This bike is pictured aboard the 18.19 train from Brighton to London Victoria. Trains travelling between the two cities at this time, and for six key hours every weekday, are subject to Southern Railways’ cycle policy, which outlaws all bikes other than folders, like this Brompton.
Southern explain this policy as their way of trying to lessen inconvenience for non-cycling passengers, and presumably to accommodate more passengers on each train. This rule is enforced despite the fact that every fourth carriage on each train has dedicated space for two bikes, arranged with a layout which sacrifices none of the seating provided for passengers. For six hours every working day, these spaces are left empty. The only bikes permitted onboard are folding bikes, ranging from flexible, wobbly £200 efforts to more viable, reliable machines costing in excess of £500.
So, Southern tell us: Two wheels bad. Two wheels plus hinge good.
Time for a small experiment.
My employer has just acquired a Brompton for us to use as a company vehicle. A great idea and just the ticket for meetings in London or in Peterborough, home of our parent company. As a folding bike, it can be legally carried on all Southern trains, regardless of the time of day. But what if I took this bike on a train without folding it? What if I didn’t fold the folder? Is a folder only seen as a folder when it’s folded? Would it create some kind of inconvenience to my fellow passengers in its assembled stature? Would a guard (sorry – Revenue Protection Officer) ask me to collapse the bike into its folded form? Would I be thrown from the train as a two-wheeled trouble-maker?
Of course not. I wheeled the bike through the ticket barriers and parked it in one of the dedicated bike spaces where it remained for the rest of my journey. No-one was inconvenienced and no-one was denied any travelling comfort by the presence of my fully assembled bike.
Which begs the obvious question: If this bike was allowed onto the train in its full-sized, fully assembled state, why are regular, non-folding bikes forbidden? Bikes like the Brompton are great, but they are expensive, they handle strangely and they lack many benefits of regular full-sized bikes. To ban bikes from trains in the crude broad-brushed way favoured by Southern calls into question any attempt to acheive affordable ‘integrated transport’ as part of the relationship between the sibling cities of London and Brighton.
Some commuters previously mixing their modes of transport have given up and reverted to their cars. Others have tried the approach of locking up their bikes at railway stations, to the glee of bike thieves who are thriving in this new era.
When Southern first began to enforce their cycle policy, there were protests, petitions and news coverage. Maybe it’s time to revisit this issue, before Southern begin to believe that this way of working is anything other than a terrible idea.