Analysis: Luas ban on bicycles does not stand up to scrutiny

Image: Edinburgh Trams / Transport for Edinburgh

A continued policy of banning bicycles on-board trams 24 hours a day on Dublin’s Luas tram system may be harder to justify if all goes well with a trial of bicycles on Edinburgh Trams goes well this month.

IrishCycle.com has covered issue the issue of full-sized bikes on-board Luas for years. In that time, the policy of banning bicycles has been carefully changed from a policy which was “due primarily to safety concerns” to one which now unfairly pits bicycles against wheelchair users, other mobility impaired passengers and small children in prams.

A recent parliamentary question by Blackrock-based TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor (FG) confirms the redefined position (quoted in full below), which puts safety only as the secondary reason for keeping bikes off trams.

The policy of banning bicycles goes against Government policy. The Government-approved National Cycle Policy states: “We will provide for the carriage of bikes on LUAS when services are of a frequency and at a capacity that allows for it. i.e. when it is considered possible to carry bikes on carriages when they do not interfere with the capacity for pedestrians.”

When IrishCycle.com surveyed Dublin politicians in 2013, a total of 76% of respondents said they would support bikes on Luas “off-peak or when it’s not busy.” This seems sensible and in line with the national policy which is being ignored.

However, the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) which oversees the running of Luas does not think any time is suitable for bicycles to be on trams. Drivers were instructed to use the on-board intercom to instruct people with bicycles off — an official ban only followed this when the ban on carrying bicycles on trams was written into the Luas bylaws in 2012.

The RPA’s position is clearly against Government policy and may come under further pressure given that Edinburgh Trams are this month trailing bicycles on-board their Luas-like system. The rules covering the Edinburgh trial are sensible:

  • During the trial passengers can bring their bikes on board from 0500 until 07:30 in the morning and between 09:30 – 16:00 and 18:30- 23:00 Monday to Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday.
  • On board staff retain the discretion to prevent cyclists from boarding with bikes if they deem a tram to be too busy.
  • Passengers must stay with their bikes throughout the journey, holding them in order to ensure they don’t move during transit.
  • Cyclists should position themselves at the centre section (marked on platform by a disabled logo tile) of the tram and take guidance from on-board staff.
  • Only two bikes will be allowed on each tram and in the specified locations on board during the trial.
  • Passengers with disabilities or those with prams or buggies are to take priority with regards to space.

A set of rules could be adapted to suit Dublin. For example, the times when bicycles are not allowed on-board could be extended.

Allowing bicycles on-board off-peak is common on railways, metros and modern tram systems across the world. Bicycles are usually only allowed on-board only off-peak, and when bicycles do not interfere with other passengers.

UPDATE: Keolis, a company which operates modern trams in Bordeaux, confirmed to us that bicycles are allowed on trams in Bordeaux: “Bicycles are allowed on-boards trams but: You can not if there is not too many passengers inside and not between 7am to 9am and between 4pm and 7.30pm.”

The RPA rightly says that Luas is more popular that most public transport systems off-peak. But there is often space for bicycles at different times of the day and this is more so the case outside the city centre.

There seems to be no justification to not allow somebody who cycles to the Balally stop (near the Dundrum shopping centre) and travel southbound to Cherrywood and cycle (further than most people’s tolerated walking distance) to locations such as Shankill. This would give a boost to passenger numbers on a section of the green line which is underused.

On the red line, allowing people to bring bicycles on board would also allow people to avoid the often horribly convoluted cycling links between areas of Tallaght and Citywest and the Dublin City side of the of the M50. These are just some examples, there are other frequent and infrequent trips where having a bicycle at both ends would benefit users and increase tram usage outside the city centre.

But even within the city centre, when this writer — with a child in a pram — has used trams off-peak, at least one of the pram/wheelchair areas are often empty of both prams and wheelchairs, and other passengers mostly congregate around fixed seats. At many times of the day it would be unusual for the two pram/wheelchair areas to be in full use.

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Luas trams are busier than most public transport off-peak, but it is only packed at rush hour and in limited areas outside rush hour

Above: A tram with space for bicycles: Luas trams are busier than most of Dublin’s public transport off-peak, but it is only packed at rush hour and busy in limited areas and times outside rush hour.

One part of the RPA’s excuse as to why they can’t carry bicycles on-board is telling that they have not really examined the issue of bicycles on-board or that they some-how thing Luas is more unique than it is. In their reply to Deputy O’Connor, the RPA said: “Luas often carries exceptionally large numbers of passengers attending events at the 3 Arena, Croke Park, Aviva Stadium, Phoenix Park, etc., often during what might be considered off-peak periods.”

