The recent upsurge of interest in cycling following major events has contributed to a strong demand for cycle spaces on trains.
In the Highlands, cycle reservations are mandatory - see photo of poster at an unmanned station on the Far North Line which advises booking at the nearest manned station which is over 25 miles away - so quite a major detour on your bike!
Cycle tourists can book online by checking which trains have cycle spaces remaining, however the system requires a ticket to be attached to the bike - that's the difficult part.
The next photo illustrates a total of 8 tickets required for one cyclist making a return journey from Beauly to Thurso on the way to attend an event on Orkney. This involved a family member travelling to Inverness to collect the tickets in advance.
There is no ticket machine at Beauly or any of the other Far North Line stations, and cycling to Inverness and back would not be a safe or a practical option. A query was raised about this following a ScotRail presentation in Inverness recently.
A summary of the reply is given here:
Current industry cycle reservation requirements are that customers attach a reservation coupon to their cycle - this coupon is produced when the ticket is collected from a station. [However, the ScotRail website states: "(this) is not a mandatory requirement when travelling with ScotRail" - Ed.] Whilst we are working to upgrade our App to allow bike reservations to be made that way, it won't negate the requirement to collect the ticket and reservation from a station...
Reservations are on ScotRail's Active Travel Group agenda so that group will keep a watching eye, and I am sure as we get clarity it will assist in devising any change to processes. But it is not guaranteed that a change can be made or what that could be.
In the meantime, it appears that many bicycles on trains do not have tickets attached to them - the train conductor presumably checks that the cyclists on board have made a cycle reservation when booking - and can decide whether there is space left for any cyclists who have been unable to obtain a ticket in advance.
Could this form the basis of the practical solution that really needs to be formalised?
Since this article was written, a detailed conversation with a ScotRail official produced this explanation of how this has come about. ScotRail only requires cycle reservations on a small number of services such as the West Highland Line, Far North Line, Highland Main Line and the Inter7City services. Customers can make their cycle reservations at the same time as their seat reservation either online via the ScotRail website or made at stations or via the telephone to the telesales team. They cannot currently be made via the mobile app, but this is being addressed and work is underway to enhance the mobile app, which is expected to be live by the end of October.
The train reservation and ticketing system is a UK wide system run by The Trainline who are the online ticket supplier for ScotRail and all other rail operators. This UK system requires customers to have an 'attach to cycle' coupon. ScotRail are in discussions with The Trainline over the challenges this places on customers whose local stations do not have a ticket vending machine to print either the seat reservation ticket or the attach to cycle coupon.
In reality any traveller booking cycle and seat reservations online will have the necessary proof with them, either in the form of a computer printout of the booking document, or the document on their mobile phone. ScotRail is in discussions to review the need for the attach to cycle coupon to be printed for ScotRail services as it is not something that ScotRail staff expect customers to display on their cycles if they have their reservation confirmation printed or on their smart device.