Virgin hate cyclists. Grrrrr…

Thursday, 17th May 2007 at 2:22 UTC 6 comments

I got thrown off a train tonight. Yes, you read that right. Not literally. I removed myself before I got arrested, though had circumstances been better, I’d have just stuck around to see if they’d arrest me. Virgin, it seems, have decided to implement their absurd rules about booking bikes onto trains. I’m so angry about this one. And that’s not all, as the government are effectively going to ban safe cycling in a few weeks time.

I got to the station with about 4 minutes before the train was due to leave, bought a ticket and heaved my bike over the footbridge, figuring I didn’t have time to use the lifts (which at York are nightmarishly slow). I got to the platform, and was relieved to find the bike section at the rear (i.e. near) end of the train. I got on, and hooked my front wheel on the weird hook thing you’re supposed to. I should point out that there were no other bikes in the section, which is designed for 4 bikes.

I turned to go find a seat, when someone who’d just gotten on spoke to me. When I realised this wasn’t just the usual passenger banter, I asked him to repeat himself.

“Can I see your cycle reservation?”

“Er, I don’t have one.”

“Well you’ll have to take your bike off the train”

“Why?”

“Because you need a cycle reservation to take your bike on a Virgin Train” (words to that effect).

“Well I’ve never been asked for one before.  There’s no other bikes here, I’m not taking anyone’s space.”

“Perhaps you haven’t come across me before.  I’m a Revenue Protection Officer.”

At this point I lied, saying that I didn’t know who he was. I started to get my bike off, pointing out that I intend on writing to Virgin and my MP (who is, surprisingly, already doing stuff on this issue).  He then had the cheek to ask me where I was going.  Seeing as one of the reasons I don’t reserve seats is to protect my movements from the snooping of train companies and government alike, I wasn’t going to tell him.  The other reason is that I simply don’t know when I shall be travelling.

As to Revenue Protection Officers, its utterly stupid that he in particularly complained to me.  Why?  Because a reservation costs nothing.  His company had lost nothing except the knowledge of when I was going to travel, and thus the ability to dissuade me from taking my bike by train.  Of course I know who they are, and could write a good few paragraphs ranting about them (I just did, but I’ll spare you).

Had there been other bikes already booked on then fine, I would not have been at all concerned, though that said, the number of spaces for bikes on new trains should be 2/carriage minimum (oh dear goodness, I’m actually advocating the same thing as Hugh Bayley MP himself).  Virgin Voyagers, at 4 carriages with 4 bike spaces, are some of the worst offenders at this game, though GNER fair little better with 12 bikes spaces between 8.5 carriages (the buffet = 0.5 carriages, I’ll let them off).

Lets have a quick look at where we stand in Europe on this one shall we.  Oh, last place!  Well, I’m going with last place, as I’ve seen much better accomodation of cycles almost everywhere else, barring TGV-standard trains which require seat reservations for everyone.  My book of Dutch trains tells me that they have 8 vehicles described as “bicycle brake” coaches, meaning they have a guards compartment and lots of bike space.  I remember seeing somewhere a coach description that gave space for 48 cycles, I think, though I can’t remember, and it may be the same coaches.

Anyhow, I waited half an hour, and got the next train.  The whole affair may have delayed me by as much as an hour, as the subsequent Voyager pulled in on the adjacent platform just as I boarded my onward connection.  The Northern guard was much nicer, and seemed more than happy to see me.  I always find them so much more down-to-Earth and railway focused than the Virgin lot.

Further Note: As I boarded my onward train I was aggravated by some half-drunk race-goer, who told me off for getting on before some people who’d apparently been stood waiting longer.  If they’d wanted to get on sooner, why did they stand two or three metres away from the train as it sat warming up, instead of standing, as I did, by the doors ready to press the open button?  Besides, they didn’t loose anything, as I still had to faff at getting my bike parked while they went past to find seats.  Big thanks, however, go to the person who offered to help me off the train at Bradford; it just shows that some people can be reasonable).

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Entry filed under: Cycling, Environment.

Give us a break, any kind of break… The Government is also cracking down on cyclists

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. LordRich  |  Thursday, 17th May 2007 at 10:57 UTC

    To get onto a Virgin train you simply arrive early at the station, find a platform manager of the opposite sex and start flirting. It only works on relatively short journeys where there are no other bikes on board, but it also tends to mean you don’t get asked for a ticket.

    For local journeys it’s usually worth waiting for the next Northern service. For longer journeys it’s actually easier to hire a bike at your destination and/or take a series of local trains.

    Last Saturday, it was impossible to get a reservation from Sheffield to York a week in advance. Sure it could have been done on local services, but Virgin’s reservation system put Dave off doing the journey at all.

    Reply
  • 2. Greg  |  Friday, 18th May 2007 at 9:30 UTC

    The good thing about Sheffield – York is that the train will either be direct, or go via Doncaster or Leeds. If it’s a direct train, you can’t get thrown off before your destination, and otherwise, you can just be changing trains at a station where you have to do so half the time anyway. Admittedly, there are some local trains that stop at loads of places (the last one I caught took extended my journey to over 2 hours!), but those don’t generally care about bikes.

    Reply
  • 3. Greg  |  Saturday, 19th May 2007 at 12:07 UTC

    I must say, Virgin usually seem to be pretty good about bikes. I’ve hardly ever booked mine on, and most of them don’t care. The one exception was the time time when their using a HST rather than a Voyager took me by surprise, I tried to run to the other end of the train but didn’t make it and jumped on halfway down just before the train left. I then got an extremely arsy attendant, who said that if I couldn’t make it to the bike van before the train let, I shouldn’t get on. Yeah, sod that. In fact, Virgin and Midland Mainline both seemt to be good, and GNER are mostly okay, but by far the worst people I’ve encountered are the GNER staff that run York station!

    Your ‘Revenue Protection’ incident makes no sense. As you say, reservations are free so there was no revenue invovled! He must have just wanted to be arsy towards cyclists. Well we’ve never heard of that before, have we?! How did he identify you? Next time, lock your helmet to yoru bike and make sure there’s nothing that identifies you as a cyclist when you sit down.

    Reply
  • 4. Helen B  |  Wednesday, 30th May 2007 at 15:24 UTC

    You don’t make reservations to prevent the government snooping??

    Do you pay by cash all the time?
    Write a blog under a pseudonym perhaps? 🙂

    Reply
  • 5. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 28th September 2007 at 2:58 UTC

    Just a quick addendum to say that tonight I caught more or less the exact same train and had no problems, the guard telling me to “just get on”, as if I was being stupid to suggest the lack of reservation was a problem.

    Reply
  • 6. Tom J  |  Sunday, 30th September 2007 at 19:44 UTC

    I must say this is exactly the situation i find myself in nearly every week but its the guard on the platform at who catches me. I catch the train from Wakefield to Newcastle and back every week and cant reserve my bike because the ticket office is never open as i work 12 hour shifts. When I am waiting casually on the platform sporting full lycra they usually ask me if i have a reservation. when I say No they tell me, “Your’e not getting on this train if you havn’t got a reservation” and i laugh! When the train pulls in I just chuck it on because it is such a pathetic carry on! But to be fair when I am on the train I say to the guard if there are more than three bikes coming on at any one time I will be happy to get off at that stop.

    Reply

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