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8 May 2007 : Column 13WH—continued

Because I use two stations, I can compare and contrast. There is no doubt that facilities for cyclists are a great deal better at York. We have not 1,000 parking places—unless the railings that people tie their bicycles to are included in addition to parking stands—but 450. Waterloo is one of the busiest railway stations in the country and deals with 480,000 passengers a day, but I
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am told that it has only 200 parking spaces for bicycles. The station is run by Network Rail, which is bidding for authority to manage York station. I would rather see the station’s management rest with the operator of the east coast main line service. The current operator, GNER, has invested heavily in the station for cyclists and other purposes, and it has a strong commitment to its flagship station.

If Network Rail is serious about its bid to take over York, it should be serious about improving cycling provision at all its stations, including York, because although 450 spaces may sound a lot, it is not enough. Sometimes, it is difficult to find somewhere to park my bicycle because the racks are full, despite GNER adding 100 or so extra spaces every couple of years. The cycle parking area is conveniently situated for GNER trains to London, but not for daily commuters from York to West Yorkshire. Whoever runs the station in future should put some cycle parking racks there.

Cycle hire is also available at York station, although it is rather expensive compared with the cost of hiring bicycles at railway stations in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, it is available and I congratulate Europcar, which operates the concession. There is also secure overnight storage for cycles, which people pay for, and that highlights the security problem. My bicycle is tatty and old enough not to be attractive to thieves, but some people have bikes that cost hundreds of pounds, and sometimes more. They need to be kept secure, so security for cycle parking at stations is as important as the provision of cycle parking.

Other things need to be changed at York in addition to the amount of cycle parking. We have a good network of cycle lanes and paths in and around York, but they do not connect directly to the station. It would be relatively easy to connect to the station, because one of the cycle paths runs beside the River Ouse, which is almost next to the station. There should be collaboration between the station manager, Network Rail or the east coast operator, and City of York council to make that connection.

Turning to the White Paper, will the Minister consider introducing a common system for booking? Cyclists who use trains are confused, because each train operator has a different system. Some require reservations, others do not; some charge, others do not; some take a large number of cycles, others will not; and some let cyclists take their bicycles on the train during rush hour, while others do not. When the railways were privatised some 14 years ago, one criticism of the privatisation plan was that it would lead to fragmentation. One area of fragmentation is the range of different services that different train operators provide for cyclists, and I hope that the White Paper will propose a common regime.

When a rolling stock company or anybody else designs a new railway carriage, they should aim from the start to meet the needs of cyclists as a matter of standard practice. As part of the brief for the east coast main line refranchising, would-be franchisees must trial and prove in-service some new trains, which will replace the InterCity 125 rolling stock, one of the fleets of trains in use on the east coast line. I welcome that brief, but I ask the Minister whether the design for the new fleet of trains has examined how serviceable and usable they will be for cyclists.

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I have had the same problem as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). I, too, have found it difficult to get my bike into the guard’s van on an inter-city train and return to my carriage during the time that the train is stopped at a station. The difficulty with GNER’s current trains is that one has to wait until a member of staff arrives with a key to unlock the guard’s van. They have to wait while one secures one’s bike, they relock the van, and then one has to return to one’s carriage. It is a cumbersome and labour-intensive way of loading and unloading bicycles, and the new fleet of trains ought to be more easily accessible to cyclists.

There ought to be more provision for bicycles in the guard’s van, too. With better design, one could fit in many more bicycles. There would be fewer occasions on which cyclists were turned away because all the available storage space in the guard’s van had been taken. The same points apply to commuter trains. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has pointed out that if there were a reasonable number of folding seats on commuter trains, in off-peak times it would be possible simply to wheel on a bicycle and to hold it during a short journey from one station to another. It is not a solution for inter-city trains, but it is clearly possible for commuter trains. I should like the White Paper to stipulate bicycle accommodation in the design and commissioning of all new passenger rolling stock.

Northern Rail is, to its credit, the first UK operator to set up a proper cycle users’ forum and to produce a cycling strategy. It is an important step forward. However, it is a shame that other train operators have not followed suit, and it should be a requirement of all train operators.

I had a puncture recently on the Strand. It was late at night, I had been to the theatre and I wanted to repair the puncture at home in Victoria. I do not know what the law says about taking bicycles on buses, but very nicely, the bus driver let me take my bike on the bus, which saved me wheeling it for half an hour until I got home. I do not know whether he was bending the rules, but since more and more buses are designed for buggy and wheelchair access, one ought to be able to take one’s bicycle on buses, too.

I wrote to the Minister a few weeks ago about the White Paper. I hope for a positive reply to my letter, and I hope for a positive reply to this morning’s debate.

10.25 am

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing this very interesting debate, and I congratulate the other Members present on their important contributions. I was particularly interested in the contribution of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who reminded us that in 32 years, not an awful lot has changed with trains and bicycles.

I do not intend to repeat what other Members have said, particularly as they know a great deal more about bicycling and rail than I do. However, I shall make a few suggestions. I am aware that the Minister is a cyclist; indeed, shortly after he was appointed to his current post, the first event that he and I attended was the national cycle-rail awards.

