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Cyclist slams “pure discrimination against people on bikes” after being refused entry to ferry and left stranded – despite paying for motorcycle ticket

“If you’re running a ferry and providing a service that motorists and motorbikes can access, then that should be made available to foot passengers and cyclists. They have silly, arbitrary rules… Motorists are prioritised and cyclists are an afterthought”

A cyclist has criticised what she believes is the “pure discrimination” faced by people on bikes using ferry services, after she was refused entry by Irish Ferries – despite booking a motorcycle ticket – and left stranded at night and forced to take a lengthy, complicated detour to make it home a day later.

Tipperary-based Elaine Baker was heading home to Ireland after attending a work meeting in Birmingham and visiting friends in South Wales when she attempted to board a late-night Irish Ferries crossing from Pembroke to Rosslare – only to be refused entry and told by staff that “push bikes were not allowed, only motorcycles”.

After spending the night on the rainy, deserted streets of Pembroke, Baker eventually made it to Holyhead, where she was again told by Irish Ferries that cyclists would not be allowed on the crossing, before eventually managing to return home through Stena Line, a day later than planned and after paying for three separate tickets.

Baker, whose attempts to arrange a meeting with Irish Ferries have so far amounted to nothing, has since launched a petition calling on Irish Ferries and other Irish Sea ferry companies to “stop discrimination against cyclists and foot passengers”, along with the tendency to prioritise passengers with motor vehicles, and to ensure that “all passenger ferry services which take motorised vehicles and motorcycles should also allow non-motorised cyclists and foot passengers”.

“They have silly, arbitrary rules… Cyclists are an afterthought”

“I travel by ferry quite a bit, because I gave up flying three years ago for environmental reasons,” Elaine tells road.cc of her stressful trip home back to Ireland on 17 and 18 February, after travelling in England and Wales via train and her bike.

“I have a job in Manchester, and obviously in Ireland we have to go by sea. For people who don’t fly, we’re completely dependent on ferries.

“I had a meeting in Birmingham, then I went to visit friends in south Wales. And I thought ‘oh, instead of travelling to North Wales, I’ll take the ferry from South Wales’, because there’s ferries from Pembroke and Fishguard, and the public transport links from South to North Wales are quite bad.”

Cyclist refused entry to ferry (Elaine Baker)

However, after being unable to book a place for her bike on Irish Ferries’ 2.45am crossing to Rosslare on its economy Norbay ferry, Baker rang the company’s office, where she was told that only motorists and motorcycle riders – and not cyclists and foot passengers – would be able to board.

“And they couldn’t really give me any good reason,” she says. “They said, ‘Oh it’s a different ferry called the Norbay and we can’t get you on the ferry’. But I can get on the ferry the same way a motorbike can get on. It doesn’t make any sense! So, I told them it was a bit ridiculous.”

Then, knowing that this particular plan would be “risky” – but safe in the knowledge it would highlight the absurdity of the ferry company’s restrictions – Elaine booked a spot as a motorbike rider, complete with the registration number ‘Bicycle’ (which she says at least it made it clear that she wasn’t attempting to deceive the company).

“My plan was to just get on the ferry like a motorcyclist, and if they asked I would just say ‘that’s my motorbike’,” she tells road.cc. “I rang up the office again, and told them I’d be riding a bicycle instead of a motorbike, and a different person said that it’d be fine.

“But on the bus, about half an hour from Pembroke, I got an email asking to clarify if I’d be riding a bicycle and that, if so, I wouldn’t be let on.”

Intending at this point to carry on with her journey to Pembroke from Newport, and at the very least “make a point”, Elaine decided to film her experience of attempting to board the ferry with a bike, in a series of video logs which she has since posted online.

Cyclist refused entry to ferry after booking ticket as a motorbike (Elaine Baker)

“There’s the ferry I’m supposed to be on,” Baker said during one of her video logs

After a five-hour wait at Pembroke Port, Baker was told by otherwise “understanding” staff that she could not board the ferry, because foot passengers are not permitted for ‘health and safety reasons’ – while also being informed that “push bikes are not allowed, only motorcycles” – and that her motorcycle ticket could not be used, despite those earlier assurances by a member of staff.

“Ferries are very much designed for trucks and cars, and I believe they see that as their core business. And foot passengers and cyclists are a bit of an afterthought,” she tells us.

