Brittany bans bikes – what's the story?

A touring cyclist waits at the ferry port in Oban pre-pandemic. Photo Sam Jones
A touring cyclist waits for a ferry with their bike
A touring cyclist waits for a ferry with their bike

Brittany bans bikes – what's the story?

A number of Cycling UK members have contacted us about Brittany Ferries' current policy not to carry cyclists. Cycling UK’s ferry fan Sam Jones investigates and sees if there are any alternatives

*** Update 03 August 2020***

Since reporting on Brittany's bike ban back at the beginning of July, Cycling UK has kept in touch with Brittany Ferries asking for the latest updates on when they will start carrying cyclists again. 

The bad news is that cycling holidays for August planned with the ferry company are still scuppered. However, those looking to head to the continent by sea in September will be welcomed once again.  

We heard from Brittany Ferries’ Chris Jones, who told Cycling UK: “Brittany Ferries are working on procedures to enable us to welcome cyclists back on board our ferries. We aim to be able to accept bikes on board our sailings again as from 01 September. Some sailings may still have limited capacity for bicycles.

“I’d like to apologise to all cyclists who had hoped to travel with us this summer, but we look forward to welcoming them back on board very soon.”

Of course, this update is subject to any potential restrictions in both England and France caused by the pandemic, so if you're planning to travel with Brittany Ferries, make sure to check their website which will be kept updated on their capacity for cycle carriage.

 

Original story from 03 July

Lockdown has not been easy for any of us, but as restrictions begin to ease and news today makes it easier for residents of the UK to visit our continental neighbours (and also return), inevitably people begin to think of going away.

I’m not alone in loving the way that combining bike and boat travel means you can head to France without the faff of flying, and be on your holiday as soon as you roll onto the ferry. So it’s entirely understandable why many of our members, including our vice-president, Josie Dew, have been in touch to express their dismay at Brittany Ferries' policy not to allow cyclists on board.

We live in extraordinary times right now, and with media reports saying how much cross-Channel ferry services are losing financially, there must be a clear reason why Brittany Ferries would turn away potential custom.

Cycling UK is working with Brittany Ferries (and other partners) as part of the Experience Project, an EU-funded scheme looking to promote off-season tourism in regions on both sides of the Channel. The ferry company is traditionally cycle-friendly, so I was hoping for a satisfactory explanation for the ban on cyclists, and one was shortly forthcoming.

Unsurprisingly the “c-word” was behind the restrictions, which incidentally do not just affect cyclists but foot passengers too.

Essentially, the coronavirus means the firm's hands are tied at the moment. Due to a need to adhere to guidelines on social distancing, it has had to drastically reduce the number of people who can travel at one time. In addition, boarding and disembarkation procedures in port have had to be simplified in order to keep all passengers, crew and shoreside staff safe.

With the added potential of disruption caused by turbulent seas, passenger rights are also an issue for consideration, as sometimes transfer buses are required, which would add further strain due to the need to maintain social distancing.

When we are sure we can offer transit to more foot passengers and cyclists in a safe and viable manner, we will do so quickly.

Chris Jones, Brittany Ferries

Speaking to Cycling UK, Brittany Ferries’ Chris Jones – a self-confessed keen cyclist and walker himself – was apologetic and clearly understanding of the cycling community’s concern about a vital link to the Continent being temporarily severed.

“For several weeks now we’ve been assessing how we may be able to offer passenger services whilst still adhering to all applicable guidelines,” Chris said. “Like so many other businesses we’ve had to take some tough decisions in order to assure our services. 

“We’ll need some time to assess how our operations will function with the new post-COVID measures and will consider what further adaptations we can adopt with a view to increasing capacities of all passenger types in due course.  When we are sure we can offer transit to more foot passengers and cyclists in a safe and viable manner, we will do so quickly.”

Safety for all involved has to be paramount, of course. After the early cases during the pandemic of cruise liners being effective plague ships, nobody wants to be stuck on a ferry as the virus runs through crew and passengers.

How can I reach France without flying?

Still, while restrictions are in place with Brittany Ferries, there are a number of alternatives to reach the continent.

Cycling UK contacted the three other main carriers across the Channel, P&O, DFDS and Condor Ferries, to see what their policy on carrying cyclists was.

At time of writing, Condor Ferries, which goes from Poole and Portsmouth to St-Malo in Brittany, via the Channel Islands, got back with a response. The news was good, and they’re continuing to carry bicycles on all their routes free of charge, with no change to their booking system.

The only change due to Covid-19 with Condor is that the firm has had to put in place a restriction on the numbers of cycles it carries. On the fast cross-Channel ferry from Poole, it can carry only 15 bikes while on the conventional ferry from Portsmouth to the islands, the maximum is six. These restrictions should change with time, though.

P&O, which operates the Dover-Calais route, wasn't able to give details on the numbers of bikes it can transport but did confirm that while foot passenger services are currently suspended there are no restrictions on cyclists.

DFDS was not picking up the phone, and hadn’t responded to Cycling UK’s queries via email at time of writing, but its website indicates that it is still possible to travel with a bicycle on its routes from Dover to Calais and Newhaven to Dieppe (a popular springboard for the Avenue Verte to Paris).

Eurotunnel, which used to operate a twice-daily service picking up cyclists in Folkestone and dropping them off in Coquelles, has temporarily suspended this fantastic (and cheap, at £21 each way) service.

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