Southern Rail, run by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), is working with specialist cycle repair company Handlebars to give free bikes to key workers.
The train group intends to give more renovated bikes away to key workers, through projects it is developing with its own contacts with local NHS Trusts, West Sussex County Council and Horsham District Council.
Every month about 20 abandoned bikes arrive at Southern’s maintenance depot in Horsham, Sussex for storage, in case their owners decide to recover them, and the stock of unclaimed bikes is now approaching 300.
GTR’s community relations team planned to donate the bikes to charities that run renovation workshops, but this has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. However, the team identified a programme being run by Handlebars, based at their workshop in the City of London, to renovate bikes and provide them free of charge to key workers.
GTR’s Community Engagement Officer Rob Whitehead has worked with the firm to develop their scheme using the rail company’s ready supply of cycles. Handlebars initially have the workshop capacity to take ten bikes, and their mechanic Andre Noble has visited Horsham depot to pick the ten machines he judged could be ready for safe use most quickly and easily.
While at Horsham, Andre gave all 272 bikes a quick inspection and graded each one according to how easy it would be to get into safe working order.
The partnership with Handlebars is one of a series of activities being run by Govia Thameslink to support staff, passengers and local communities during this challenging time.
Angie Doll, managing director for Southern and Gatwick Express, said: “We are going the extra mile to help key workers go their final mile – or more – from their station to their place of work, or to travel all the way to and from work by bike if convenient. If you have to travel, cycling at least part of your journey is a great way to keep fit and keep your social distance.
“Many thanks are due to Handlebars for providing their essential expertise free of charge, and to our facilities and community relations teams for making this happen.
“Partnering with Handlebars is part of a bigger proactive plan to use these unwanted bikes to promote safe, sustainable travel. We are also asking local councils, NHS trusts and hospitals if they know of any demand among their medical staff, care and social workers, and others on the front line, for free bicycles. It would reduce our bike mountain further, and help more key workers stay fit and healthy.
“As key workers ourselves, we’re proud to be supporting everyone who still needs to travel. Now, more than ever, is a time to offer a helping hand where we can and support our local communities and key worker heroes.”
Mr Noble added: “Southern saw our campaign and reached out to offer support. When they mentioned how many bikes are abandoned at stations we were shocked!
“We have seen a tonne of bikes in various conditions and were happy to help identify problems with the bikes at GTR. Only the safe ones will go out to key workers and the rest will need a bit of love first! It was a pleasure to meet Rob at the Horsham depot and we at Handlebars are looking forward to working together in the future.”
Handlebars organise crowd-funding to cover the cost of spare parts, and donate the time of their own mechanics to carry out repairs. They then offer the fully working machines to key workers, via social media.
The condition of the abandoned bikes ranges from easily repairable, perhaps with a puncture or even just deflated tyres, to those beyond saving, with badly bent frames that could not be restored to guaranteed safety. The majority are in between, such as having gears that need an overhaul.
It is not known why so many bikes are abandoned at railway stations. GTR speculate that some, especially those in the best condition, were probably stolen, but others, often with only minor faults, are simply left by the owners when they think the cost of repair would be too high relative to the value of the bike itself. All waiting times for the safe return of bikes to their original owners are met and GTR have procedures in place to try to reunite stolen bikes with their legal owners.