“They have very silly, arbitrary rules – I’m as perfectly capable of riding my bike onto the ferry as a motorbike rider. So, they couldn’t even give me a good reason as to why they couldn’t let me on the ferry.”

“You don’t have the same choice as motorists”

Ticket wasted, Elaine was then forced to wait around in Pembroke before embarking on a convoluted journey north to Holyhead – where she again faced similar barriers thanks to her bike.

“It was a bit scary, because at two o’clock in the morning I’m thinking that I haven’t booked a hotel,” she says. “After being refused entry to the ferry I had nowhere to go, and I was walking the deserted streets of Pembroke at two or three in the morning, pouring rain, no shelter, I was approached by a drunk guy, it was scary.

“In the early morning, I then got three buses and three trains from Pembroke to Holyhead. At Holyhead, I asked Irish Ferries when the next sailing would be, and they said 8pm – but that they couldn’t take cyclists. So, it was the same issue.”

She continued: “It’s not as if you can’t get across from Holyhead to Dublin as a foot passenger or cyclist, you can, but you don’t have the same choice of timetable as motorists have.”

Fortunately, Elaine discovered that Stena Line also operated an 8pm service to Dublin, enabling her – after “paying for three tickets” and organising additional childcare during the day-long detour – to finally make it home.

Upon her return, she requested a meeting, alongside members of the Irish Cycling Campaign, with the management of Irish Ferries, who duly responded by contacting Elaine to ask for details of the phone call that appeared to assure her that cycles would be allowed on the Norbay crossing. Since then, she has not heard anything else from Irish Ferries, and no meeting has been arranged.

Seven Serpents - 61 Ferry Walk.jpeg

> “I would find it more logical to wear a life jacket”: Cyclist told to wear hi-vis and a helmet… to take their bike on a ferry

Regardless, Baker has launched a petition calling for changes to Irish Ferries and other ferry companies’ “nonsensical” policies discriminating against cyclists and foot passengers, and prioritising people with motor vehicles.

The petition, which has so far attracted over 560 signatures, calls on “ferry companies operating from Ireland to provide services to cyclists and foot passengers on every ferry service on which they provide services to motorised cars and motorcycles” and on the National Transport Authority to “make passenger ferry licenses conditional on non-discrimination against cyclists and foot passengers”.

“The aim of my campaign is to make sure cyclists, foot passengers, and people in wheelchairs have the same access to routes and timetables as motorists do,” she tells road.cc.

“If you’re running a ferry and providing a service that motorists and motorbikes can access, then that route and timetable option should be made available to foot passengers and cyclists. They shouldn’t have more limited options, and the price should definitely not be higher.”

Cycling and ferries – a whole new market?

Baker also notes that her Pembroke debacle isn’t the only example of cyclists losing out when it comes to sea travel compared to motorists.

“Friends of mine wanted to go to Spain with Brittany Ferries – because they don’t fly as well for environmental reason – and they went to book as foot passengers,” she says. “And they were allowed, but the price was very high, and much higher than if they’d all been in a car. Which doesn’t make sense at all.”

According to Baker’s friend, the journey to Bilbao was set to cost €590 if the family of four had travelled by car, €719 if they had boarded as foot passengers, and €883 if they had cycled.

When questioned about the price differences, in an email seen by road.cc, a Brittany Ferries staff member said that the company was aiming to “promote” families travelling by car, in order “to see more of the country”.

“So, in that case they can get across, but it’s €300 more expensive than if they’d had a car,” Elaine adds. “They almost decided to book a car, but thought that was ridiculous. The environmental impact of hauling the piece of metal across the ocean for no reason at all is just ridiculous, just to save €300.”

Seven Serpents - 53 Ferry Bikes.jpeg

> “Can we expect a valet service?” Former pro mountain biker charged £75 to bring bike on ferry

She also explained that another group of touring cyclists told her that they were once instructed to remain on the ferry until a bus came to take their bikes, before “busing them 50 metres down the ramp”.

“It’s just nonsensical, why can’t cyclists cycle down the ramp? Saying that foot passengers and cyclists are incapable of walking or cycling up this ramp, it’s ridiculous. It’s just a ramp, there’s no reason for it at all,” she says.

