A cyclist has revealed his frustration at trying to book his bike on a Eurostar train, with a Guardian consumer affairs reporter taking up his complaint outlining the current process, which requires passengers to book train tickets and to transport their bicycle separately. as “farcical”.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the cross-channel train operator allowed a small number of full-size bicycles, as well as bicycles that had been disassembled and placed in boxes or bags, to be transported on services.
But the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 led to Eurostar suspending its oversized luggage policy, meaning the only bikes allowed on its services were folding bikes, provided they are stowed in a bag.
Earlier this year, the oversized baggage policy was reinstated and Eurostar confirmed to Cycling UK that from 1 June 2023 it will carry fully assembled and packed bikes on some services from London to Brussels.
Where permitted and subject to space availability, sports equipment, including bicycles, can now be carried on these services for a charge of £45 if booked more than 48 hours before departure or £60 if booked later.
Boxed bikes are also allowed on some trains on the London to Paris route, although the national cycling charity points out that “post-Brexit restrictions have added to the complications for the international rail service that prevented unboxed bikes from being carried to Paris.”
In a comprehensive article on its website outlining the history of cycling on Eurostar and the current situation, as well as alternative options (apart from flying or motoring) for people wanting to cross the Channel on their bikes, the Cycling UK said that Following a meeting with the train operator in May this year, it “has good reason to believe that Eurostar is doing everything it can to return to the pre-pandemic level of service which allowed the carriage of assembled of bicycles at all major terminals’.
Cycling UK added, however, that it “does not see the current level of service as adequate as a long-term solution for cycle tourists”, also pointing out that “Unlike the service before the coronavirus, customers now have to travel to the same services as their bicycle and must collect it upon arrival directly at the platform.
“If there is no space on your chosen train for your bike, it is possible that it will travel on an earlier train and be available for collection upon your arrival.”
But the experience of a London cyclist who wrote to the Guardian to tell of his problems trying to ensure they could travel with their bike on Eurostar suggests the process is far from straightforward.
The would-be traveler said that since they found out at the start of the year that bikes would be allowed back on routes to Brussels, they had been trying to book their summer holidays.
“It’s not possible online and when I emailed and called, the promised answers never came,” the cyclist continued.
They added: “There has been a huge increase in cycling tours which, combined with train travel, means low carbon holidays. So why has Eurostar made it impossible to access the service?’
In response, the paper’s consumer affairs reporter Anna Tims wrote in her Your Problems column that the rail operator’s website “tells passengers wishing to book non-folding bikes on unspecified ‘selected trains’ to send an email and , ironically, to do so early to avoid disappointment. You’ve been trying for more than four months.”
(In their article on Eurostar policy on their website, Cycling UK lists the various services on which bicycles are allowed).
“My initial inquiries were not forthcoming,” Timms continued. “Eurostar told me they didn’t yet have an online system for checking availability and referred me to the website unwittingly.”
Eurostar told her that “We remain fully committed to providing an efficient and accessible service for customers who wish to bring bikes on board and we will continue to look at how we can do better.”
Timms returned to Eurostar and eventually managed to secure confirmation of the London-to-Brussels services on which bikes are allowed, but added that there was “one problem” – namely, that “You can’t request to reserve the bike until you you’ve purchased your non-refundable train tickets and email responses take seven to 10 days.
“If you’re lucky, you get permission to pay £45 to have your bike checked. if you are not, you have a ticket that is not useful for cycling holidays.
“This is a farce,” he said. “It seems Eurostar is aware of this but is in no rush to reform.”
Noting that the cyclist who contacted her had now succeeded in booking their bikes, she added that Eurostar had told her that “We are working hard to reduce the turnaround time for bike requests and are also looking at improving the way information is displayed online .
“This also means an online booking tool to simplify bike and luggage booking,” Eurostar added. “We are looking to launch it in the near future.”
The Cycling UK article also mentions planned changes to Eurostar’s booking system which it hopes will make the process easier.
“Eurostar has confirmed that it is also looking to develop an online bicycle carriage booking tool and will make every effort to consult the cycling community, including Cycling UK, on this,” the charity said. “Due to the planned launch of the new Eurostar website in October 2023, the development of this functionality will not happen until next year.
“Cycling UK hopes the new system will simplify the whole process, making booking a space for your bike as simple as booking your ticket, but does not expect it to be introduced immediately,” he added.
Previously, in 2015, Cycling UK, then known as CTC and working with the European Cyclists’ Federation as well as groups representing cyclists in several continental countries, succeeded in persuading Eurostar to cancel a planned change to its baggage policy which would have prevented complete large-size bicycles from being carried on its trains, unless they had been disassembled and packed.
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CTC chief executive at the time, Paul Tuohy, said: “It’s fantastic news that the views of so many of our members and other cyclists across Europe have been heard. This proves how a successful, well organized campaign can be a huge force for good and make things happen.
“We at CTC would like to thank everyone who supported our online campaign, as well as other cycling bodies across Europe, the APPCG [All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, now the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking]and the Mayors of London and Paris.”
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