Europe, still many invisible and unsustainable frontiers!
Preparation for a journey as Cycloasis in another country is full of surprises. I have lived in different countries and know that each nation has its red tape. However, frontiers seem to be even more present when organising cross-border activities without actually moving. Just to give you some taste of that
In order to do my cycling journey Cycloasis in France I needed a French telephone subscription (indeed, to avoid the outrageous roaming prices). Europe is supposed to have no frontiers for citizens that wish to take a subscription in another EU country. Surprise, surprise! In France, there is apparently a law that demands a person to have a French bank account in order to get a telecom subscription. This ‘small’ detail is however not communicated on the telecom operators’ websites!
If it wasn’t for the help of a French friend, I would not have been able to use a French telephone number (and a decently priced subscription with at least some options) for this cycling journey!
A travel insurance makes sense for a trip like this. Easy, I thought. Another surprise awaited me as I discovered that travel insurances (in Belgium) cover all kind of motorised vehicles, but not a non-polluting vehicle such as a bicycle.
Being Dutch and knowing bicycle country Holland, I checked across the border. Bad luck. Lots of insurances, but you are only allowed to take the insurance in the country you live in. This makes some sense, in order to avoid fraudulent practices. However, it also means that European citizens completely depend on what is available in their home market. Eventually, thanks to the help of an organisation for cyclists in Belgium (De Fietsersbond) I learned that there are two insurances in Belgium covering bicycles (against theft and damage). By the way, I still had to take a separate travel insurance for the rest of my stuff.
So bikers around Europe: knock on the doors of the insurance business, create demand and make sure that sustainable means of transportation become part of insurance land!
Trains and bicycles
Try to take a bicycle on the train. As I travel a lot by train, also through Europe, I am quite familiar with the systems and how trains are (not) equipped for bicycles.
Many trains and particularly high-speed trains in France are not equipped to have bicycles on board. Furthermore, you can only buy a ticket for your bicycle in an official SNCF (French railway company) office, but not through the internet. Living in Brussels helped here, but what if you live somewhere else in Europe and want to take your bike to France?! Then first get your bike and yourself into France, then buy the ticket at the risk of discovering that the few places for bicyles are already sold out!
Now, this is certainly not just an issue with French railway. Railway and bikes do not yet make a happy combination in Europe. The underlying issues are too often not addressed: how do we create better sustainable mobility? This means thinking out of the box at many levels. Railway companies can take on their corporate social responsibility and use their influence in the supply chain. This means for instance sitting down with engineers that design trains. As they would say in Cradle to Cradle: ‘Design it right from scratch’. Equip trains and infrastructures with flexible and multifunctional systems that meet the needs of modern and sustainable mobility, including bikes on board. And make sure that Europe-wide cross-border railway systems function and consumers have access to appropriate information.
There are certainly ways to make railways and cycling a very happy sustainable mobility couple!