RAILWAYS AND CYCLISTS
TO THE EDITOR OF THE T1MES
The cry of the traveling cyclist has been one of the loudest lamentations of the holiday season. Some of us, perhaps, think that the cyclist is too weak with us. If we belong to the fast-dwindling minority of those who do not cycle, we are apt to think that he sometimes claims—and takes—more than his due. The road and the street are his already, not always to the advantage of those who share the thoroughfares with him. He has been known to invade the footpath. He even thinks it a grievance that he is not allowed to race on the highway. But the rights and the wrongs of cycling as such will no doubt gradually settle themselves by the good old English method of give and take. The cyclist is a wayfarer, and as such he is as much entitled to the reasonable use of highways as the pedestrian, the horseman, or the driver of a vehicle. He must obey the law, like every one else, and if he breaks it there are Courts and constables—some too friendly, as most cyclists think, to the wheel— for his punishment. The fact is we must all, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, now accept as: permanent the situation created by the cycle. Non-cyclists must cease to regard its increasing use as a craze or a mania, as some of our correspondents have called It, and, whether they like it or not, they mast make up their minds henceforth to give the cyclist his due—that is, a fair share of the road—and content themselves with seeing that he gets no more than his due. The cyclist, on the other hand, must learn to regard the biped who is not for the moment mounted as a fellow-creature with rights equal to his own, and even the non-cyclist as a vertebrate animal entitled to some consideration if only because, being vertebrate, he may one day become even such one as himself. When every one has learned to cycle, people will still walk, ride, and drive on occasion. Cyclists should bear this in mind and remember that the road will never be entirely their own. So far there is little difficulty in determining the equitable rights and wrongs of cycling as a method of locomotion on the highway which must henceforth be reckoned with as a permanent factor in the life and habits of the community. It is otherwise, perhaps, with the treatment of cyclists and their machines on railways; but the governing principle is essentially the same, though its practical application is beset with many difficulties? Our columns have groaned with complaints about the treatment of bicycles on railways and the grievance appears to be a very real one. Some railway companies refuse, it seems, to take charge of cycles left at stations by their owners, or if they take them at all they charge heavily and take no corresponding care of them, and even decline to be responsible for the safety of accessories attached to them. Perhaps those companies are least blameworthy which decline to take charge of cycles at all. But they would probably best consult their own interests in the long run by taking charge of them on such terms, not too onerous to the owner, as would pay them to take proper care of them, One of our correspondents insists, rather paradoxically perhaps, that the cycle competes with the railway. So it does in a certain sense, but it also feeds it, as another correspondent pointed out in a letter we printed on Thursday. Railway companies will find out sooner or later that it is worth their while to accommodate the cyclist, not to keep him at arm’s length or to offer him delusive privileges at a high rate which end in the wreck of his machine. Again, the safe conveyance of cycles by train is surely a matter to which the same considerations apply. Of course cycles are very awkward articles to handle in a hurry or in a crowd. It might even be urged with no little reason that it is almost impossible to handle them and convey them without injury when the only means of conveyance provided is the ordinary luggage-van crowded with heavy luggage, some of which must be shifted at every station at which the train stops. But that is only a reason for making better provision for their conveyance. The wonder is, in existing circumstances, not that so many cycles should be damaged, but that any should escape without injury. But even at present the law would seem to provide some sort of remedy, which, according to the letter of a correspondent;, “L.,” which we printed on September 14, any aggrieved cyclist can seek. A railway company which undertakes to convey a cycle, even at “owner’s risk,” cannot, it would seem, divest itself of liability for injury occasioned by the neglect or default of itself or its servants, notwithstanding any notice, condition, or declaration limiting such liability. It may, indeed, make such conditions as may be doomed by a Court or Judge to be just and reasonable, but such conditions are liable to judicial revision and must, to be valid, be embodied in a special contract made and signed by the sender. We accept this exposition of the law solely on the authority of our correspondent and subject to all reserves. But it would certainly seem to be worth the while of aggrieved cyclists to combine and try the question whether a railway company which undertakes to convey a cycle and delivers it smashed or seriously injured at the journey’s end, cannot be made liable for damages. If it can, railways would soon find it expedient to provide adequately for the safe conveyance of cycles. If it cannot, there would clearly be a prima facie case for such an amendment of the law as would establish and define the liability on terms equitably adapted to the circumstances. On the whole, without committing ourselves to the optimism so humorously derided by our correspondent “C,” on Tuesday last, we are inclined to think that the grievance, though very real for the moment, is probably transient. To borrow the language of evolution, a railway company is an organism which, whether from the nature of the case, or from the native conservatism of the English character, never adapts itself very quickly to new conditions of environment. The higher the organism, the more difficult and dilatory is this process of adaptation. But sooner or later even railway companies, slow as they are to move, will begin to understand that a novel but everyday need, which is not to be met by existing appliances, must be met by new ones specially adapted to the case. The conveyance of carriages, horses, dogs, milk, flab, flowers and we know riot what besides, has had to be met in this way, and it is certain that in the long run—and the sooner the better—the railway companies must submit in regard to cycles and their conveyance to the same law of evolution. In other words, now that the cycle has taken its place, not as an intermittent and possibly transient luxury, but as a permanent article of daily use and virtual necessity, the railway companies must accept the situation and make the best of it however inconvenient they may find it. They are, of course, entitled to make their own conditions, provided they are fairly reasonable and not too irksome to their customers; but the one condition they ought not to be allowed to evade is that, if they undertake to convey cycles at all, they should undertake to deliver them uninjured. Probably this condition will be found to require that cycles should be conveyed in vans especially constructed and set apart for their accommodation. This of course involves heavy expense in the provision of new rolling stock amid the haulage of additional dead weight, and cyclists ought pay such a charge as would insure the railways against serious loss. We have not much sympathy with the claim of some of our correspondents to have their cycles conveyed at a merely nominal rate, as it appears they are in France. The care taken of cycles conveyed by rail in France is an example which our own railway companies might very well imitate; but, as they are traders, who cannot be expected to trade at a loss, it is no more than reasonable that their charges for a special service should be such as to bear a fair share of the working expenses and even contribute to the general profit of the undertaking.
The Times, Saturday, Sept 25, 1897; pg. 9