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:
— YesDayScotland (@YesDayScotland) October 15, 2016
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.
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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:
— IrishCycle.com (@IrishCycle) October 12, 2019
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).
DublinBikes has 1,600 bicycles across the city. In Utrecht, there's 1,000 @OV_Fiets rentable from just the largest parking unit. You can rent them 24/7 for €3.85 per 24 hours. Goal is to extend reach of rail, not to have a high turnover. pic.twitter.com/qLkrDJ1Ma0
— IrishCycle.com (@IrishCycle) October 19, 2019
The University of Amsterdam’s Urban Cycling Institute’s open-access paper has more reading on the bike-train combination.
Wow! Our detailed analysis of complex Dutch bike-train usage has already over 1.000 downloads in its first week!
Are we ready to open up the mode-oriented thinking of transport engineering & planning?
— Cycling Professor (@fietsprofessor) November 12, 2019