The importance of the ‘end-to-end’ journey was frequently mentioned at the ATOC Rail and Integrated Transport Conference last week. This makes sense given that the amount of time actually spent on the train is often the shortest part of a person’s trip. As Transport Minister Norman Baker said on the day ‘This is the age of the train…and the onward connection’. Not quite as catchy as the original British Rail slogan and indeed ‘This is the age of the train, the journey to the station and the onward connection’ would perhaps be more accurate if less pithy still.
Role of walking and bus underplayed
The day focused very much on cycling as a mode of travel to and from stations. We heard how, in this country, just 1-2% of people travel to the station by bike despite the fact that 60% of the population live within 15 minutes cycle ride of a station and the same proportion own a bike. In the Netherlands 40% of people travel to the station by bike- hence they need cycle parking of the scale pictured left!
The bus and walking were rather neglected, the latter being a particular omission given the sheer volume of people who use their two feet to get to stations. Perhaps cycling is just more exciting to talk about and there’s less scope to build shiny new things for walkers and bus users?
The somewhat disproportionate focus during the conference on the provision of cycle parking as a way to get more people cycling to the station certainly suggests that ‘building stuff’ continues to be a preoccupation. Whilst important, where to park your bike when you get to the station is just a small part of the end-to-end journey. What’s equally, if not more, important to many would-be cyclists is the quality of the journey to that point.
Leeds Cyclepoint, for example, was held up as a shining example of good practice, much admired both here and abroad, and rightly so. Situated right opposite the main Leeds station entrance it is attractive and highly visible and could be taken as an indicator that cyclists are valued and supported in the city. However, step outside the station perimeter and you’ll find that the environment for cyclists, whilst improving, is still far from hospitable. As was noted at the conference, partnership is key and local authorities in particular need to be brought on board to deliver the highway improvements necessary to encourage more people to take to two wheels.
More support needed for walking
In focusing on how the needs of cyclists can be accommodated in journeys to and from stations, we must remember that well over half of passengers (excluding those using connecting trains) actually travel to the station on foot. There was little mention at the conference of how we could support these passengers, get even more people to walk to the station and make the journey more pleasant for them.
Walking audits, for example, as undertaken by Transport for London around their Docklands Light Railway network, are a great way to boost walking as a mode. These assess key walking routes into stations for safety, physical barriers and so on and identify ways in which paths can be made more attractive and usable.
More people would like to use the bus to get to stations
People travelling to stations by bus were also given less attention on the day. Some 10% of people access stations by bus but a further 40% would like to do so if bus services were more frequent and fitted in better with train times. It’s one of the reasons pteg is calling for more powers and responsibilities for local rail to be devolved to the PTEs – we can ensure that local rail networks integrate with wider public transport options. It was great to hear Anton Valk (Chief Executive of train operating company Abellio) express his support for more local decision making on rail at the conference.
Smart ticketing is key to joining up journeys
Ticketing can also help join things up. As the Minister pointed out in his speech, if people don’t just have a ticket to a railway station but a ticket that takes them up to their actual destination they will have the confidence that provision exists for them to make that onward journey.
We heard about PlusBus (which enables rail passengers to add local bus travel onto their rail ticket) which goes some way to addressing this and provides a simple, low-tech, low-cost solution for now. However, ultimately, smart ticketing is the way forward – having one card that unlocks bus, rail and tram travel as well as bike and car hire with one touch has to be one of the best ways of supporting people to make end-to-end journeys as smoothly as possible. It also avoids embarrassing exchanges with bus drivers as relayed to me by one delegate who, upon presenting his PlusBus ticket to the driver was told, very slowly, ‘no mate, that’s your train ticket’.