Nevertheless, despite her and others’ chastening experiences, Elaine believes that ferry companies should recognise the potential in tapping into the climate-conscious cyclist market.

“Ferry companies need to see this as the future,” she tells road.cc. “We can’t sustain this level of flying. Ferries also burn fuel, of course, but a loss less per passenger than planes.

“So ferry companies need to see this as an opportunity. There’s this whole new market of people who are going to be taking ferries instead of flying – environmentalists, people who care about climate change – so let’s encourage and support them.

“Instead of this attitude of supporting and encouraging them – but only if you have a car.”

road.cc has contacted Irish Ferries for comment.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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64 comments

Avatar
grOg | 4 months ago
0 likes

Reminds me of a manager at a job I had that wouldn't let me walk my bike in via the building front door, as he said only pedestrians were allowed to enter, despite my argument that I was a pedestrian, not a cyclist; note that the bicycle was stored inside this building where I worked, but I had to go all the way around the back with the cars and then walk the bike from the carpark to the building rear door.

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Allan20 | 4 months ago
1 like

Traveled over to Stornoway from Ullapool last year. Bicycles are free on cal-mac ferries. Only requirement is to book ahead in case too many turn up. Walk down ramp with bikes and on deck. Tie bike to rail indicated by crew.

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Wheelywheelygood | 4 months ago
0 likes

These people are only thinking of the safety of other passengers , after what we have seen cyclists do over this last few years endangering themselves and others , we have concluded that when you get a bike you become a danger to others even to the extent of maybe becoming criminally insane and normal people need to be protected from you 

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brooksby replied to Wheelywheelygood | 4 months ago
3 likes

Wheelywheelygood wrote:

These people are only thinking of the safety of other passengers , after what we have seen cyclists do over this last few years endangering themselves and others , we have concluded that when you get a bike you become a danger to others even to the extent of maybe becoming criminally insane and normal people need to be protected from you 

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perce replied to Wheelywheelygood | 4 months ago
6 likes

Gosh, tell me about it- it's like a dystopian nightmare round here. Only last week, a Tuesday I think it was, a cyclist came hurtling past me with a coffee in one hand and a pair of garden shears in the other. He must have been doing at least 31.2 mph. Two rockhopper penguins were coming the other way - one had a copy of the 60's Fleetwood Mac LP ''Pious Bird of Good Omen'' under its flipper, which seemed a bit odd. Oh well. They had to leap out of the way of this errant cyclist. They were hopping mad and started chasing after him. Do you know, I never knew penguins could waddle that fast. They caught up with him at some temporary traffic lights and one of them jumped up and started hitting him with an empty sardine can, while the other one threw some maltesers at him. I turned off then so I don't know what happened after that.

 

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Rendel Harris replied to perce | 4 months ago
3 likes

perce wrote:

Two rockhopper penguins were coming the other way - one had a copy of the 60's Fleetwood Mac LP ''Pious Bird of Good Omen'' under its flipper, which seemed a bit odd.

Was it these guys?

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perce replied to Rendel Harris | 4 months ago
1 like

Quite possibly - I didn't have my glasses on. They did have an umbrella like that though.

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brooksby replied to perce | 4 months ago
2 likes

perce wrote:

…while the other one threw some maltesers at him.

Are you quite sure that those were maltesers? 

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perce replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
1 like

Actually they did look a bit misshapen. I thought it seemed a bit of a waste.

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Tan | 4 months ago
2 likes

Unfortunately people are usually not pleased when they eventually get what they have demanded. Most western companies are now buried in Health and Safety red tape. As we as cyclists are well aware with legislation comes the legions who do not abide, either through ignorance, arrogance or frustration. Whilst the members of the general public are rarely penalised by more than a paltry fine Business and in particular larger companies are increasingly suffering through the indirect policing of HSE legislation, namely the ambulance chasers. When you have slithered down the ships ramp, slick with the rubber shed in the accent of hundreds of trucks tackling the boarding challenge. Are lying in the dark with a shattered femur are you really sure that when you finally get out of hospital that you or your family aren't really going to sign that form? No claim no charge! Because it is obvious that the Ferry company was totally in the wrong allowing foot passengers and cyclist to board and disembark in the night. Companies place restrictions because external pressure forces them to. Unfortunately in the business world the avenue with least profit is usually closed first.

