In today's world, we increasingly face issues like pollution, high carbon emissions, congested cities and a sedentary lifestyle leading to health issues. Rethinking our ways of moving around has never been more important. Commuting by bike or cycling for leisure is a wonderful way to get around, stay healthy and enjoy your days more. The so-called "active travel" is becoming increasingly popular and a subject of policy changes aiming to encourage people to take up more walking and cycling and reduce our widespread car dependency.
However, the numbers of people cycling are still low. According to the Annual Cycling Monitoring Report by Cycling Scotland, only 4% of people say they cycle regularly to work, and 1.5% say cycling is their main mode of transport. There are many reasons why people are averse to cycling, but often they feel like their destination is simply too far to bike to. This is often an issue that can be solved by a little bit of research, route planning and combining modes of transport.
This blog will look at how multi-modal journeys can help people travel more actively. It will explore the benefits of combining transport and what steps need to be taken to make this type of travelling even more reliable, feasible and easy to use for everyday journeys.
What is a multi-modal transport journey?
Multi-modal transport is the combining of several types of transport over the course of a single journey. It is a great way to break longer travel into stages by using different vehicles for some of them.
Say you live in Livingston and work in Edinburgh. That would be a 16-mile bicycle ride over an hour and a half – probably an unreasonably long and exhausting commute for most people. However, splitting it into several phases could make this quicker, easier, and cheaper. You could ride your bike to Livingston North, park it at the train station's bike parking facilities and hop on your train bike-free.
You could also consider taking your bike with you on the train, which is free. This may sound scary at first glance, but it really isn't that complicated. You can use this guide to help you get your head around the logistics of taking a bicycle on the train.
Benefits of multi-modal transport journeys
Using the train system is a daily necessity for many commuters; it can also be a wonderful way to explore the country. Surprisingly to many, this can really be done with a bike which, as mentioned above, can be taken with you on the train. There really are many benefits to combing bikes and trains, whether you leave your ride at the station's bike parking or you take it on board.
Using your bike to get around congested cities during rush hour is often quicker. It is sometimes easier for bicycles to travel through as riders can take less busy roads and pass through sections which are not accessible to cars. Cycling also consistently offers the most reliable journey time for the rider.
Riding a bike to and from the station, on one or both ends of your journey, is almost always cheaper than getting the bus or driving. It saves you the cost of a bus ticket and money on fuel costs.
Cycling to your destination all the way or partly is also just the healthier way to move around. By doing at least part of your journey with a bike, you can seamlessly fit some exercise into your daily routine without having to dedicate extra time to it. This is good for your bones, muscles, heart, and overall fitness.
How can we encourage more bikes on trains?
Cycling to and from stations and taking a bike on the train is absolutely doable. However, there are some limitations which are stopping more people from comfortably combining cycling and train travel. This is especially true for rush hour trains and commuting. To encourage more people to embrace a more active living and travelling, authorities and train operators need to work together to improve cycling facilities. Let's explore the existing issues and what their solutions are.
To make multi-modal journeys viable for more people, more bike storage must be available for cyclists wanting to park their bicycles at train stations. This is easily solved by installing innovative and space-saving solutions like two-tier bike racks or, at a minimum simple bike stands, preferably in a sheltered and safe area. This is important, as one of the main concerns of cyclists is the safety of their bikes. ScotRail has a convenient tool where you can look up your specific station and see what facilities it has – click on the Interchange section to see if there is bicycle parking, how many spaces it has, the type of storage it is and whether or not there is CCTV to make the bike storage extra safe.
Another step that needs to be taken is to increase onboard bike storage in trains. This may be a harder and slower process as train carriages have limited space by default, and there is very little room for expansion. However, it is not impossible, and there are some fantastic examples from Denmark, like Copenhagen's S-Train. In 2010, DSB – the train operator, made significant changes. It announced that all bikes could now travel for free, and it redesigned the interior of all its trains to accommodate up to 60 bicycles. This led to an increase in the number of passengers, and the number of passengers who took a bike on board jumped from 2.1 to 9
million. A step in this direction is especially important to make commuting by train and bike easy, as often rush hour is a tough time to find a space for both bikes and people.
Train station infrastructure is another piece of the puzzle that makes a journey with a bike more complicated than it needs to be. An example of such limitations is some short platforms where you may end up at a door which won't open due to the length of the train exceeding that of the platform. Stations, especially rural ones, can often have outdated infrastructure, or at least infrastructure that wasn't built with wheels in mind – like footbridges with many stairs. However, an increasing number of them are being updated with lifts and ramps which cyclists can use.
Lastly, the bigger picture of cycling infrastructure is another deterrent. Statistics show people feel unsafe cycling on roads across cities. This means they are unlikely to want to take up commuting by bike for all or part of their journey or riding a bike for leisure. Even though cycling infrastructure across the country is getting better, there are still a lot of things that need improving. To begin with, there is a real need for more cycle paths to make even beginners, or parents cycling with children, feel safer. Ideally, there should be bike-only lanes on busy roads, and more neighbourhoods should be trying out traffic calming and traffic-reducing measures like low-speed-limit zones and no-car zones to make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
Here you can read about a journey on Edinburgh's Spylaw Bank Road through a cyclist's eyes.
Creating synergy between bikes and trains can be a great way to empower people to travel more actively for all or part of their journeys. Creating the right conditions for feasible multi-modal transport can transform our communities. Encouraging commuters to combine bikes and trains will not only improve accessibility and convenience but also reduce congestion, lowers carbon emissions, and enhances public health. Embracing the power of bikes and trains in multi-modal journeys is a key step towards creating vibrant, eco-friendly cities that prioritise active travel and lower our car dependency.