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Translink is Critical to the Success of Active Travel in Northern Ireland

Active Travel is defined as “making journeys by physically active means, like walking or cycling”. Lately that definition has been widened to include manual wheelchair use, skateboarding, kick-scooting, roller-blading, kayaking and running. NB: E-scooters and e-skateboards do not fall into this category because their locomotion is sustained exclusively by built-in motors.

The aim of Active Travel is to make 50% of all journeys walked, wheeled, or cycled across the UK by 2030. In Northern Ireland that percentage in 2022 struggled to reach an embarrassingly low 2% (see last week’s blog). To reach that goal people need to be given the choice of leaving their car at home by being able to combine different modes of transport for longer journeys.

That brings me to the point of today’s blog post: a large proportion of people’s trips are done commuting to and from work. In Northern Ireland many, if not most commuters use their car instead of public transport. Around Belfast we have many park-and-ride stations that enable commuters to use public transport for at least part of their journey to work. That is a good start but Translink could do more to encourage more people to leave their cars at home by facilitating multi-modal commuting, like using a bicycle to get to the train station, taking the bike on the train into Belfast, then cycling to one’s place of work.

At a local level, in Ards and North Down Translink have made a good start by providing secure bicycle storage at Holywood. The same is needed at Bangor train station: the current bike racks cannot be classified as being secure or sufficient in number. Unfortunately the current arrangements preclude taking bikes on trains before 9:30am, preventing many commuters from using their bikes to get to their workplace from a Belfast station. This does not provide an incentive for commuters to leave their cars at home and makes the ambitious 50% of journeys made by Active Travel impossible to achieve.

Here’s a suggestion: Translink could relax the current restrictions on bike transport during the morning rush hour by allowing non-folding bikes on the trains before 8:00 or 08:30am, whatever the start of the morning rush-hour peak is. Perhaps they could do this on a trial basis for three or six months to see what the take-up by cyclists is. Also, it would help if Translink were to encourage foot passengers to keep the bike storage area clear for bikes if bikes are coming onto the train by moving to other seats.

Longer term Translink will need to realise that if they want to encourage and facilitate Active Travel, additional investment in longer platforms and trains is needed for the Belfast-Bangor line. This would address the current rush-hour capacity constraints and allow for more bikes to the transported while effecting a modal shift from commuting by car to commuting by bike and train. One of our members, Nathan Booth, has contacted Translink with some suggestion on how Northern Ireland’s Active Travel statistics could be improved quickly and inexpensively.

Until a large-scale investment in additional train infrastructure is made, there is a work-around for cyclists, albeit not a cheap one: Brompton bicycles fold up to the size of a small cabin suitcase and are allowed on Translink trains even during the morning rush hour.

They are the only bikes allowed on tubes and trains in London during rush hour and I used one when living in London to commute into the City, keeping it under my desk once I arrived at the office.

With a little bit of help from Translink the largest commuting city in Northern Ireland could do a lot to improve our Active Travel statistics very quickly and quite noticeably.

Translink, we are here to help!

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