Previous Section Index Home Page

8 May 2007 : Column 7WH—continued

Of course, we now have a cycling allowance, although I have never claimed it. I hope that the Minister who is responding today has a different speech writer from the one who drafted the ministerial reply back in 1975.

I also asked for cycle routes through the Royal parks and for cyclists to have a head start over cars at traffic lights, and I am happy that some progress has been made in those areas. I then had a go at the specific subject of this morning’s debate—cycle-rail integration. I said:

I went on to mention inadequate parking facilities, high tariffs and inadequate carriage facilities—some of which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Battersea today—but I made little headway. At that time, British Rail was, of course, a nationalised industry. However, in his reply the Minister said:

He then invited me to approach British Rail directly myself to see whether I might make better progress. It is a paradox that Ministers appear to have more
8 May 2007 : Column 8WH
control over the now privatised rail industry than they had over the nationalised industry some 30 years ago.

This morning, we need to outline some short-term measures, as the hon. Gentleman has already done, and some medium-term measures. In the short term, we need clarity, certainty and, where possible, consistency. We need clarity as to what the rules are and to be able to find that information easily. I accept that those rules might have to vary between train operating companies in the short term, depending on their capacity and the configuration of rolling stock.

We need certainty that when a traveller is told that he can take his bicycle on a train, he can do so, rather than getting there and being told by the conductor that he cannot. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need the ramps that he mentioned.

In the medium term, we should consider rolling stock and franchise agreements with a view to tilting the terms of trade more towards the cycling railway traveller. We need more flexible rolling stock in which seats can be tipped up to make more space for bicycles. We need more cycle-hire facilities at main railway stations and more convenient cycle racks. At Waterloo, one has to walk halfway to Clapham Junction, along platform 12, to access the cycle racks. As franchise agreements are redrafted and train operating companies are invited to bid, the Minister would do well to insert into those agreements some of the items on the CTC’s shopping list, which indicates how we might make progress.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on at least one item on that shopping list. Some 10 years ago, a small sum of money was available within the Department as part of something called cycle challenge. People could bid for that money to develop innovative cycling schemes to promote cycling. That encouraged best practice and brought forward a wide range of ideas. The CTC has talked about a cycle-rail innovation fund. I do not think that it matters particularly what such a model is called, but it is a useful model that the Department might consider to raise the profile of this issue, put some money on the table and encourage exciting new ideas.

My final plea is for the tandem rider. If the cyclist has been gently persecuted by the railways for decades, the tandem rider has been martyred. My wife and I had to ride an extra 20 miles one day, because the conductor would not allow a tandem on a train that allowed bicycles. I therefore join the hon. Member for Battersea in not ignoring tricycles, trailers and the rest. The challenge confronting the Minister is in unlocking potential. We do not want to make people cycle to the station, but many people would like to if it were easier, safer and more convenient. That is what we need to do. I cannot guarantee that I will still be here in 32 years, but I hope that any debate on this issue in 2039 will be able to point to this debate as the time when the campaign to promote better cycle-rail integration really took off.

9.59 am

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing this debate. On paper, this may seem a minor technical subject, but it
8 May 2007 : Column 9WH
definitely is not. People say that they use their cars because it is convenient to do so and because they get a door-to-door service, but a proper mixture of bikes and trains would be the alternative door-to-door service—it makes perfect sense.

Last year, one of the most heavily supported early-day motions was one that I tabled on behalf of the all-party group on cycling. It was on bike-rail integration and was signed by 170 Members. How will we go about getting such integration? I speak as the chair of the all-party group, which has been working with the Cyclists Touring Club and the London Cycling Campaign to promote bike-rail integration in the hope that it will receive serious consideration in the various policy papers that the Department for Transport is planning to publish this summer. We believe that this is a great opportunity to improve our transport system.

Over the past few weeks, many hon. Members have met local cyclists—I see that many of the Members concerned are present—and undertaken an audit of the state of their local station’s parking facilities for cyclists; I know that many hon. Members have been very shocked.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) is present. He is a former chair of the all-party group and one of the first to campaign on proper cycle-rail infrastructure. I understand what he says about how bad things were in the past, but inconsistency has increased since the privatisation of the railways.

Recent questions from various hon. Members have elicited a response from the Department that suggests that it is awaiting a report from Cycling England on the role of cycle-rail integration. I hope that the report will be useful and will provide support, but I would suggest to the Minister that Cycling England was never intended to be an advisory body; it was meant to be a body that delivered improvements for cycling, rather than a policy body first and foremost. Perhaps Cycling England would be best off if it were provided with a special cycle-rail innovation fund. That could build on existing best practice and test new ideas.

Personal car use has increased significantly in the past 20 years, and while the majority of households have access to cars, a significant minority—nearly 50 per cent. in my constituency—do not. Transport alternatives to the private car must be provided, both for the sake of social inclusion and for the wider agenda of reducing car use for all the environmental, health and road-safety benefits that doing so will bring.

