This is the age of the train…and the onward connection

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

Multi-storey cycle storage at a Dutch station

Multi-storey bike storage at a Dutch station - they had to build over the river to get enough room!

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

Leeds goes Dutch with Cyclepoint - a multi-service cycle facility

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.

People walking

55% of people walk to the station - we shouldn't neglect 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.

Nexus Pop smartcard

Smartcards are the ultimate end-to-end journey tool

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’.

Rebecca Fuller

Public transport makes you skinny

Use sparingly - could cause weight gain!

Even in America, where our mental image is of a society dominated by the car, there is compelling evidence that public transport is good for you.  A study released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) shows that people who live in communities with extensive public transport networks exercise more, live longer, and are generally healthier than people in automobile-dependent communities.

Use of public transit simply means that you walk more which increases fitness levels and leads to healthier citizens. More importantly, increasing use of public transit may be the most effective traffic safety counter measure a community can employ,” says APTA president William Millar

Walking - every little helps - even if it's just to the bus stop

In the UK, the Cabinet Office produced a report at the end of 2009 which estimated the costs of urban congestion at between £38bn – £48bn per year, of which around half had direct health related impacts – accidents, pollution and physical inactivity.  This further reinforces the notion that public transport’s impacts are wider than the traditional aspects of environmental and economic gain. 

Put together with the American research, this should strengthen the case for a more holistic look at the benefits of public transport and why it’s important for health and transport professional to work together.  This is a subject we’ll be looking at for pteg shortly.

I heart Copenhagen

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at a workshop in Copenhagen (funding for my place was kindly provided by PROGRESS – the EU’s employment and social solidarity programme). You can view my presentation on transport and social inclusion here. This post isn’t about the conference though – instead I thought I’d share some random thoughts on what is an incredibly inspiring city from a mobility point of view.

Let’s start with the road space. Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists get the same amount of space on the road (where cars are allowed that is – many of the shopping streets are for people and bikes only). This means wide pavements for pedestrians (no more pavement rage as there’s ample room to overtake the ‘statelier’ walkers!) and wide lanes for cyclists who in theory could ride up to three abreast (although would only do so when overtaking).

Compared to this, cars, occupying the same amount of road space, look positively cramped and there is a real visual sense that they are the least attractive travel option. Cyclists stream past at a much faster and free-flowing pace – the evening rush hour in particular is a real sight to behold as the stream becomes a torrent of people pedalling home while the cars inch along next to them – wish I’d taken a picture!

Then there are the bikes themselves. There’s no shame in having an old bone-shaker/sit-up-and-beg bike – there are very few mountain bikes here. Most people have standard shopper bikes – all you need for the urban jungle. Standard doesn’t mean dull though, as this pic of a very lovely and shiny red shopper shows. Check out this blog – Cycle Chic  – tag-line ‘Hold my bicycle while I kiss your girlfriend’ (!) for more stylish Danes doing what they do best!

From the chic to the highly practical – many people in Copenhagen attach big trailers to the front of their bikes and I saw people carrying everything in them from what you would expect (shopping) to what you wouldn’t – girlfriends and gigantic houseplants spring to mind. When I googled this I found that you can also transport pirates in these contraptions:

Such additions would stand little chance of fitting in the measly, narrow and fragmented cycle lanes we witness in many of our towns and cities. In Copenhagen, the bike is a very practical item and the useful add-ons mean you can use it for most tasks around the city from the weekly shop, to moving house – not to mention swashbuckling expeditions.

The city is also a safe place for pedestrians – everybody (except maybe the tourists, but they learn!) waits for the green man before they cross. How refreshing – especially for someone like me who’s road crossing technique might be best described as ‘rabbit in headlights’.

All in all, my impression was of a city where pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and motorists live harmoniously and where, most strikingly, the bike was a highly visible, attractive and practical alternative to the car for many journeys. I think we need to get away from thinking that walking, cycling, driving and using public transport have to be in competition with one another – all have their uses depending on the journey you need to make. The trick is to get them all joined up and working together as seamlessly (and as greenly) as possible. It’s about ‘bikes and…’ not ‘bikes or…’.


Rebecca Handley