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The Larger Cyclist | 4 months ago
3 likes

Back in the 80's I did a cycle touring holiday of Ireland - my only cycling experiance before that was the mile or so into work and back.  We got the ferry from Holyhead having arrived by train - slightly tipsy employee watched as we cycled on, he tied our bikes to a bit of bulkhead and we wondered off. One of the best holidays I ever had.

Our first stop after getting off the ferry was Roundwood which is the highest village in Ireland. As two very inexperianced cyclists it was a challenge. Had great weather and made it to Cork in two weeks then got the train back to Dun Laoghaire. 

 

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Bike 1 | 4 months ago
5 likes

I'll take the clickbait.
Having travelled on many Ferries between UK and Norway I have a couple of observations.
A parked motorbike and bicycle are more or less equivalent. Manoeuvring to the parking is the hazard.
1. There are often large sections of wide mesh/slats that will consume a bike wheel while a motorbike tyre will comfortably roll over them.
2. Boarding often involves stopping on a slick, steep ramp. A risk for both types of rider, but without instant and continuous controllable torque a higher risk for the bicycle.

It's understandable the operator just doesn't want to deal with the potential liability of damage/injury for a negligible income source.

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Dnnnnnn replied to Bike 1 | 4 months ago
5 likes

These are hardly insurmountable problems though: loads of ferries around the world seem to manage. I suspect it's bean-counting hidden behind the catch-all excuse of 'elfin safety.

I'd like to see all public transport operators required to make reasonable adjustments to cater for reasonable forms of transport where this isn't prohibitively expensive. It's already done for disabled users to some extent.

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wycombewheeler replied to Bike 1 | 4 months ago
9 likes

Bike 1 wrote:

I'll take the clickbait. Having travelled on many Ferries between UK and Norway I have a couple of observations. A parked motorbike and bicycle are more or less equivalent. Manoeuvring to the parking is the hazard. 1. There are often large sections of wide mesh/slats that will consume a bike wheel while a motorbike tyre will comfortably roll over them. 2. Boarding often involves stopping on a slick, steep ramp. A risk for both types of rider, but without instant and continuous controllable torque a higher risk for the bicycle. It's understandable the operator just doesn't want to deal with the potential liability of damage/injury for a negligible income source.

So you haven't travelled on a ferry with a bicycle then?

The hazards you identify are presumably why cyclists have to walk their bikes on. Last ferry I was on there were about 100 cyclists, not a single one fell over, got trapped in any flooring or was run down by a motor vehicle. So really it just comes down to the ferry company can't be bothered.

so if anything the risk is higher for motorbikes he may need to stop and start on the "slick, steep ramp" while the cyclist would be walking and pushing.

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john_smith replied to wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
1 like

Depends on what she/he is wearing on her/his feet. With carbon soles and metal shoe plates, pushing heavily laden bike up one of those ramps could be challenging.

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Dasher | 4 months ago
0 likes

Sorry, but the main message I got from this lengthy tale, as reported here, is how poor some cyclists are at forward planning!

The real punchy journalistic message should be positive, in my humble opinion..

We need to actively engage, perhaps, to achieve better provision for cyclists on ferries, and all public transport.

Self pity and negative thoughts are so poisonous, don't you agree?

Does a report like this encourage you to take up cycle tourism or give up it?

Hopefully it encourages better planning at least.

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Dnnnnnn replied to Dasher | 4 months ago
9 likes

Dasher wrote:

We need to actively engage, perhaps, to achieve better provision for cyclists on ferries, and all public transport

What are you doing? Her approach seems quite bloody-minded but it has gained a fair amount of publicity, which is what causes like this need.

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Rendel Harris replied to Dasher | 4 months ago
8 likes

Dasher wrote:

Sorry, but the main message I got from this lengthy tale, as reported here, is how poor some cyclists are at forward planning!

If the lady's story is accurate, and one sees no reason to doubt it, she did a lot of forward planning which involved many conversations with the ferry company, in one of which she was told it would be fine to get her bike on with a motorcycle ticket. Without that I'd have no sympathy for her putting herself in that predicament (albeit one caused by ridiculous rules) but if she was told it wasn't a problem...does show the importance in dealing with any company of getting the names and job titles of anyone with whom you deal, staff on the ground are much more likely to yield to "Anne Jones, manager of the Belfast office, said it was OK" than "someone I spoke to said it was OK."

