15 July, 2008

More on bikes on trains

An update of the bikes-on-trains discussions N and I have been having with Brian Baxter at Greater Wellington Regional Council. Cycle Advocacy Wellington have been watching the messages go back and forth and invited N and I to a meeting attend a meeting of the GWRC this week. The meeting is specifically about provisions for cycles in Wellington --- curious that Brian Baxter hasn't mentioned the meeting. I wonder: did it just slip his mind or does he not really want the consultation and feedback that he talks to us about?

Anyway, here are the last couple of messages, first the ones with N, then the ones with me:

Brian's fourth reply to N:

Date: 2008/7/10
From: Brian Baxter Brian.Baxter@gw.govt.nz
To: N

We will certainly get feedback from train staff - they (their union) are very closely monitoring what is happening. The feedback will come via the union rather than from individuals.

We are serious about integrating cycling with public transport, but there is no getting away from the fact that cycle carriage on trains is hit or miss. As it would be on a bus that only has a rack for 2 bikes. Carriage will always be limited given available space (as it is also for people - there is only so much space available). That said, we are trialling the current arrangements, and we will look at other
possibilities, including retro-fitting the carriages, at the end of the trial.


N's fifth reply to Brian:

From: N
Date: 11 July 2008 11:42:59 AM
To: Brian.Baxter@gw.govt.nz

Hi Brian,
This will be my last email for a while - I am off to Korea for a couple of weeks for work - but I will have to try to jump on a train while I am there and see what provision they make for cyclists ;) I understand that there is always finite space on trains, whether for people or bikes. However, I was in Germany for about 3 years, and
while the space on a bus or a tram makes it unrealistic for a large group of cyclists to get on, it was really common to see a dozen bikes in a single carriage on commuter train services. And on weekends, a family of five would have no trouble in using the train to get out of the city centre for a biking trip. I am not suggesting that we can
model our transport system overall on what the Germans have, but our medium sized cities are about the same size as most of theirs, and rely on a similar mix of trains, buses, and trams (ok, the last is still on our wish list here). Bikes stack up quite well, and cyclists are usually pretty cooperative in terms of making space for others.
The biggest problem with the current system is that the onus is on the staff rather than the cyclists to make space for bikes - which has the result that staff feedback has been negative. I have personally had a lot of comments from Tranz Metro staff on my folding bike, telling me how much easier it would be for them if all cyclists could get on and off just like any other passenger. And they usually go on to make
comments about the price of petrol and how much sense it makes to combine cycling with the train - so the staff themselves are certainly aware of the issues!
I will be thrilled if you can bring up the idea of retro-fitting the carriages at the end of the trial - I think we can all agree that the results are likely to be disappointing in terms of the number of cyclists on trains, given the unanticipated cut to the number of cyclists.

Brian's first reply to me:

Thanks for your comments.

I have to say that GW is not the bad guy we are being painted as. We simply tried to do something right (by removing the cycle charge). Tranz Metro (in particular their staff) then decided to impose some limitation of their own based on what are perceived to be health and safety issues. We have been disappointed with the outcome, although I think the jury is still out with regard to the final effect. It has only been 10 days since the changes were made, and it seems from the feedback I am getting that Tranz Metro staff are still coming to grips with the detail (e.g. how many bikes can be carried per train) of the new policy.

I must also question your maths; it would have been extremely rare that 5 cycles could ever have been fitted into a baggage compartment. [That's not maths Brian. That's counting. Alas, maths has a bit more to it.]

Your suggestion of a permit system is interesting but I foresee a number of problems with it. But that can be added to the feedback which will all be considered when the current system is reviewed.


My first reply to Brian:

From: Me
Date: 10 July 2008 10:51:36 PM
To: Brian.Baxter@gw.govt.nz

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate your willingness to discuss this matter. I appreciate also the intention of GWC to try and improve sustainable transport though the free bikes on trains policy.

Even though the free bikes on trains policy has only been in action for 10 days, observation suggests that the damage was in fact done some weeks before this policy took effect when, at least some, TranzMetro staff began implementing the two bikes per baggage compartment policy. By the time the free bikes on trains policy came into effect at the beginning of July the number of cyclists using the trains for commuting had already been decimated.

I feel it's most unfortunate that the free bikes on trains policy has had an effect opposite to that intended. It seems that TranzMetro and their staff have some role to play in this and perhaps my feedback and comments are best directed at them. TranzMetro haven't yet replied to the original letter you received from Nicola Gaston via Ping and so, since you are willing to address the issue, and perhaps take some action on it, I hope you don't mind if I continue to send my feedback to you.

While on this point, I'm not clear on what the exact line of responsibility and of governance is with TranzMetro. If you could clear this up I'd certainly appreciate it.

From the discussions with you so far I'm starting to get the impression that there are different perceptions about the number of bikes which have been and can be carried on trains. The figure of five bikes per baggage compartment which I used is from direct observation. They do indeed fit into one baggage compartment, though certainly not with ease. If GWC or TranzMetro have any more accurate information on the number of bikes carried per baggage compartment during peak travel times, such as a survey, then I would be interested to see it and would be happy to re-work the calculations I sent earlier. In the absence of such figures, I have to work with the numbers reported by the cyclists who, until recently, put their bikes in the said baggage compartments.

Another observation from the platform is that though most trains are made up of more than one par of carriages, and hence have more than one baggage compartment, I'm unaware of more than one baggage compartment ever being used. I suppose this is since the train conductor was required to unlock the baggage compartment at stops where bikes got on or off. Presumably the conductors felt it wouldn't be possible to do this with more than one compartment. The reality was, as far as I'm aware, only one baggage compartment per train ever operated. If this changed, and all the baggage compartments were used then the numbers of bikes carried on trains could be increased without any changes to trains or introducing complicated permit systems. I quite agree with you that my suggested permit system has problems. It also only offers a small improvement from the current situation, but none-the-less an improvement and improvement one way or another is really necessary in this situation.

Can I ask you at what date the current system will be reviewed and the form this review will take? Cycling and sustainable transport is something I feel strongly about and I would be disappointed to miss any scheduled public/user consultation on account of being unaware of the relevant dates and information.

With best regards,