A petition launched against Great Western Railway’s new cycle reservation policy has received 1,200 signatures amid fears the changes will prevent cyclists making open return journeys.
The petition, Bike Reservations on Trains – the Beginning of the End, was started by Gary Fawle after the new policy came in on May 16, where any passenger travelling with a non-folding bike on one of GWR’s high speed routes now needs a cycle reservation. The firm says it has made the change due to limited space on trains.
Concerns have been raised about the effect of the rules on commuters who don’t know what time they will return home, along with the fact the rules are open to interpretation by rail staff.
Fawle says: “This will obviously discourage bike use with great implications, particularly on rural routes, and turning up to catch a train anywhere will be really difficult. What about workers cycling several miles to and from stations to get to work?
“Isn't it government policy to encourage less car use, supporting more sustainable, less damaging, and healthier modes of transport?”
GWR told Ben Bradshaw, MP, cyclists without a reservation will be able to put their bikes on services where there is space. However, on Sunday a GWR staff member at Bath Spa station threatened to refuse a road.cc journalist entry to the London service with an open return ticket because she failed to make a reservation - despite the fact there were five free bike spaces on the train. The staff member told our journalist without a bike reservation she should not be allowed on the service, regardless of how much space there is.
@Lakerlikes This should be done by 1800 the day before, although some services have availability up to 2 hours before departure. 2/2 John.
— GWR Help (@GWRHelp) May 29, 2016
Bike reservations can be made online, over the phone or via a ticket office.
At Bath Spa station a sign tells cyclists a reservation must be made at least two hours before the train departs its origin station. However GWR told road.cc “open return” ticket holders must book their bikes on the specific train they want to travel on by 18.00 the previous day. The company, which operates trains from London to the South West, says when its high speed service is introduced booking will be possible closer to the time of travel.
Last month MP Ben Bradshaw said the changes will affect his ability to do his job.
"Because of the uncertainty of parliamentary hours and constituency commitments I often don't know in advance what time train I will be able to get to and from London.
"I sought urgent clarification from GWR and they confirmed that you will still be able to put your bike on their trains if there is space, while encouraging people to book in advance.
"But they must do more to improve their booking system. It is ridiculous that you can't book a bike online if you already have a ticket, but have to phone a call centre in India. I tried this on Sunday evening and couldn't get through.
"Rail companies should be doing their best to encourage not discourage bicycle use."
— Sabina Lawrie (@SabinaLawrie) May 29, 2016
Concerns have also been raised about the fact allowing an unreserved bike on a train is down to the “discretion of staff”.
Concern, @GWRHelp ? Depending on the whim of station staff I can be refused access to a train there's space on? Feel a second class citizen
— Laura Laker (@Lakerlikes) May 29, 2016
Cycling UK’s Sam Jones said: “We’ve been hearing from concerned members that Great Western is currently not allowing cyclists and their wheels to board without cycle reservations since the new system was introduced. Cycling UK welcomes the involvement of Ben Bradshaw MP as, judging from the response he received, this is not the case and in fact their previous policy is still in play – just not necessarily practised by members of staff.”
— kevin hickman (@psyklyn) May 29, 2016
A GWR spokesperson told the Bath Chronicle as well as booking their bike on the service a person travelling with a bike also needs to make the train manager aware of their destination and remind them when they are almost at their stop so they can be helped to safely leave the train.
The spokesperson said: "We are not asking customers to do anything over and above our previous recommendation, simply that it applies to all trains for consistency.
"Reservations for bicycles on all high speed trains are already live in line with the standard 12 weeks in advance that we offer and reservations will continue to be available completely free of charge on all high speed services.
"This policy applies at all times of the day every day and on all routes on which these trains operate. This ensures the policy is far more consistent than today and therefore easier for customers to understand.
"With the introduction of Super Express Trains in 2017 bringing more capacity, more frequent services and reduced journey times once the electrification of the Great Western mainline is complete, we will be offering reservation”