Thursday, 15 November 2012

Virgin trains holding Coventry Cycling customers to ransom

Press release – Virgin trains holding Coventry customers to ransom

A city cycling campaigner has lambasted Virgin Trains for failing to provide more cycle parking at Coventry Station, even though a £300,000 subsidy from the Department of Transport had been allocated in February for such facilities. After using Coventry Station on Tuesday, but observing that there was no available space to park a bike, Mr Avery contacted Virgin Trains to ask when the new facility was going to be installed. The funding has been made available for 300 secure spaces as part of a "Bike Hub". Despite this cash being available to the tune of some £1,000 per space, more simple 2-cycle stands are available on the market from just £30 each.

This morning, Virgin Trains tweeted Mr Avery to say that the new parking would not be installed until the franchise issue had been resolved. This may take up to 2 more years.

Said Mr Avery:

The situation is totally unacceptable. Why should Virgin Trains be able to hold Coventry cycling passengers to ransom by not spending money that has already been given to them by the Department for Transport? Cycle parking provision at Coventry Station has been inadequate for many years, yet all they needed to have done would be to have allocated a small portion of the available space on the site for Sheffield type cycling stands. Meanwhile, Virgin Trains have invested millions of pounds up and down the country on multi-storey car parks. I have no objection to the park and ride concept, as long as parking is available for both types of user. The commercial case for providing more cycle parking is very clear – make it easier to get to the station and park your bike, and people use your trains more.

Coventry station currently only has parking for around 80 bikes. By contrast, Utrecht Central Station in the Netherlands, which serves a similar population to Coventry, has recently upgraded cycle parking to provide 22,500 spaces.

Said Mr Avery:

Obviously, Coventry doesn't need that many spaces at this time, but it would certainly not be unreasonable to talk about planning for around 1000 cycle parking spaces over the next few years, as the city invests in the Cycle Coventry initiative. It shouldn't be necessary to have to kick up such a fuss to install such a basic piece of infrastructure, especially when you can park around 14 bikes in the same space as one car. Virgin Trains might earn plenty of revenue from car parking, but we all know that they also make good margins on the train services they provide, so anything that increases customer numbers should be a no-brainer. It's no coincidence that rail also has a 40% larger portion of the market in the Netherlands when compared to the UK.


Followed up in:

My response to Virgin Trains' excuses will follow tomorrow.


  1. Update: Since I first posted this article, I have been informed that Network Rail required the money to be spent by April. However, Virgin Trains have confirmed to local media that they have already "sent back" the cash.

  2. First the cost of supplying AND installing a cycle parking stand is a little bit more than the basic £30 cost of a cheap Sheffield hoop, especially if it has to be safely carried out whilst a busy station remains open. That said, I've put a bit more detail on the Road cc story that has picked up this blog post.

    Virgin is not £40m out of pocket for the car park enhancements, any money they spend on betterment of the leased station site is then reimbursed by Network Rail who gain the enhanced asset, and put up the lease charges, as TOC's are not expected to amortise those costs over the length of their franchise. Where does Network Rail get the £40m from - Track Access Charges and the Treasury (ie our taxes).

    One option is for Network Rail as the landlord to become the agency of last resort and carry out the work themselves, to hand over the the next operator - or Virgin on an extended franchise as currently seems to be the course of events. Several cycle parking projects elsewhere have been done this way, and the asset of a bike hub which has £300,000 from DfT and should have had some matched funding from other sources (need to look for the fine detail of the bid on that one), should really go on to the station asset base anyway.

  3. Virgin's arguments are completely undermined due to the actions of Abellio who have the franchise for the Greater Anglia Railway. They have installed proper high volume cycle storage at many stations smaller than that of Coventry. They have done thie even though they have very short 18 month franchise, so Virgin have no excuse at all.

    They haven't repainted all the carriages in some ghastly new livery, instead they put in cycling infrastructure at stations.

    It must help that Abellio are part owned by Nederlandse Spoorwegen the Dutch National Railways operator.

  4. Dave,

    I quoted the "from" £30 as a starting point as it highlight the stupidity of our current transport system, where we are proceeding full "steam" ahead with a £30 billion new line, but we can't sort out basic cycle racks.

    I can't imagine for one minute that Virgin have lost out by providing more car parks, although, as with their peak services, they do appear to be a little under-occupied.

    My point was that in 2009, when Virgin announced parking upgrades at all 17 Virgin stations, they said this was because "demand for trains is growing, and we appreciate many people will want to drive to the station".

    Yet cycling is growing at an even faster rate than rail - it has effectively tripled in the last 10 years, although the base line was so low that in many cities there was hardly anything to measure.

    In Coventry alone, there is every reason to expect cycling to treble again in the next decade. Having done "predict and provide" for so long with road building, you'd have expected the DfT to be a bit more able to plan ahead for a growth in cycling.

    TechnoTim - I don't even mind the Virgin livery! I think the Pendolinos are pretty good trains. It is the Voyagers that I hate!

    You are absolutely rights about Abellio, they have even brought over some top management from the Netherlands, who have indeed implemented not just more parking, but also cycle hire at a growing number of stations in northern England.