Just how integrated do we want our transport to be? Far from seeing bikes as competition, some bus operators are allowing them on board.
Go North East (part of a large plc) and West Coast Motors (a small independent) have something in common: they run bus services that can carry full-sized bicycles on board.
Colin Craig, managing director, West Coast Motors, says: “All it took was a sticker on the window and an inertia-reel seatbelt to restrain the bicycle”. WCM’s 448 service from Skipness to Lochgilphead in the west of Scotland connects to three island ferries. It is on a recognised cycle route and also links to the Kintyre Way, intended for ramblers, but also attracting mountain bikers. Colin adds: “ We do not make a charge. We are only carrying tiny numbers so far, but we will carry on offering the service – and why not?”
Further south, meanwhile, Go North East introduced an experiment in July 2009 on an inter-urban service (78) linking Sunderland to Chester-le-Street and on to Consett. The buggy and wheelchair area has been expanded to provide a row of three tip-up seats down the side of the bus, against which one standard bicycle can lean. Initially, the bicycle was secured with bungee cords, but some anti-social passengers used them to flick other passengers and so they were stood down. Each wheel must now be secured using inertia reel seatbelts. The 78 was chosen because the popular C2C (Coast to Coast) cycle route runs parallel to the bus route. There is a charge of £2 for the bike, establishing a contract and emphasising that the cyclist needs to stick to the rules.
Three steps to heaven
Peter Huntley, Go North East’s managing director, himself known to use a bicycle from time to time, has adopted a three-part bicycle plan. Firstly, the company has written to the relevant local authorities about 38 interchange points, requesting they install bicycle security facilities, protected from the elements and with CCTV, in a sensible location that allows easy access to bus services. MetroCentre, a major public transport interchange in Gateshead, already experiences park & ride, kiss & ride and now cycle & ride.
Secondly, folding bikes are accepted on board buses, as luggage. They have to be stored in the luggage area or the buggy bay, and must not be placed on seats or block gangways.
Thirdly, for the trial on the 78, Go North East has adopted ‘rules of the road’ for wheelchairs, buggies and bicycles. Written in very ‘plain English’, they are worth repeating:
- As the area for securing cycles is shared with passengers using a wheelchair or with children in buggies, we have had to decide who would take priority if there was a demand from others for the shared area.
- If someone using a wheelchair wants to travel when a bike is already on board, our driver will ask if the cyclist would like to give up their space.
- Cyclists leaving the bus to allow passengers in a wheelchair to travel will be entitled to a full refund of any single fare paid to the driver plus the £2 paid to carry the bike. Cyclists are under no obligation to leave the bus, however.
- If a cyclist refuses to give up the space for a person in a wheelchair, our driver will order an accessible taxi with our compliments.
- Our driver will be unable to carry a cyclist and bike if a wheelchair is already in the special bay on board.
- People with children in buggies will be asked to fold the buggy before boarding if all special bays are taken.
It is too early to predict the long-term results of the WCM and Go North East trials, but it is clear that both operators see no fundamental difficulties in offering the service in the right setting.
Elsewhere, there is less clarity about the relationship between the bike and the bus. According to the Transport for London (TfL) website, you can take a folded bicycle on a bus as long as it is alright with the driver, under the same rules as for pushchairs and larger items of shopping and luggage. TfL Conditions of Carriage state that on buses, unfolded cycles are not permitted and folding cycles may only be carried in the designated luggage area. This led London Councils to observe: “In addition to time restrictions, there are also differences in the arrangements for carrying folding bicycles on other parts of the TfL network.
Folding bicycles are permitted on the Docklands Light Railway but must be totally enclosed in a container while on Croydon Tramlink folding bicycles do not have to be enclosed in a container but must be fully folded. There are no requirements in place when carrying folding bicycles on the London Overground or London Underground network. Again, standardisation of these policies across all TfL managed services would be beneficial to avoid confusion for passengers.” Meanwhile, Stagecoach Bus says folding bicycles, safely and securely stowed in the designated luggage area in a suitable bag or box, may be carried on all vehicles. No self-respecting utility cyclist wants to ride around carrying extra weight or luggage, so this kind of rule effectively means no fold-ups on Stagecoach buses.
There are many other examples of bikes being carried on buses, some using trailers and rear-mounted racks, mostly in connection with tourism and in rural areas. Racks on the front of buses are not sensible. In 2004, TRL Report 592 found that the bicycle rack would hit pedestrians just below their centre of gravity, thereby catapulting them into the front of the bus. The front racks contravene bull-bar and other construction and use regulations banning sharp forward-facing edges. Nobody can guarantee the shape of the bicycles sat on the rack: a handlebar, for instance, could gouge a pedestrian’s eye out.
Racks on the back work. In the Lakes, Mountain Goat uses them on their 12 or 16-seater Renaults. The bikes are held in a vertical position, up to three at a time, so that it is still possible to use one rear door in an emergency.
There is for most recently qualified drivers, a limit on the weight of trailers that can be towed with a class D (and Class B for some minibuses) licence. In practice up to 12 bikes can easily be carried within the 750Kg limit on a skeletal trailer. Beyond this and drivers will either need grandfather rights or to hold a Class E licence. It is also unwise to buy cheap and basic – the mismatch between ride performance of an air suspension vehicle and a rubber block trailer can put stresses on the A frame welds and towing hitch bolts creating maintenance headaches, if not risks of failure in service.
Bikes can be carried in a skibox, mounted on the rear of the vehicle, and which is allowed to extend up to 2.5m to the rear. Technically, this must be a ‘receptacle’ capable of being detached at the roadside without workshop tools.
However, this is only realistic for tours. Putting bicyles on a rack or on a trailer has at least a 40-second dwell time penalty per cyclist, especially as a rear rack or trailer cannot be watched easily and so the cyclist will probably want to lock their bike. In addition, rear wheels send spray and muck over any rear-loaded bikes.
The latest development is that the bicycle is being seen as the perfect range extender for public transport users. Following successful trials in 2009, earlier this year South West Train started hiring out 50 Brompton fold-up bikes from its Waterloo Station Lost Luggage Office, for as little as £2 per day. Other bus and rail operators are considering similar schemes targeted at commuters and business travellers.
Dave Holladay, CTC’s Public Transport Adviser highlights the key benefits: “It’s quicker and cheaper to combine cycling with commuting by train. Cycling delivers a reliable and consistent connection and you can cycle to most destinations in Central London within around 15 minutes of your train arriving at Waterloo. It also saves you money as you no longer have the costs of fuel, car parking or a Zone 1 Travelcard.”
Acknowledgement: thanks to Dave Holladay, Transport Management Solution.