April 19, 2010

Passengers buy bikes for ferry

Great Story via the Irish Times

A British businessman stranded in France said he was had to buy a women’s bicycle to board a ferry in a bid to get home.

Tom Noble (52) from Highgate in north London, said ferry operator Norfolkline had no foot passenger tickets left and would only allow him to make the journey if he was a genuine cyclist.

The managing director said ferry staff at Dunkirk even made him ride the “rustic” contraption, which he had just bought from a second-hand shop, up the ramp.

In fact, half a dozen people grounded by the volcanic ash had the same idea, and boarded the boat in a wobbling parade of two-wheelers.

One man, a British Airways gold card member, was riding a children’s bicycle.

Mr Noble, the managing director of marketing company NeuroFocus UK, and his colleague, set off at 6am yesterday morning from Zurich in Switzerland.

The “epic adventure” involved six trains and three taxis just to reach the French ferry port. He was trying to get home for his wife’s birthday.

Speaking from on board the boat he said: “We were even forced to ride the bikes onto the ferry. You have to show you haven’t just picked one up from anywhere.

“But they are barely ride-able.” After reaching Lille the taxi driver misunderstood their instructions and first took them to a toy shop.

When the pair eventually made it to second-hand bicycle store he found a limited choice.

He bought a women’s bike in the classic French style for €49 (£43) while his colleague picked out a bright pink contraption with a giant basket in front.

Having arrived on British soil, Mr Noble said: “The ferry staff wouldn’t let us off as foot passengers. They didn’t just want to see us with the bikes, they wanted to see us ride them on and off.

“With two suitcases it was a tricky manoeuvre.

“If you read the rules it was the only way.” But Mr Noble said they were forced to dump the bicycles in order to get on a bus to go to the train station.

He joked: “It’s tragic. Having invested so heavily in these beautifully engineered bicycles, we had to leave them by the side of the road.”

But he added: “It’s been quite a laugh in a way.” Mr Noble’s daughter, Esme, a 19-year-old student at Nottingham University, booked the tickets yesterday morning when it became clear there would be no flights.

Waiting at home, his wife, Polly, who turns 51 today, said: “She rang the company and they said: ‘You need to have a bike.‘ She said: ‘What? Even today? Can’t you make an exception?”’ She was told it would not be possible.

Nobody at Norfolkline was immediately available to comment.