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quiff replied to Rendel Harris | 4 months ago
2 likes

A conversation she had only after trying to book, and realising there was no option to select "foot passenger" or "cyclist". Not sure I would have felt comfortable of the assurance in those circumstances. And particularly not after they emailed her to say she wouldn't be allowed to board.

I understand feeling aggrieved at the policy. I understand choosing to make a point about the policy (and she acknowledges that she did it cognisant of the risks and to make a point). But if you book in knowledge of the policy, I'm not sure you can then be surprised by the outcome or complain about how scary it was. In other news - cow refused entry to ferry despite booking space for car. 

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chrisonabike replied to quiff | 4 months ago
6 likes

"Cat refused ferry ride blames autocorrect".

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Daclu Trelub replied to quiff | 4 months ago
0 likes

"cow refused entry to ferry despite booking space for car. "

That's a bit harsh.

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Dasher replied to Rendel Harris | 4 months ago
1 like

A few years ago my brother and I cycled from the Alps to Toulon. We fancied some beach time.
Then we took the train back to Grenoble to continue our cycling trip, in the Alps.
Bad research... On a tight student budget we'd checked we could take our bikes on the train and duly bought our tickets at the station. We had to pay extra for the bikes and had to remove luggage and check them in, which in hindsight should have alerted us. Problem was our sketchy language skills.
Turned out that the bikes weren't allowed on the train we'd already booked on and they arrived 2 days later. 🤦
Thorough forward planning is always a good idea. 🙂

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wycombewheeler replied to Dasher | 4 months ago
3 likes

Dasher wrote:

 Does a report like this encourage you to take up cycle tourism or give up it? Hopefully it encourages better planning at least.

Well it has certailnly convinced me not to try cycle tourism in Ireland. As it's a trival matter to take my bike on the ferry to France from either Dover or Portsmouth.

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Dnnnnnn replied to wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
0 likes

wycombewheeler wrote:

it's a trival matter to take my bike on the ferry to France from either Dover or Portsmouth

Haven't one of the two companies sailing from Dover stopped taking bikes in recent years? I see Le Shuttle has hiked its prices too.

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HalfDanHalfBiscuit replied to Dnnnnnn | 4 months ago
1 like

DFDS and P&O both still allow bicycles. DFDS no longer permits foot passengers though and P&O only allows them on certain sailings. I believe this has to do with the need to lay on buses to take the passengers to the ferry, whereas cyclists can make their own way.

Irish Ferries now also operates the Dover-Calais route. I'm not certain if they carry foot passengers or bikes but I don't think they do.

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Groadie | 4 months ago
6 likes

I agree entirely with the sentiments of this petition, but it's not only Irish ferries that won't take bikes on some routes, only motor vehicles and motorbikes. I don't understand the reason why not. They just say "health and safety", but it's just the same kind of thing as cyclists not being allowed to use a fast food drive through!

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OldRidgeback replied to Groadie | 4 months ago
3 likes

It must be because of the extreme danger cyclists pose to other passengers or the potential risks to shipping from carrying bicycles on vessels.

Errrr.....

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underworld99 | 4 months ago
2 likes

I don't understand. I can book a choice of Irish Ferries with bike going from west or north wales to Ireland in a couple of days??..haven't watched the video but more interested in how she got her bike on 3 buses (I presume it's a folding bike which then would make her a foot passenger and all the stuff about bikes redundant) .agree that we are all a bit of an afterthought for ferry companies though I've always had a good experience with bike on brittany ferries

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wycombewheeler replied to underworld99 | 4 months ago
0 likes

underworld99 wrote:

I don't understand. I can book a choice of Irish Ferries with bike going from west or north wales to Ireland in a couple of days??..haven't watched the video but more interested in how she got her bike on 3 buses (I presume it's a folding bike which then would make her a foot passenger and all the stuff about bikes redundant) .agree that we are all a bit of an afterthought for ferry companies though I've always had a good experience with bike on brittany ferries

foot passengers are also not allowed on these ferries it seems

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don simon fbpe | 4 months ago
0 likes

Why didn't she click the footpassenger/bicycle option when booking on the Irish Ferries site? It would have saved her a lot of trouble.

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