Once upon a time, posties on their bikes were as familiar a part of the British streetscape as red telephone boxes, but both are now a fast disappearing breed. Last August, Royal Mail announced plans to phase out bicycle delivery in most areas of Britain, but a petition launched on the Prime Minister’s official website is urging the government to allow postmen and women who want to keep pedalling to do so.
The petition, which was initiated by Rita Solanke, has so far attracted more than 500 signatures, and requests the government to “ask Royal Mail to guarantee the right of Royal Mail postmen to have the option to use bicycles to deliver post” and “commit to not destroy the unwanted bicycles (taxpayers’ property) but send them to charities such as Re-Cycle.”
Ms Solanke introduces the petition by saying: "The sight of a postman pedalling down the street will become much rarer under plans by the Royal Mail to phase out thousands of bicycles and replace them with vans.
"Environmental groups have queried why the Royal Mail would replace a sustainable form of transport with one that causes congestion and is dependent on fossil fuels. Bicycles have been used to deliver post since 1880 and the Royal Mail has more than 16,000, made by the British company Pashley," she adds.
"Until recently, bicycles are used on a quarter of the country’s 65,000 delivery routes.
Her statement concludes: "The bicycle is ideally suited to the job of delivering mail. You can park them anywhere and they don’t cause any congestion. Even during this winter’s severe snow, the post continued to be delivered by bike."
In August last year, the Daily Telegraph reported that postal workers would be expected to use vans to get to the start of their rounds and then employ trolleys to help them cart the mail from door to door.
Those trolleys would replace the Royal Mail’s fleet of Pashley bicycles, which have been supplied by the Stratford-upon-Avon company for almost four decades, and which are still used on one in four postal rounds, with only 500 being retained in rural areas.
According to a Royal Mail spokesman quoted at the time, the move away from bikes was necessary in order to “deliver the mail as efficiently as possible."
But the decision left postal unions in as much of a spin as French comedian Jacques Tati’s postman character in his classic film Jour du Fête, who – having imbibed a brandy or two – takes to pedalling furiously around his village to deliver the mail after watching footage of the cutting-edge methods used by the US Postal Service.
That's USPS as in the public body that runs the mail system across the Atlantic, rather than the team it sponsored with which Lance Armstrong enjoyed Tour de France success, by the way.
Postal unions argued that doing away with bikes, as was trialled in Plymouth, Cambridge, Durham and Lincoln, could result in local delivery offices being closed down and local areas losing their own regular postmen.
The decision also had knock-on implications for Pashley, with a spokesman saying at the time: "We expect our arrangement with Royal Mail to end imminently."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.