Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bicycles On The Metrolink

Manchester has a light rail network known as the Metrolink. It is a busy and well used system currently undergoing a period of expansion to outlying areas of Greater Manchester. Bicycles have been banned on carriages since its creation (conditions of carriage 17a). This extends to folding bicycles as well unless they are in a bag. While this may at first seem sensible to ensure maximum space is kept for passengers, the restriction limits the ability of commuters to cycle to and from stops and so have a joined up transport solution for commuting purposes. This will be felt particularly keenly on the expanded system as it will replace existing rail lines which do allow cycles to be carried. 

Metrolink. Current and planned lines. Click for bigger image
Many light rail systems allow the carriage of folded and unfolded bicycles, with certain conditions, including the London Underground system. In 2010 Manchester Friends of the Earth campaigned to reverse the Metrolink ban on folding bicycles by demonstrating folding items which are permitted. These items included ironing boards and deckchairs! While these are not likely to be everyday objects carried on the Metrolink, the campaign was successful in gaining a review of the ban even though the restriction was not subsequently changed.

Friends of the Earth campaign
Luckily I can commute by bicycle without the need for a rail/tram link. Although I live next to a Metrolink station and work is 10 mins away from one just a few stops down the line, I can get there by bike in four miles. Sometimes I even take a longer route just for the fun of it. Using a bicycle to get to and from a Metrolink stop makes no sense for me.

I understand why people do want to mix cycling and public transport and despair of the those who are willing to drive a short distance to a station instead. I have every sympathy though with those who object to non folded bicycles being taken on carriages at busy times. My ideal would be for all bicycles to be allowed on the system at off peak times and feel the need for folding bicycles to be carried in a bag is an unnecessary hurdle.

So knowing the restrictions, I was a little nervous when I took my borrowed Brompton (without bag) on the Metrolink the other evening. I had cycled from work to the joint Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign and Wheelers Brunch Christmas meal. The Brompton was used as I didn't want to leave my nice big bike locked up in Manchester city centre for any length of time. Plus, I thought no one would object to a folding bike at a cycle campaign meeting. 

Anyway, no one did. The bike folded up out of the way and a very nice evening was had. When the time came for me to make my way home, I was less inclined to cycle than normal, no doubt due to the meal + several beers + the very cold, blustery weather. No problem I thought, I am right next to a city centre Metrolink stop and have a folding bike. 

I cycled to the platform and folded the Brommie. One comment was forthcoming from a fellow traveller along the lines of how impressive the fold was and then I was on the tram. No one objected to the bike, which was a lot smaller than several suitcases and a wheeled shopping bag in the carriage. A few stops along a team of inspectors boarded. I thought I would have some hassle but they totally ignored it and concentrated on checking tickets instead. 

Despite breaking the conditions of carriage and no doubt giving material to those who think cyclists are agents of the Devil, do I have any regrets? Well the short answer is no. Restrictions should be in place for good reason and I do not see any why folding bikes should be bagged. Chances are I won't be using the Metrolink in combination with Brommie any time soon but call me a rebel - I am willing to make a stand on this point and be ejected if it comes to it!

Bag it up?


  1. The amazing thing about the Metrolink is that it replaced a train service that carried bikes.

    In 1992 that was a giant leap backwards at a time when the government and councils had already been allegedly encouraging cycling for quite a few years.

    Incredibly, after 20 more years of government cycling initiatives and cycling 'officers' at councils, exactly the same thing has now happened on the new lines to Oldham and Rochdale.

    Along with dismal, useless cycle lanes it is hard to avoid the conclusion that government cycling projects are really just an excuse to employ people on the public payroll and nothing to do with cycling at all.

  2. I'm really glad that the train in my area allows folding bikes at all times, since I do a combination bike/train ride to and from work every day, and I do ride on both ends. I do have a bag for my bike, but I don't need one. It just makes it a little easier when the train is crowded, I don't have to worry about someone backing into my greasy chain in their nice clothes. I don't really understand banning them either - I don't see a bike as any different than a stroller. If a stroller is allowed in, bikes should be too.

  3. I'd be really peeved if our local line changed to Metrolink. It used to be a lot more than a commuter line & still could be. is hard to avoid the conclusion that government cycling projects are really just an excuse to employ people on the public payroll and nothing to do with cycling at all.

    The Council Cycle Forum where I live has always been a box ticking exercise excuse for them to say "We've consulted cyclists..." then carry on doing whatever they intended.

    Where public transport is concerned, the bicycle doesn't seem to be seen as part of the mix, which given targets for carbon reduction seems a bit short sighted.

  4. I think the need for a bag on the metrolink is more to cover your bike when it is dirty and wet etc, I believe most brompton users take a black bin bag for this reason. I often use train and bike from Warrington to Stockport without any problem but I try and avoid rush hour on the train I have used the metrolink as a "pedestrian" but don't think I would fancy it in rush hour with a full sized bike

  5. Pete

    It does indeed seem a backward step not having provision for the carriage of cycles on the Metrolink.

    I feel most cycling officers, even if they have a genuine interest in the role, do not really have much say in cycling provision/infrastructure but instead are there to provide an illusion cycling has a voice.

    Chris and Mark

    If folding bikes are forced to be bagged then pushchairs and wheelchairs should have bags too! And while I appreciate some folding bikes do not enclose the chain like a Brommie, is a bag really required? Can't the chain just be turned to the wall/door? It seems a little bit of overkill to me.


    I like the Metrolink for its attempt to make a usable, cross city network but recognise it's far from perfect. Not everyone wants to travel to and from the city centre and the trouble with the trains is that is what they mostly do.

    Glad you like the Brommie. I would prefer an M3L rather than a P6R but borrowers have to put up with what is available ;-)