I have had a bad day. It is largely due to Eurostar and SNCF‘s inability to join their service up properly, but also just general computer-says-no-jobsworthness, bad British customer service, and cyclist-hating.
Let’s start with the problem. I booked a return ticket on the Eurostar website from London to Bordeaux. You go Eurostar from London to Paris and then SNCF TGV to Bordeaux. Fab. I’ve been on the train to southern France before and it is magical. I loathe flying anyway, but another reason for doing this on the train was that I could take my bike, whole, rather than dismantling it and carrying it with me.
Or so I thought…
Nowhere on the Eurostar site does it say you cannot carry a bike on the TGV leg of your journey. It does say that you have to contact Eurodespatch to book your bike on, which I did in person this week whilst visiting London. It doesn’t say that you can’t take your bike further than Paris. They charged me £140 (rather than the £30 each way stated on the site) for the privilege of taking my bike (and my partner’s) on the train both ways and told me that it would only get me as far as Paris, but no problem, call SNCF and it costs 10 Euros each way. They gave me the phone number and sent me merrily on my way.
Great. Back in Glasgow I phoned SNCF and they said no. Eurostar are responsible for the booking. You can only get your bike on if you book your ticket through SNCF, which you can only do if you are French or if you split your tickets and make it twice as expensive. Not only that, but everyone I spoke to, from Eurostar, to Eurodespatch, to Rail Europe, to SNCF, were extremely unhelpful (with one potential exception) and were at pains to make it clear that it was my fault for buying a ticket in the first place, for not doing lots of internet research beforehand.
Some choice examples of what these people said:
‘Only one percent of our customers are cyclists.’
‘You shouldn’t have bought a ticket.’
‘Leave your bike at home.’
‘You should have read [this site], [that brochure] and [this small print].’
‘Buy a bike bag.’
‘Buy your ticket from SNCF.’
Eventually I did speak to a fairly sympathetic human being who is going to try and get me a refund for the Eurodespatch thing, so I can spend the money on a bike bag instead. But this will not solve the problem.
Booking my bike whole onto the TGV would solve the problem, but apparently this is impossible. Why, I don’t know, because there are spaces for bikes on the TGV. No one can tell me why I can’t tell SNCF I am going to be on that train, and book a place on it.
I was prepared for it to be a hassle. I was prepared to speak separately to Virgin, Eurostar and SNCF to get my bike on the train. I was prepared to pay extra. I just wasn’t prepared for this absolute nonsense.
Perhaps it is easier to take a crossbow, sword or a speargun all the way to Bordeaux than it is to take a bike. I’m not sure how easy it is to transport live animals… You can certainly take your car on the Chunnel.
It just feels like being a cyclist is much harder work than it should be. Certainly, when I take my bike on the train closer to home on Scotrail trains I always have to ask permission to share the cycling spaces with people’s suitcases and buggies and what have you. However, they do at least try and are putting more cycle spaces on their new trains.
Likewise, Virgin won’t charge you to take your bike along, you just have to book ahead, take your ticket to the station or phone up the phoneline and sort it out. That’s absolutely reasonable.
As a cyclist, I’m used to having to wear a helmet so that I would be seen as less responsible in an accident, I am used to being cut up by impatient cars, by being wolf-whistled, by getting wet in the weather that hates me… And I love it all… I’m unlikely to learn to drive, I have never owned a car, I don’t see the point in driving when all it would do that I can’t currently do is get me to IKEA quicker…
I’m doing my bit for the environment, and for car drivers, by not using fuel and space on the roads up. Why aren’t people nicer to me? Or at least, why aren’t train companies nicer to me? I am the future. That ‘one percent of passengers’ I belong to is going to grow and grow as fuel prices grow and grow.
Get it right, Eurostar. Oh, and please add a search function to your site whilst you’re at it.
But also, where is the ‘cycling lobby’? We can’t have much power if nothing’s getting much better. Or did it all use to be much worse?