Eurostar cycle service subject to delays

Expect delay to bike boxing on Eurostar according to staff. Photo by UNKIEPAUL / Paul Johnston (CC)
Eurostar appears to have delayed its controversial plans to make cyclists box up their bikes to travel, an investigation by Cycling UK has revealed.

The high-speed train provider was due to introduce a new cycle-carriage policy yesterday, Sunday 1 November.

But a Cycling UK employee travelled to Paris and back without the need to dismantle and box up his cycle – and was told it would probably be the end of November before the new scheme was implemented.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer, was able to travel under the old regulations, despite Eurostar’s website stating otherwise – although he found it was still anything but a cyclist-friendly experience.

Eurostar’s proposed change has sparked a public outcry. More than 9,000 people have signed up to the ‘Zero stars for Eurostar’ campaign spearheaded by Cycling UK and the ECF (European Cyclists’ Federation), while leading politicians on both sides of the Channel have criticised the move – including the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MP.

Cycling UK’s Dollimore booked his train tickets online through the Eurostar website but had to separately book his bike space by telephone with another company, EuroDespatch, at a cost of £30 each way.

He had to drop his cycle off as luggage at the EuroDespatch Centre on his arrival at St Pancras, only to discover it was a 10-minute walk away and not located within the station. At no point was this made clear when he made the cycle booking.

Nothing in the process encourages you to use the service."
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK 

He said: “I arrived at St Pancras expecting EuroDespatch to be somewhere obvious in the station. I asked a Eurostar member of staff at an information point and was told ‘You need to go out of the station, turn left and it’s five or 10 minutes away’. I was given no map.
“The office is difficult to find and not well signposted – nothing in the process encourages you to use the service.

“I just handed the bike over and was given a receipt to present in Paris when retrieving it. I did not see any other bikes and obviously did not see what their process was as you simply hand the bike over and they take it through to (supposedly) dismantle and box it.

“They asked if I knew where to go in Paris to collect the bike and gave me a map – which made little sense but referenced the office of Geoparts, the company Eurostar use for luggage carriage at the Gare du Nord end of the operation.”

Fifteen minutes after disembarking in Paris, a Eurostar member of staff wheeled a large trolley down the platform with Dollimore’s unboxed and fully assembled bike hanging from it.

He added: “I’m not sure where they would have taken it had it been boxed and needed reassembly, as I could not have done this in the main entrance foyer at a busy international train station with hundreds of people walking through.”

On his return to Gare du Nord in the evening, Dollimore had to go to the Eurostar ticket desk to ask where the Geoparts office was.

He said: “It is easier than finding EuroDespatch in London – and nearer – but is still a time-consuming walk down a very long platform, not well signposted, to probably the most distant part of the station.

“Once again I handed the bike over. I asked whether I needed a receipt and was told ‘It’s good’. I asked a second time and was told ‘No, it’s good’. Predictably, I was then asked back in London for the receipt – although this was not an insurmountable problem.

“There were four or five other bikes in the Geoparts office, all fully assembled. I have not seen a bike box yet.”

Back in London, Dollimore collected his cycle at EuroDespatch 15 minutes after the train had pulled in.

He said: “I spoke to the guy at the counter who confirmed they had not boxed any bikes on the day the new policy was supposed to start. He then said it would probably be the end of the month before they started boxing cycles.”

Even so, Eurostar’s website states: “All non-folding bikes or those over 85cm long will need to travel with our registered luggage service, EuroDespatch, in either London, Paris, Lille or Brussels. They’ll also need to be dismantled and placed in a bike box or bike bag. We can provide a box for you, which is included in the service price.”

Dollimore added: “The approach Eurostar is taking, which does not encourage people to visit Paris by bike, is vastly different to the attitude of the Parisiens I had arranged to meet. They went out of their way not only to welcome me to their city, but do so by bike.”

Eurostar has agreed to meet Cycling UK and Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s office to discuss the new cycle-carriage policy.

Cycling UK is urging members of the public who are concerned about the planned changes to write to Eurostar expressing their concern, which they can do through an easy to use online tool.