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We all accept that the policy that was written by the Strategic Rail Authority and adopted several years ago is not working. There are more than 30 rail operating companies, but there is no clarity or uniformity. People are not encouraged to use bicycles to travel to railway stations, to put them on the train or to use them when they arrive at their destination. The policy must be rewritten urgently, and I agree with the suggestion from the hon. Member for Battersea that a UK cycle forum should be established. One of its first tasks should be to ensure that there is a uniform policy.

The Department for Transport is reviewing many regional and national networks. The review has recently been extended to include the provision of parking and CCTV at rail stations. I have read the document for Greater Manchester, and in the rail utilisation strategy, proper plans have been drawn up to ensure adequate parking and CCTV at our rail stations. I put it to the Minister that one immediate extension that he could make to the strategy would be to ensure that the review included provisions for cyclists.

I accept and understand that the number of bikes that can be accommodated on today’s heavily overcrowded trains will be strictly limited. I understand CTC’s wish to increase the number of bikes that can be accommodated on a train, but the number is likely to be limited. However, if we can develop policies so that people can leave and hire bikes at all main railway stations, we will encourage more people to travel by bike and unite bikes with rail travel. The White Paper is an opportunity to include that policy, and the ordering of additional carriages is an opportunity to ensure that it is built in.

Earlier this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) asked the Minister about the Department’s assessment of local transport plans’ inclusion of cycling. As expected, the response was that all local authorities are expected and encouraged to include cycling as part of their plans. That stops at the railway station. There is no point encouraging local authorities to develop cycle routes and get more people on bikes if there is nowhere safe for cycles at major transport interchanges. That point was brought home to me last week at Rochdale station. I bumped into someone who had left their bike for a few minutes and returned to find that it had been nicked during that time. We will simply not encourage people to travel by bike to stations if there is no secure storage.

The debate is about rail and cycle integration. That is the correct terminology. I hope that the Minister will take hon. Members’ comments on board and that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire will not have to wait another 32 years before we see some progress.

10.31 am

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I welcome this important debate, which was excellently introduced by the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton). In her role as the chairman of the all-party cycling group, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) was right to commend cycling as healthy and environmentally friendly and, often, as the easiest way of getting to our destinations or the railway station.

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In the course of my research for this debate, I found that there are an estimated 22 million bicycles in Britain and that an estimated 60 per cent. of the population live within a 15-minute ride of a railway station. However, the proportion of all rail journeys that start with cycling, as opposed to car, bus or walking, is only 1 per cent. Internationally, that figure is extraordinarily low. The Department for Transport has stated in a number of policy documents that it wants cycling to be integrated with public transport. The rail operators say that they are keen to encourage cyclists. A number of lobbying campaigns, such as the London Cycling Campaign, grownupgreen and others, have pushed the need for bike-rail integration in particular.

How can we make our rate of 1 per cent. of rail journeys starting with cycling more akin to the international norm? The hon. Member for Battersea talked about the rate in other countries and rightly mentioned Denmark, with 35 per cent., and the Netherlands, with 38 per cent. Even Germany has achieved 15 per cent., which is a relatively new and modest movement. A number of other hon. Members who have spoken broke the analysis into two parts. First, how do we encourage more people on the journey to and from the station? Secondly, how do we get more facilities for cyclists on trains?

Unfortunately, the journey to and from the station has become a problem in a number of instances. As a local councillor before becoming a Member of Parliament, I remember Transport for London saying that it would introduce measures to encourage cyclists to get to stations. Unfortunately, many of the processes have not been undertaken with proper consultation. For instance, TFL proposed a 20 per cent. increase in my constituency, but it was then told that that was unrealistic and that the modal shift was more likely to be 3 or 4 per cent. Also, TFL forgot, first, that its great idea was a contraflow cycle lane up the middle of the Broadway, which quickly became known colloquially in Wimbledon as the wall of death and was never introduced. Secondly—and most importantly, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned—was the failure in the plan to provide secure cycle parking places at Wimbledon station. Those were the obvious reasons why that plan failed. I am therefore pleased to see that the operator and TFL have had another go since, and that there has been an increase in the provision of cycle parking at Wimbledon station.

Cycle access to stations is clearly space-efficient, too. We live in a country with a high density of population. Car parking is always likely to be restricted, so the more that we can do to make cycle parking at stations available, convenient and secure, the better. The key point is security. Several hon. Members have talked about cycle theft, including the hon. Lady. In many cases, cycle parking seems to be about just putting a rack of stands outside the station. That is simply not good enough. Why should cyclists place one of their most precious assets on a rack of stands outside a station where there is no security?

If cycle parking is to be done properly, it must be protected outside stations by CCTV or, more properly, it should be in a secure area or a locked room within the bounds of the station. The simple provision of racks is not enough. It will not satisfy the cycling lobby
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and I am sure that it will not satisfy the Minister, either. Equally, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) mentioned in his example of Waterloo station, the racks should be convenient. Cyclists should not be penalised by having to walk miles and miles to collect their bikes. The whole point is that if we are to encourage more rail journeys to start with cycling, we must make it easier for cyclists so to do.