Have the RPA staff never been on a Dart train to an event at Aviva Stadium? The carriages of the Dart can be as pack as the morning rush hour. Bicycles are usually allowed on Dart and Commuter trains but part of the rules is that they are not allowed on-board to large events when carriages get packed. This is a sensible rule and could be more easily applied to Luas given that the tram usually has extra security at stops when large events are taking place.

Another distracting red herring is emergency braking on trams. The RPA says: “Due to on-street running, Luas is subject to emergency braking on occasions. This braking can result in passengers being thrown against one another. Adding bicycles to this environment would substantially increase the risk of serious injury, unless the bicycles were secured to the body of the tram.” Why is this a distraction? Because, it’s the same for trams and other light rail systems which carry bicycles have on-road running or at-grade interactions with roads.

The operation of trams in Dublin is tendered out to a private company, currently Transdev Ireland. To fill in all the gaps of who does what with Luas: The system is, on paper at least, ultimately overseen by the National Transport Authority, the NTA contracts oversight to the RPA (To confuse matters: The RPA is merging soon with the National Road Authority to form a re-branded body which is to be called Transport Infrastructure Ireland, although this is not due to change operations of Luas).

Transdev is of interest for the following reasons: In a 2004 report by the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign — which has an on-going campaign for bikes on their city’s tram system — it was pointed out that: “A study by Transdev on behalf of Hampshire County Council found that 12 out of 17 LRT systems surveyed provided cycle carriage facilities.” It’s only fair to say that at least two of the 12 are by trailers attached to the trams, which is not practical with Luas — but most of the 12 carry bicycles on-board trams.

The RPA states: “There are examples of tram systems in other European countries where bicycles are secured in a caged area within the tram or attached to a frame on the exterior of the tram” — it is worth points out that there are also examples which allow bicycles on-board without any such extras and Edinburgh’s trial has no caged area inside or attachments outside their trams.

Bicycles on Luas may not be the most important cycling issue going, but not allowing bicycles on-board at any time or in any location is clearly against Government policy, the reasons given against allowing bicycles does not stand up, and so the RPA’s policy has to be questioned.

Large-scale, secure bicycle parking at key interchanges or suburbs, which is manned most of the day (and locked up at night), would be of greater benefit to both Luas and cycling. But it would be expensive. Allowing bicycles on trams is a quick and cheap win for cycling and Luas passenger numbers, and already in-line with Government policy.

If there’s a successful trial in Edinburgh — which is an example closer to home and in an English-speaking country — will it change things? Only time will tell.

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Full from the RPA to Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor:

I refer to your Parliamentary Question (PQ 1024) which has been passed to me for reply on behalf of the Railway Procurement Agency.

I can tell you that RPA does not permit non-foldable bicycles on trams for reasons of safety and capacity.

Non-foldable bicycles would interfere with the capacity for other passengers, particularly spaces for mobility impaired passengers and parents with buggies. This is the case even at off-peak times. Luas attracts high passenger numbers throughout the day and there are parts of the system that are busy all day long. In addition, Luas often carries exceptionally large numbers of passengers attending events at the 3 Arena, Croke Park, Aviva Stadium, Phoenix Park, etc., often during what might be considered off-peak periods.

Even if capacity were not an issue, RPA would still not permit non-foldable bicycles on trams due to the risk, in a relatively confined space, of injury to passengers from handlebars, pedals, etc. This risk is obviously increased in the event of an emergency application of the brakes. Due to on-street running, Luas is subject to emergency braking on occasions. This braking can result in passengers being thrown against one another. Adding bicycles to this environment would substantially increase the risk of serious injury, unless the bicycles were secured to the body of the tram.

There are examples of tram systems in other European countries where bicycles are secured in a caged area within the tram or attached to a frame on the exterior of the tram. RPA does not support dedicating the limited space already available on trams to a bicycle cage and believes that attaching bicycles to the tram exterior would introduce additional risks in terms of contact with other street users and pedestrians, in particular passengers at stops.

Bicycles that are folded are permitted on Luas. In addition, RPA accommodates cyclists by providing bicycle racks at 42 Luas stops. RPA has installed a total of 418 bicycle racks at Luas stops, and continues to add to this bicycle rack provision where there is demand and space available. In addition, RPA has recently provided 30 dedicated bicycle lockers at Dundrum, Windy Arbour and Spencer Dock Luas stops.

4 Comments

  1. Hear Hear!….Lets renew the Campaign to get Bikes on the LUAS….not to mention cycling along the LUAS lines!

  2. Mobility options increase happiness and fatten the bottom line. Win, win situation.

  3. Dun Laoghaire County Cuuncil wrote to the RPA recently to ask why bicycles are not permitted on trams. There was a debate between councillors on the issue which you can watch here (skip to 2:42:20)
    http://www.dlrcoco.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/164626

    I spoke in favour on the basis that the system in Bordeaux uses the same model of tram and accepts bikes on board.

  4. Fair play @smytho

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