Cycling and the railways could play a much greater role than they do. As has been said, 60 per cent. of UK households are within a 15-minute cycle ride of a station, but according to the Department’s statistics, just 2 to 3 per cent. of all rail trips include cycling in the journey. Part of the problem is the structure of the rail network. Train operating companies arbitrarily choose cycle policies. There seems to be no rhyme or reason behind them. Such policies are often supported by ludicrous franchise agreements with the Department—yes, I said ludicrous.

I shall give an example of that. First ScotRail agreed to provide cycle parking at every station. People might think that a laudable aim, until they realise that
8 May 2007 : Column 10WH
stations such as Corrour in Lochaber are included. It has no road access and no permanent inhabitants within 8 miles of it, yet it has four cycle parking stands.

Network Rail, which ultimately owns the system, leases stations and car parks back to the train operating companies, but will not allow them to remove car parking spaces, even for cycle parking, without a formal agreement and penalty clause. That is hardly a supportive structure for cycling.

I want to pick out three different types of rail passengers, who represent most of the traffic on the network: commuters; long-distance business travellers; and tourists. Each of the passenger types could benefit in different ways from improved bike-rail integration. Commuters are presently the heaviest users of the rail network—half of all trips on the railways are commuting trips—and in recent years the large increases in both rail users and cyclists in London have led to the imposition by train operating companies of peak-time bans. As we have heard, that policy was agreed by the Strategic Rail Authority in its cycling policy, recently reissued by the Department.

I understand that trains running in excess of capacity cannot really allow cyclists to take up what would otherwise be standing space for commuters, but the bans are inflexible and fail to offer an alternative. They vary greatly between six-hour daily bans in all directions on Southern and four-hour bans on First Great Western. Southeastern, which is run by the same company as Southern, has recently decided to ban all cyclists from its trains during the three days of the Tour de France. That is hardly supportive of cyclists and it hardly encourages cycling.

Many commuters have resorted to buying small-wheeled folding cycles, such as Bromptons, a practice which has been promoted by the operating companies. Why is there such a demand for commuters to carry their cycles on trains? The simple reason is that there is nowhere to leave bikes at stations. In Holland, there are similar blanket bans on cycle carriage before 9 am, but they do not stop many more cyclists using the railways. In fact, up to a third of all passengers in Holland get to the station by bicycle, the difference being that it has adequate parking facilities, whereas we do not.

In a presentation that I attended six months ago, the Dutch national rail company explained how a small station in Holland could put in 1,000 bike parking spaces. Even Britain’s most successfully integrated bike-rail station, York, has just 1,000 spaces. If we could just make more effort, we could provide many more spaces. The bike parking spaces in all of the London mainline terminals add up to less than 1,000. If commuters were offered plentiful and secure cycle parking at stations, they would not feel such a strong need to carry their bikes with them everywhere. I know that improvements have occurred at regional stations. In 2003, the Department started a project that brought in an additional 2,500 cycle parking spaces. Those spaces are greatly welcome, but we must remember the figure of 1,000 such spaces for one tiny station in Holland.

Franchise agreements have brought some improvements. First Capital Connect, which run trains in my constituency, has a commitment in its latest franchise to spend £100,000 on cycle parking in 33 stations. Unfortunately, the Department has not
8 May 2007 : Column 11WH
specified which stations should be included or what the quality of the parking should be. First Capital Connect has decided to concentrate on those stations where cycle use is already high and where facilities will be covered by CCTV.

Cyclists should be confident that when they leave a bike at a station it will still be there when they come back, but, unfortunately, cycle crime is soaring at our stations. Whereas motor vehicle crime at stations has fallen by 50 per cent. since 2000, reported theft or vandalism of bicycles has increased by almost 80 per cent. Nearly all of that crime—3,000 instances a year—is in London and the south-east. I wrote on behalf of the all-party group to British Transport police asking why they thought that that worrying trend was occurring. They say that it is because of the increase in cycling witnessed in London. I would say that that is right, but that the problem could be tackled. I believe that the trend results from the failure of Network Rail and the train operating companies to provide decent facilities.

If we are to encourage cyclists to leave their bicycles at stations, we need to provide them with secure parking and ensure that their bike is still there when they get back. Six out of 10 people who have had a bike stolen do not immediately go back to cycling, but instead return to driving, thus reducing revenues for the train operator, with all the resulting environmental problems.

While the bans on peak-time cycle carriage spring from the train operating companies, the solution to the problem—providing adequate parking—is stalled by another, entirely unrelated, organisation, Network Rail. Of course, it is in neither of their interests to help one another, so we have the ridiculous example of South West Trains, which has excellent cycle parking facilities at many of its stations, running trains to Waterloo, the UK’s busiest station, where cycle parking facilities are terrible. When I once tried to park my bike at Waterloo I was nearly knocked over by a taxi. The facilities are dangerous, badly looked after, not secure and full of abandoned bicycles.

Martin Linton: Clapham Junction is the UK’s busiest station.

Emily Thornberry: I stand corrected, but I would be interested to hear what the state of Clapham Junction’s bike parking is.

The authorities at Waterloo have recently started removing some of those bikes, but the poor layout is as bad as it ever has been. I am sure that many cyclists would be prepared to pay a small charge to ensure that their bikes are still where they left them when they come back.