I have been particularly struck by what is included in the local transport plans. Should not safe cycle routes to stations be considered essential prerequisites in those plans? The Minister will of course be aware of the Sustrans “Safe Routes to Stations” initiative, which involves developing safe and direct routes that link town centres, business districts and residential areas with stations, and give cyclists and walkers priority over traffic. The initiative also involves converting flights of stairs to runways, which the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) mentioned, so that steps at stations are easier to overcome. The Sustrans campaign aims to upgrade 30 stations a year. It is a laudable scheme and we should support it. Indeed, it has support from the Government, local authorities and the rail industry.

However, can we not do something to ensure that that initiative is speeded up? One way to do that would be to encourage local authorities to include those proposals in their local transport plans. Will the Minister be able to give some indication today of what the Government intend to do to further the increase of cycling to stations? Will the Government make some statements in their announcement on the high-level output specification or in the White Paper, which are due in the near future, on how they might encourage local authorities, Network Rail and the rail operating companies to write into schemes that cyclists and their parking should be protected at stations? Might the Government also consider prescribing that provision in franchise renegotiations or, as I have suggested several times before, in the next round of funding associated with the local transport plan phase 2 or the transport innovation fund? I look forward to the Minister’s response on that.

Several hon. Members have already mentioned the cycle hire schemes that are available, which we should also encourage. Cycle hire schemes in this country have suffered previously from a lack of trust and, frankly, from theft. The onset of mobile technology has made schemes both practical and practicable on rail journeys and in cities. Anything that we can do to encourage local authorities to place such schemes alongside city car schemes should also be encouraged, and I hope that the Minister will give us some encouragement on that.

The journey to the rail station is only one part of the journey. If we are to see more bike-rail integration, we must focus on the second part of that, the facilities on trains for cyclists. If we are to be honest, the current reality is that cyclists are seen almost as a nuisance. As has been said in a number of contributions, many of the TOCs have banned cycles on peak services. Also, the design of many—but not all—modern rail carriages has reduced space for bikes. What we need to see from the operating companies and the rolling stock companies, in conjunction with the Government, is a change in attitude, as well as a change in practice.

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That is actually quite easy to achieve. I cited the example of Germany earlier. Less than 10 years ago, Deutsche Bahn actively promoted and encouraged what it called the bike-rail option. The company set up a bicycle hotline to answer questions about cycling, rail travel and reservations and introduced a complete “bike and Bahn” procedure and website, which provide information on which services carry bicycles. Interestingly, the company has in the past 10 years doubled the number of bikes carried on trains per annum. It has also required new rolling stock to carry more cycles. The same is true of the Swiss railway company SBB, which was the first in the world to produce a rail-cycle co-ordinator, and that is key.

A number of TOCs recognise the needs that we are discussing. The train operator One, formerly Anglia Railways, has had a comprehensive pro-bike strategy for the past decade and has increased the number of people using bikes. There has been approximately a 15 per cent. use of bike rides in East Anglia. That is consistent with one or two of the international examples: management persistence and the appointment of a project manager so that cyclists have dedicated services and know where they have to go.

One is by no means the only TOC to have done such a thing. If we want further integration of bike and rail services, the key is the provision of information from the TOCs. What services carry bikes, and where are the spaces? What can be reserved? The appointment of a bike-rail co-ordinator by the TOCs would be a sensible, small measure that would make serious inroads into the problem. The issue could be addressed easily with little financial consequence.

As has been stated, the big challenge for the railways is that of capacity. However, that does not mean that cyclists’ interests should be forgotten. Modern train design has tended to leave relatively little space dedicated for cyclists. The hon. Lady cited the example of the new class A on South West Trains services; only recently, I used it with one of my cyclist constituents and was impressed by it. We need to recognise that in future negotiations the design and conditions of the carriages need to be cycle-friendly and cycle-dedicated. I hope that the Minister will discuss what he is doing to force ongoing discussions with TOCs and ROSCOs to ensure that any new carriage orders will take that on board.

Finally, I should like to mention the laudable safer cycling campaign launched by the Evening Standard. Clearly, there has been a huge increase in cycling in London since 2003, but still only one fiftieth of London journeys are made by cycle. If we consider that only 1 per cent. of those are journeys to the railway station, we see what a small percentage that is and what more could be done. I was particularly encouraged that in its campaign, the Evening Standard isolated the issue of bike-rail integration, which we are discussing this morning. It made the point that adequate bike parking was needed at railway stations. I hope that in its articles on safer cycling in London, the paper will make as big an issue of the need for safer cycling and secure cycling places at railway stations as it has of the need for manning stations in the evening and other campaigns.
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That would be a huge step forward in London, and I commend the Evening Standard on its campaign and wish it well.

To encourage bike-rail integration and increase the number of rail journeys that start on a bike, we need the three s’s: safe routes to stations, secure parking at stations and spaces on trains available and dedicated to bikes. That should be the underlying principle. I commend the hon. Member for Battersea on having secured this fascinating debate and look forward to the Government’s response to the issues that have been raised.

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