Monday, February 20, 2012

Let the train take the strain whilst the Cambridge Station Cycle Park takes the p****

Friday, 17th February 2012: Working from home means that I quite look forward to getting out and having meetings elsewhere. They are an “excuse” to get out on my bicycle and If they are in Cambridge I often take long-cuts just for the pleasure and to avoid the more car-ridden areas.

The meetings today were in London and coincidentally I got a leaflet through my door from GreaterAnglia – “Does your commute compute?”, presumably to boost business after the takeover by Abellio, the international arm of Dutch railways. The leaflet suggests that for commuting or business travel 12,000 miles a year costs £6720 for a car (1,800cc petrol) or £2520 by train (standard monthly/longer season ticket prices).

Apparently the saying “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” has different attributions, but the concept was something I first learnt about when I was taught O and A level economics at school and was encouraged to read a book called How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. Although first published in 1954 it is now available digitally on the Kindle via Amazon.

Interestingly if I do a Google search on “How to lie with advertising” then over half of the first ten searches link to Huff’s book. Of course the point is that when advertising the data presented is factually correct, it might not include all the relevant information. In this case of the leaflet generally the cost of insurance for an 18-year male old is going to be much higher than that for a 45-year old with an unblemished record. What’s more if there were too much qualifying information then we might feel that the advertiser was trying to blind us with too much fine print.

In this instance I wanted to try and check to see whether the figures quoted for the car in the leaflet included depreciation. A quick check on the AA web page “Motoring Costs 2011” indicates that the running costs for a car costing £16,000 to £20,000 when new would  be 26.14p per mile (or 21.95p per mile for a car costing up to £12,000). The costs per mile including all costs for the more expensive car would be between 67.21p (assuming 10,000 miles in a year) and 54.18p (assuming an annual mileage of 15,000 miles).

So it seems that the leaflet is using a full cost per mile (56p) for motoring. However what surprised me was that on running costs alone the rail fare was actually about the same as the cheapest car to run. Mind you for one-off journeys we don’t buy season tickets, although off-peak and advance tickets presumably bring the cost down to a comparable level.

The trouble is to really save the money promised in the leaflet it means not owning a car. Which is a fine thing but then how do you get to the station in the first place? Mind you, you will also save money on  (not) parking at the station if you don’t own a car. I much prefer to cycle to Cambridge Station, for me it can be a pleasant ride and easily extended if I want to get a bit of exercise. My heart sinks though when I think about parking my bike at Cambridge Railway Station. For a town that has

True to form as I cycled over Carter Bridge I could see quite a few car spaces available. However I didn’t actually have much time to spare as I had a train to catch and didn’t stop to take any pictures – this one is one I took previously. It did start raining as I got to the station but I managed to avoid it – I hadn’t looked at the forecast so hoped that the weather was going to be dry for my cycle home. I was wearing work clothes and hadn’t bothered with a rain-proof jacket as it wasn’t that cold.

Carter Bridge, Cambridge

As I might have guessed, searching for a needle in a haystack is easer than finding a place to lock my bike up in the CRAP cycle parking at Cambridge Railway Station. Time was ticking and even spotting a space is difficult in the various cycle parking “facilities” on offer at the Cambridge Railway Station. It amazes me how such a beacon city of Cycling can’t see just how poor what should be key facilities are.  The City is apparently going to be the first (city) to formally sign up to The Times campaign, yet a key issue is that safer and more cyclists need places to park their bikes safely and in my experience the Cambridge Railway Station just can’t (and won’t) cope with the cyclists it gets already.

I eventually managed to force my bike down one of the thin corridors on the cycle park alongside Station Road and double park on a stand. When I say double park what I mean is that sometimes you get 4 bikes on a stand with bikes sticking out at each end, obstructing the path between the rows of stands. In this case one of those double parked spaces was free and I managed to get my bike in with the front wheel protruding a little less than the bike next to it. Did I feel guilty – yes, but I was out of time, which is why I didn’t take any pictures, I dashed into the Station. My heart sank at seeing the queue at the ticket desks, but fortunately there wasn’t a queue at one of the ticket machines.

I knew where I was going and what I expected to pay so buying a ticket off the screen was just slightly tricky rather than almost impossible. Have you ever wondered why there are queues for the human operators when there are spaces at the machines – well despite the power of artificial intelligence and super-computers the machines are not that easy to use.

I got through the barriers and straight onto my train – phew. At this point I wished I had brought my Brompton and then I would not have had any of the hassle, nor the mud on my trouser leg from getting through the thin gaps in the cycle park. The reason I didn’t is that all my meetings were in the immediate King’s Cross area – so it would have been a little bit tedious and unnecessary to have had a bike with me.

As it happens I did think about taking my non-folding bike to London as I was in danger of missing my train, I was on the off-peak train going and so would have been able to take it. The trouble is I was due to return during peak travel and would have had to delay my return for a good hour or so.

Still despite the trials and tribulations I arrived on time, with a few minutes to spare. My first meeting was in the Marriot, which seems also to be billed as the Renaissance which had me slightly fooled. However on the way through I took some pictures to make up for the rush to catch the train in Cambridge.

Between Kings Cross and St Pancras it would seem that cycle parking is in short supply – well if these cycles locked to street signs were any indication. I wouldn’t lock my bike up there by choice but when needs must.

There has been loads of building work taking place at Kings Cross, it is due to finish Summer 2012, let’s hope it doesn’t suffer the same amount of delay as the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). (The guy who oversaw that has a new job – heading major new projects  at Cambridgeshire County Council where he did an “exemplary job” – I wonder what a crap job looks like?.)

Here is some of the new station visage peeping out, perhaps it is soon to be finished.

Alongside Kings cross is St Pancras – those were brave souls taking their coffee on the street – or perhaps they wanted some fresh air. The terminal is celebrated for its Victorian architecture.

Here is the frontage of Kings Cross Railway Station which I haven’t really noticed before – which goes to show how commuting into London must dull the senses.


Mind you looking at the last link that might be because there was an extension that has since been removed.

Another view – it looks surprisingly light inside.  My train arrived on platform 0, I’ve no idea why they didn’t just renumber the platforms – perhaps we will have negative numbers in the future.  The new platform occupies what was once a taxi rank – where indeed I have taken taxis. Now you pass cycle parking – no photos though – it was dark and I didn’t want to be late for my meetings.

I should probably mention that the trains were on time and I got a seat on both legs. Let’s hope the Dutch influence (Abellio’s parent company) might actually sort out the nonsensical cycle parking facilities at the Cambridge Railway Station.

It is frankly a total embarrassment for Cambridge – not to mention more cycle facilities will mean more train customers. So if they want us to reap the savings benefits of the train then enabling us to do without car ownership means more cycling and public transport facilities are needed.

As it happens when I went to get my bike to cycle home there was another cyclist struggling to get her bike past the obstruction, fortunately it was the bike next to mine that was sticking out a little further.When I unlocked my bike I had to lift it head-height to get it out.

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