Here’s how the Netherlands deals with bicycle / train commuting…

IMAGE: A rail-focused bicycle share system is one of the ways the Dutch railways enables passengers to combined cycling and train use.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: A lot of annoyance and even anger is expressed towards Irish Rail and train companies in other countries for not providing enough space for bicycles, especially at commuting time, but best international practice shows that the anger is misdirected.

The Dutch are the world-leaders of combining bicycle and train trips — 40% of rail commuters use bicycles to get to stations. They are kings at train-bike integration.

So, it might surprise some people that the railway network in the Netherlands has a rush hour ban on bicycles on trains. The same applies to metro railway systems in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague — bicycles are only allowed on-board off-peak.

Cycling campaigners often point to photographs of suburban S-trains in Copenhagen which carry bicycles on-trains at rush hour and for free. Here’s an image of the bicycle carriage on an S-train in Copenhagen:

If your city or region is like Copenhagen and has available capacity on trains, then maybe your city should follow their example. For places which have little or no capacity on trains at peak times, then the Dutch system is likely a better fit, And it has a far grater potential for scalability.

Overall, there seems to be very few examples which have followed the Copenhagen model. Bicycles on trains off-peak makes loads of sense to increase the number of people using trains. But where and when space is at a premium on trains packed with people, trying to make space for bicycles makes little practical or financial sense.

In most places, new trains and carriages will also fill up with people sooner rather than later.

Thus, it makes more practical or financial sense to invest in bicycle parking and bicycle share at train stations. This is what the Dutch system relies on — secure, high-volume bicycle parking at train stations and a rail-focused bicycle share system called OV-fiets (public transport bicycle).

In the Netherlands, it’s common for people to have two bicycles, one parked at both stations — ie a bicycle for use between your house and your local station, and another between the station at the other end and your workplace. Many commuters will just cycle to one of the stations and walk or take other public transport at the other end.

In the Dutch city of Utrecht — the greater area of which has an urban population of around 690,000 people — there’s 21,250 bicycle parking spaces open to the public at Utrecht Central station.

Of those bicycle parking spaces, 12,500 are located in the world’s largest bicycle parking unit and the rest spread across other units. Utrecht’s largest bicycle parking unit is so big that there’s cycle paths inside the unit — you cannot scale bicycle carrying capacity on trains anywhere close to this level:

Delft and other cities have similar bicycle parking units at a smaller scale:

Other commuters will cycle their bicycle to their local station and rent an OV-fiets at their destination station. The OV-fiets system is aimed at extending the reach of the rail network (“the last mile”).

The goal is not a high turn over of bicycles and use of the bicycles only costs €3.85 per 24 hours and this rate only starts to increase after three days. OV-fiets can be rented from train stations in cities, towns and villages across the Netherlands. (Note: OV-fiets is not open to non-residents unless you use the Utrecht Regional Pass).

The University of Amsterdam’s Urban Cycling Institute’s open-access paper has more reading on the bike-train combination.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

3 Comments

  1. Great article. Bringing even a folded folding bike on an overcrowded train will get (understandable) resentment from other passengers. The priority on Commuter, Dart and Luas is to maximise passsenger capacity and who can argue with this. The Dutch two bike approach is a rational response if you can’t get a rental easily.
    On inter urban trains – in Ireland- I think there is more scope for increasing bike carrying capacity without affecting passenger capacity. This would facilitate tourists and those who need to have their own bike at their destination.

  2. I would add two important details that have made my commute from Utrecht to Amsterdam doable (walk or cycle to station in Utrecht, then OV Fiets from train to work in Amsterdam). The first is that parking in the secure facilities is free for the first 24 hours to anyone with a train pass. This is so helpful! But the second, and far more important, is that the majority of Dutch employers cover your commuting costs by public transit in full (the employer gets a tax break for doing this). This includes the use of OV Fiets, which are considered public transit. Because of this, I am able to make a multimodal commute every day and I do not pay a cent. If this were not the case, even the well connected Dutch system would be a challenge, as €3.85/day does add up pretty quickly in the end!

  3. I also totally agree with the bikes not being allowed on trains at peak time. However even in the Netherlands, you can bring bikes on trainas at off-peak times and instead of having to hold them as in Ireland, there is space to strap them in place and the cyclist can sit down.

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