The best way to get around with a bike is usually to ride it. But when you have your bike with you but can’t, or don’t want to cycle, London’s public transport will probably let you down. Here are six ways we can improve the experience of using public transport with a bike in the capital:
Bike racks on buses
These are a commonplace sight in cities across North America, but for some reason haven’t made it across the pond. If you’re one of the many people who leave their bike at home when they plan on going for a few pints after work, this could at least preserve your morning ride in. I’m sure many people would appreciate them when the weather takes a sudden turn for the worse during the day, too.
On the downside, loading a bike could slow down the service by increasing the amount of time a bus has to spend at a stop. I suspect it’s also very annoying when you’ve waited for a bus, and it arrives, only to have no bike slots left. But considering they probably only cost a few hundred quid a bus, they must be worth a pilot on select routes to see whether people use them.
Bike parking at tube stations
London’s railway stations don’t have enough bike parking, and that which they do have isn’t good enough. The plan in the Mayor’s Cycling Vision for secure ‘cycle hubs’ at major stations is a good idea, but there is more that can be done. Providing bike parking at tube stations would substantially increase the number of stations within 10 minutes of people’s homes; this would give them access to a wider variety of tube lines without having to change trains, getting them to their destinations more directly. Not only would this speed up journeys for many people, but it would reduce congestion at busy interchanges where adding capacity costs TfL millions.
Better seating layouts
For a suburban metro service, the London Overground does a decent job of providing space for people with bikes. Operators on other suburban lines would do well to take some cues TfL here – walk-through carriages, inward-facing seating, and lean-on rests near the doors provide plenty of space for people with bikes in the off-peak. While train operators are unlikely to design their carriages around cycling, during consultations its worth making clear that people who use bikes value this kind of layout for shorter journeys.
Better and more visible information
Even when taking a bike on public transport is catered for, it can be a stressful experience simply because you never know what will be around the corner. For a journey you’ve not done before, figuring out what you’re allowed to do sometimes requires deep-level research in the bowels of multiple train companies’ websites. That’s no good if you’re in town with your bike, get a flat tyre, and want to figure out the way home. Information has to improve, and it has to become more visible.
Above is a bike carriage from Denmark – it leaves no one on the platform in any doubt about where you’re supposed to put your bike. The equivalent symbol on South West Trains, which does provide bike slots on its trains, is a small square next to one door on 200m long train, visible only to someone standing on front of it.
For tube users, TfL maintains a nice, clear tube map for cyclists [above], spelling out which lines it’s okay to take a bike and when. But it’s hidden on their website, when it should be displayed at stations near the main tube map. It could also be improved by rating the difficulty of exiting the station with a bike, and covering non-TfL stations.
You can also see what the tube map looks like for cyclists in this handy flat tyre tube map.
Bring suburban rail services under TfL control
The fact is, most train companies will probably never try to encourage cycling on their networks, for one simple reason: it won’t make them money. As they see it, bikes take up valuable space on crowded trains. While operators are willing to pay lip-service, or cater to the odd cyclist here and there, they won’t encourage it en masse, because if everyone started doing it they’d have a capacity crisis on their hands.
Transport for London isn’t always the most progressive organisation when it comes to cycling, but it has one advantage over individual train operators: it plans London’s whole transport system. TfL is in charge of all of London’s modes of transport, and tries to add capacity to the whole thing to keep the capital moving.
There’s a good chance that TfL will recognise, albeit slowly, that helping people bring their bikes on suburban services and cycle the last few miles in central London would free up capacity on the tube, where services are most crowded. They might also see that making it easier for people to cycle in general in the capital will cut rail and bus demand across the whole system and save money in the long-run. Of course, that argument hasn’t been entirely won within TfL, but it is theoretically winnable. With train operators, who have their own sectional interests on their own patch, it isn’t.