycling facilities or plans to encourage the uptake of bicycles – Labour have promised larger motorways.

Oh…they do promise to encourage more people onto the train – there is something about “an enforceable right to the cheaper fare” and then there concession to the cyclist – “trebling the number of secure cycle storage spaces at rail stations”. Superb.

Well, actually that is a good thing – undoubtedly a good thing – but it is not really enough. Most people I know who would want to cycle to the station, would then want to cycle on from the station at the end of their train journey. I would think that such a desire would extend beyond my limited number of chums too, so I will put myself out on a limb here and say this could well be something that most cyclists would want.

Now unless you have a Brompton or similar style foldaway bicycle, the likelihood of squeezing any more than say 6 bicycles is highly unlikely – even on non peak services. Great Western will only take 6 in their guard van – 6! For a train that has over 10 carriages packing more than potentially 60 people each(not being a trainspotter I cannot vouch for the accuracy of such figures), that really is a woeful amount – potentially meaning that should the train be full, there can be one bicycle for every 100 passengers.

That is plainly rubbish.

South West Trains are not much better to be fair – and I really could not vouch for any of the other services, but I really would not anticipate a vast shift in attitude to this either.

If the Government really wants to see more people on bikes and using the train, then they should think about encouraging the train lines to look into investigating how the trains themselves can take on extra cycling capacity – particularly at peak hours. I am not naïve enough to think that this would a simple feat for any of the trainlines…but I am sure after a number of years, the increase in passengers using bicycles would begin to bring added revenue to the trainlines. As an example, Government could subsidise as a green development of an additional bicycle/heavy baggage carriage (and I do not mean a pokey little guard van) on key services. Perhaps there could be a small charge for using this carriage which should be fully bookable, and able to reveal before each stop the amount of spaces free per train – they can do this for carparks so why not a train? I am sure the Swiss and Dutch do something marvellous to allow for a plentiful load of bicycles on their trains…so why can’t we?

The benefits of people using bicycles have been much discussed (some can be seen here on the Guardian bike blog – Boosting cycling is win-win), and if your traveller / commuter can be given some assurance as to there being availability on the railways for their steed then I am sure we would see more cyclists as train travellers.

It would be great to see such forward thinking with the appointment of a ministerial cycling czar – and by that I do not mean a racing star of the Olympics or other such glamorous headline catching PR guff, but a person who understands the pain of arriving at a train station, sweaty from their ride but on time only to be turned away with a “no bikes on this train”.

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