Plot spoiler: I cycle and have never had a good experience taking my bike on public transport.
“Bikes will be carried on buses for the first time in Scottish cities under a pioneering experiment by the country's biggest operator.”
That was the intriguing opening of a recent article in the Scotland on Sunday. But really, it peaked too soon - it went downhill immediately.
Launched by FirstGroup, the trial service will allow cyclists to take their bikes on a bus to fill the space ordinarily occupied by buggies and wheelchairs.
This, my friends, is “integrated transport” in action; a world where cyclists are a “friend not a foe” (Mark Savelli, Regional managing director for First - and yes, he really did say that). Even Cycling Scotland pedalled in to praise the pilot:
“It's fantastic. Public transport is a great way to get around…. so using a bike to join up either end of the journey really helps to make using sustainable transport hassle-free. It works so well on the train”.
Such observations and ideas are entirely removed from reality. Only someone who has never cycled, let alone tried commuting/holidaying with a bike on public transport, could utter such nonsense. Travelling on a train/bus is never “hassle free” nor does it “work well”. Here’s why.
1. Availability on the train is poor. It varies from two spaces on a bad day to eight on a good day. In my experience, average availability is much closer to two than eight. Only last month I tried to book two bikes up to Aviemore and couldn’t.
2. Presently, you can take your bike on a train if you book it on beforehand. Fair enough. Yet, many simply chance it and block the vestibule area for other passengers. Staff usually reprimand the cyclist but don’t chuck them off the train - they should.
3. Often the storage facility for bikes is located next to: a) toilets, b) buggy areas or c) wheelchair areas. It’s as if the person deliberately designed it to make it difficult for cyclists. Many times I have brought my bike on only to find a buggy placed in the cycle area. The mother then has to move all her stuff while holding her kid(s). She gets worked up, her kid cries and I’m the guy who caused it.
4. Likewise, it is not uncommon to be met with a wheelchair user who is parked in the cycling area. It is embarrassing for me and humiliating for the other passenger to be asked to move, particularly when there is a lack of suitable areas to park. More often than not, the wheelchair user will be faced with a 2-3 hour journey staring at a bike they will never be able to use.
5. Have you ever tried storing your bike in under-floor luggage compartments? There’s not enough room for luggage let alone bikes. Plus, it's a sure fire way of damaging an expensive piece of equipment.
To suggest that this is hassle free or a model that should be emulated is beyond dumb. It is representative of a detached decision-making process that does not care about the journey experience or about creating a sustainable, integrated transport system.
In my democratic haze, and anger at how difficult it is to holiday in Scotland on public transport with a bike, I contacted my local MSP. She promptly contacted FirstGroup and relayed my concerns. The reply revealed one thing: mixed usage or facilitating greater cycling is not their core business.
During my time temp’ing in the Scottish Govt a colleague, who was a keen cyclist, recounted his experience of working in transport. “They just don’t get it” he said. And you know what? He’s still right.
Barry McCulloch, CSPP Policy Manager