The Yorkshire railway station where cyclists go Dutch (2011)

Original article first published at on 10 Dec 11

Depositing his bicycle at CyclePoint in Leeds one warm weekday, Janek Makuchowski is bursting with enthusiasm for the new facility. “This is amazing – just £1 a day to know that my bike is safe, why didn’t they think of this years ago”, says the 31 year old hairdresser, who lives a 20-minute ride away.

His bike is added to 65 or so others stored in the 300-bay facility, on a prominent site in front of Leeds railway station. “We get a really positive reaction from a lot of our customers”, says Michael Ousby, who manages the facility on behalf of Evans Cycles.

It is a new kind of facility to UK railway stations, where you can securely park you bike, or rent a bike, and get your bike serviced – but is based on a highly popular Dutch model.

CyclePoint, opened in September 2010, is the flagship project of Abellio, the Dutch-owned train operating company that runs the Northern Rail and Mersey Rail franchises, that run 2,380 train services a day in the north of England.

“We wanted to start thinking about the entirety of passengers journeys” explains Peter Lensink, Abellio’s head of development in the UK who oversaw CyclePoint’s development. “From the point of view of health, congestion and the environment, it obviously makes sense for people to cycle more, but the space for carrying bikes on trains is seriously limited. Improving facilities at access and egress stations provides another way to encourage people to think about alternatives to the car”.

So convinced were Abellio of this case that they took both the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee (made up of parliamentarians with an interest in transport), and the then Transport Minister Andrew Adonis, to see their facilities in the Netherlands. This was enough to persuade Adonis to make funds available, via Network Rail, the government-controlled railway infrastructure provider.

Abellio was awarded £500,000 by Network Rail and received a further £50,000 from Metro – the local government body that oversees public transport in the region. The rest of the £650,000 that building CyclePoint cost, was met by Abelllio.

Explaining the decision to site the first CyclePoint in the Yorkshire city Lensink says: “Leeds is an increasingly ‘cycling city’ where cycling’s modal share has doubled over the past decade. There is also an enthusiastic local authority and a really good site”.

To date, 42 people have taken out annual options, 52 renew monthly. On average 65 bikes a day are stored at CyclePoint. Before CyclePoint opened, there were free-to-use Sheffield-style bike racks on the same site, to which were tethered an average of 25 cycles a day – evidence, Abellio argues, shows the popularity of the service. However, there are far more than 65 bikes locked within few minute’s walk of CyclePoint. Some are simply chained to railings, others are in more formal storage areas within the station.

CyclePoint also offers a bicycle rental service. A fleet of 15 utility-style bikes are offered for the very reasonable cost of £8 per day. “The rental bikes are very popular at the weekends”, says Ousby. “Often we can let them all and on quite a few occasions we have rented the whole fleet to people undertaking charity bike rides.”

To date, however, the service has not attracted any weekday business customers.

The third part of the offer – cycle repairs – is the one that has see the best take-up, says Ousby. “We don’t promise that we can always undertake service and repairs on the day, but usually we can and people find our location really convenient.”

Evans won the franchise after Abellio sought bids from across the industry. Neither side will disclose quite what their financial arrangement is, but if Evans is paying anything, it is clearly not much.

That the focus on ‘whole journeys’ works in the Netherlands is without question. A great many Dutch stations have store/hire/repair facilities – although most are much larger than the one in Leeds, counting their capacity in thousands, rather than hundreds. “Like so many things about cycling in the Netherlands, FietsPoints are completely integrated into people’s travel expectations”, says Judy Hembrow, a Dutch-based cyclist who has undertaken research into cycling and travel patens.

“I was going into Amsterdam on my rather more expensive bike, I would pay the money to ensure that it was still there when I got back”, she explains. It is also common, she says, for regular cycle commuters to keep a bike at the FietsPoint at both ends of their journey.

The Dutch equivalents have been in operation for a little over a decade and were also partially funded from central Government coffers – funnelled via the national rail organisation.

Whether this kind of cycle use will ever become a way of life in Leeds is another matter? Take up of the service has exceeded Abellio’s expectations, and the company is actively considering a second CyclePoint – probably in Liverpool. Initial indications from the new transport minister, Norman Baker MP, are thought to be favourable.

Assessing what CyclePoint delivers depends, in part, upon the criteria against which it is judged. It may take years for the storage to reach capacity. The bike-at-each-end model will take a long time to take root in the UK beyond the most committed cyclists. And clearly the association between cycle hire and leisure (and that hiring a bike in the UK is usually punishingly expensive) will make it difficult for the hire side of the business to do much for the city’s week-day congestion.

Abellio’s aims, however, appear to be rather less tangible than anything that can be expressed in clear, measurable indices. “Something like this ticks lots of boxes”, says Lensink. “It is good for the environment, for people’s health and it reduces congestions”.

Perhaps more importantly still, it acts as a massive advertisement for Abellio’s commitment to encouraging cycle use in particular and for its broad customer-experience focus in general. CyclePoint carries the flag for the company in many of the annual awards open to rail organisations, and the company is actively tendering for other UK rail franchises. Creating feel-good stories around their operations is clearly beneficial to this process.

It is a fantastic facility. Whether it is the best way to promote cycling and rail integration given the outlay involved is another matter. In light of their success with similar operations in their home country, it is easy to see why Abellio think so. The most important judges are Leeds’ cyclists, and it will probably be at least a couple of years before they properly deliver their verdict.

TD Dec 11

In April 2018 The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that Evans had pulled out of Cyclepoint, with the result the the facility is now only partially open.

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