In Holland, 90 out of 387 cycle shelters are guarded. They offer secure parking and repair facilities at low cost in co-operation with bike shops and local councils. The automated and secure cycle storage area at Finsbury Park costs 50p for 24 hours, which is much cheaper than a single return tube fare and things are just as fast. Such schemes should be replicated in the central London terminals. Transport for London has even offered funding for schemes at mainline stations,
8 May 2007 : Column 12WH
but Network Rail has turned it down. I am told that the Minister could provide a structure through something called the high level output specification, which would make Network Rail treat passengers and cyclists better. If that is right, will the Minister please do it?

No one would allow a dead car to sit around in a station car park for months, not least because of the lost revenue, so why are abandoned bicycles allowed to remain for so long? They should be removed regularly and recycled to local groups. First Capital Connect has agreed to do exactly that in the stations that it controls—good for them, but why do not other stations and other companies do that? Let us start with Network Rail.

In Britain, many business men and women are unlikely to want to turn up at a meeting having travelled on a train, but there are some. We hope that the culture is changing, and that more business people will be able to make longer journeys, so why do not we provide a network of flexible cycle hire schemes. One scheme in operation in west London allows people to borrow a bicycle by mobile phone. Again, and perhaps inevitably, the Dutch are way ahead of us with almost 100 stations offering cycle hire facilities. The bikes are bright blue and are standardised throughout the country, and the facilities are operated by the Dutch equivalent of Network Rail. It is unimaginable that Network Rail would do that, but it should be pressed to. It costs only €3 a day to hire the bikes with a smartcard and, guess what, in Holland, half of all customers are business people, who go to meetings by bike, which they hire at stations when they have meetings out of town. A similar scheme could be trialled by Cycling England through a cycle-rail innovation fund. Will the Minister please consider that?

My final category is tourists. Rail users should be able to carry their bicycles on trains for short distances outside the rush hour, just as they can carry any other large object. They should be able to turn up without reservations and be able to put their bikes on the train. Hon. Members have made suggestions about how that could be done. I will not repeat what they said, but it is not rocket science. I simply ask that, whatever is done to integrate bike and train, it should not be bolted on afterwards as an afterthought. It should be designed into all new rolling stock at an early stage and should be integral in trains so that we know where we are, and it should be standardised. Without help, I would not have had the faintest idea of what South West Trains’ class 455 rolling stock is, but I have been enlightened and have even been shown photographs. The refurbishment is a joy to behold. It was carried out in consultation with cycling organisations and meets cyclists’ needs perfectly. It is not rocket science. It can be done and it should be done.

On long-distance services, the location of the cycle carriage should be displayed clearly on the platform, and someone should tell the platform staff where it is. The reservation structure should be clear and flexible because there are many stupid examples of where it breaks down.

First ScotRail offers bargain berth tickets on its Caledonian sleepers, which I know the Minister is well acquainted with, but those tickets can be booked only
8 May 2007 : Column 13WH
online. If he wanted to travel with his bicycle he could book his ticket online, but the only way to put his bike on the train would be by making a reservation in any way other than online.

A constituent of mine, Mr. Bankes Jones, had planned a surfing trip to Devon and did not want to drive. Two days before travelling, he booked his ticket online, but he could not book a bike space through the same medium. After being transferred from organisation to organisation by phone, he finally acquired a reference number, but not a ticket. At Paddington, ticket staff found that the reference number was wrong and that the reservation had been made out to a Mr. Bonkers. After all that fuss, no one bothered to check his reservation on the train. On his return trip, after four days’ surfing, he found waiting for him at home a reservation for the first leg of his journey in the name of Mr. Bonkoes.

Cycle-rail integration in this country has failed to keep up with the increase in the number of people and the quality of service that has been achieved on the rail network. Instead of trying to force cyclists off trains at every opportunity, we should encourage them to use trains by providing better parking and flexible carriage space, or cycle hire at major stations. I have spoken today as chair of the as all-party cycling group and have tried to take an overview of the problem, so I have not addressed particular issues in my constituency, such as the inadequate planning at Farringdon to cope with Crossrail, or Kings Cross and St Pancras or Highbury Corner. I would have liked to have time to draw the House's attention to some of the outstanding examples of good practice, such as the great work at York station. Although I have taken the mickey out of Scotrail, I wish that other train operating companies were more like it.

Northern Rail and Merseyrail should also be mentioned in dispatches. There are experts out there, and I hope that the Department will take the time to learn from them, and that this summer's policy publications will provide a framework whereby more than just voluntary codes and supportive gestures are offered to cyclists using the rail network. If there were only two messages I could give to the Minister they would be to beef up the franchise agreements on cycling and to force Network Rail to take cycling seriously now.

10.15 am

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing this important debate. I have two bicycles: one in London for commuting to and from the House of Commons, and one in York. I take my bikes on the train between London and York, usually when a major service is needed. I am sure that there are people in London who do excellent servicing of bikes, but when one finds a good provider, one tends to stick with him, and that is what I have done. My supplier for major servicing of bikes is in York.

Next Section Index Home Page