Booking Bicycles on the Train: GWR made a broken system mandatory

If you want to take a train somewhere the benefits of reserving space for your bum are as obvious as benefits of not. If you need the flexibility, you risk not being able to find the room. This should be the same for reserving a space for your bike. However Great Western Railway have decided to make reserving a space for bicycles, and only bicycles, mandatory for some of their trains.

With rail being one of the most environmentally friendly ways to travel GWR’s choice to make travelling by bike and train more inconvenient is frustrating and baffling. Thus I signed the petition against this policy last week. Soon after signing I ran into the ugly consequences of GWR’s backwards policy.

At the end of the month I’m going to the Netherlands with someone, and we’re taking our bikes on the ferry over. To get to our ferry using the rail network should be the best and simplest option.

(Aside: Trains tickets in the Netherlands costs the same regardless of your route or how far in advance you buy them. There’s space for several bikes per carriage, and bikes can be taken on all off-peak journeys (no booking required) for the all-day cost of €6. You can buy tickets on the day using a ticket machine which has an English option. It’s worth the cost; the whole experience is sublime.)

I booked our train tickets to the UK ferry port online, selecting the ‘bicycle reservation’ option.

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Booking bike spaces on GWR’s website

I got my confirmation email and everything was as expected.

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My email reservation, specifically mentioning the cycle reservation

I’ve censored some details and omitted others, but in summary there are five journeys, all requiring bike reservation according to the National Rail Enquires route planner and GWR’s new rules.

I went to Temple Meads to pick up my tickets and the machine only spat out my seat and journey tickets. There was nothing about bicycle reservations at all. Now I knew that in the past there used to be ‘CYCLE RESERVATION’ tickets that needed to be attached to your bike. Where were they? Are they not required with this new GWR policy? I went to go check at the ticket counter. Without this special knowledge I would have had an almighty row on the day!

I handed over my tickets, hoping to be finished soon. Instead it took 25 minutes for two staff to figure out how to reserve space for the bicycles. They proffered no explanation, and when I explained I had booked and showed them the email all I got was “there’s not a bicycle on the booking”. I still don’t know why GWR’s website doesn’t work.

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After almost half an hour of GWR staff being bamboozled by their own tickets I finally got cycle reservations. I was frustrated that it had taken so long, and had required personal experience of reserving bikes, to repeat a booking I’d already made.

It wasn’t over though! I double checked the tickets I’d received and the cycle reservations only covered two out of the five trains of my journey. I went back to another ticket counter.

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After an additional 15 minutes and another two station staff I was sent away with as many reservations as were possible, and a hand written note(!) for the journeys GWR’s computers would not let them make, despite National Rail Enquires telling me I needed them.

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A stack of tickets over half an inch thick

This booking system is broken, and GWR have made it mandatory. I’d rather appreciate an apology from GWR, but not as much as them actually supporting cycling as a transport. Their policy and booking systems can’t do this.

If you agree, sign and share the petition. Cheers.

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3 comments

  1. Reblogged this on CycleBath and commented:
    GWR really have failed to put in the right processes and systems to accommodate the booking changes. They need to relax their booking policy until they resolve these fundamental issues.

  2. I came across a system years ago where booking wasn’t mandatory.
    I turned up unbooked, and the guard (train manager or whatever) said there was no room.
    Bike spaces already full. He asked if I had booked, and told me to do so. I asked him if there would have been spaces if I had booked: he just looked sheepish!

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