Caltrain’s Warm Planet Bike Station in Jeopardy

Warm Planet Bikes has provided more and more Caltrain commuters a secure place to park their bikes at the Fourth and King Street Station in downtown San Francisco in recent years. But the shop could soon shut down without continued support from the public transportation agencies it relies on. Though Caltrain is developing an agreement to support the shop, it may not come until it’s too late.

SF Bike Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum (left) stands with transportation officials at Warm Planet's grand opening in January 2008. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/2298381899/sizes/z/in/photostream/##SFBC/Flickr##

“Caltrain needs to provide interim funding for uninterrupted service of bike parking at Fourth and King,” said Shirley Johnson, vice chair of the Caltrain Bicycle Advisory Committee and head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Bikes ONBoard Project. “To expect Warm Planet to stay open without paying for it, that’s just not possible.”

When the bike shop opened in January 2008, it had room to provide attended parking for up to 100 bikes. But over the years, demand has grown, and managers have sacrificed more and more retail space to accommodate parking and avoid “bumping” bike commuters the way Caltrain often does.

Today, Warm Planet parks up to 170 bikes per day, all for free. But the grant the shop had originally relied on ended a year and a half ago, and without a lift from agencies like Caltrain — the transit system whose customers it serves — the shop can’t sustain itself much longer.

“It’s been difficult, but I’ve been making a go of it,” said Warm Planet’s owner and president, who goes by the single name Kash. “This facility doesn’t exist so I can run a bike shop. This facility exists so that people who want to get on Caltrain can park their bikes.”

Kash has sought out other sponsors but says it’s difficult to attract support, since Warm Planet is a for-profit business despite the bike parking services it provides for a public transit agency. Advocates have been pushing Caltrain to find interim funds to keep the shop going, and though staff is negotiating one, a proposal has yet to be put on the table.

“We are very pleased to have a bike parking facility there,” said Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn. “We know how important it is, and we have no intention of closing it.”

The original three-year grant included $36,000 from the SFMTA, the SF County Transportation Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as a well as $300,000 in federal funding. However, there are no plans to renew it.

In September 2009, Caltrain issued a request for proposals (RFP) to give other prospective competitors a shot at the space, but it was canceled in October 2010, because “during the process, the companies that applied all seemed to think that there would need to be a subsidy,” said Dunn. “The RFP didn’t include that, so we are taking that into consideration right now.”

Although Caltrain is developing a new RFP that would include funding support, it could take 12 to 18 months before Warm Planet gets it, assuming it is selected to continue. Kash doesn’t expect the shop to last that long.

Johnson said issuing the RFP in the first place was unnecessary “when they already have a very successful operator,” especially with Caltrain’s ongoing financial problems. “It seems strange to take that expense and the risk of a new operator there. Why not just extend the contract with Warm Planet?”

Since the shop opened, “it has changed people’s commute,” she said. “It’s a win-win-win for everybody. Caltrain gets more customers, we get cars off the road, there’s not as much congestion, there’s not as much pollution, and people are happier on their commute.”

While Caltrain has long subsidized car parking at its stations at below-market rates, Johnson pointed out that bike parking provides a sustainable solution particularly well-suited for a linear transit system like Caltrain. Walking or taking other transit to and from the stations along the Peninsula can be too difficult and time-consuming for many.

“The bicycle solves that problem on both ends,” she said. “There are some people who can walk on the other end, so great — let them park at Warm Planet.”

Rose Garrett, a Peninsula commuter who lives in the lower Haight, started biking to Caltrain and parking at Warm Planet after two frustrating years riding the N-Judah.

“The situation became so out of hand, (crowded trains, unreliable service) that I missed my train to my Redwood City office on many occasions, causing me to miss hours of work,” she wrote in an email to Caltrain, along with dozens of others urging the agency to provide support for the shop [PDF]. “Warm Planet’s service has allowed me to to park my bike every day and continue my commute without aggravation. My good mood lasts me all morning, whereas in my Muni-riding days, my bad mood often persisted all week.”

In addition to meeting the current need, Caltrain will need to plan for a much larger facility if it is to accommodate the growing demand for bike parking in the coming years, said Kash.

“There’s no plausible future in San Francisco that doesn’t include more bicycles,” he said, “so we should get ahead of the curve.”

The next meeting of the Caltrain Board of Directors is on Thursday, February 2 at 10 a.m., in the Edward J. Bacciocco Auditorium, located on the second floor at SamTrans Administrative Offices, 1250 San Carlos Ave. in San Carlos. Supporters can voice public comment there or send an email to board@caltrain.com.

  • mikesonn

    Well, there’s $140k going to writing form letters.

  • djconnel

    I suggest an RFP for a Joint Powers Board CEO.  Mark Scanlan can work pro bono during the 18 month process.  His $400+k/year salary + overhead will do a nice job of bridging the gap for Warm Planet.

  • Caltrain will need to plan for a much larger facility if it is to
    accommodate the growing demand for bike parking in the coming years.

    Or… partnering with SFMTA to put a similar facility in the MUNI parking lot across the street from 22nd.

  • Warm Planet is awesome. I try to buy my equipment/do my tuneups there, as do a lot of my friends, to return the favor of free bike parking. Guess it’s not enough.

  • mikesonn

    Like most things Caltrain: If popular, then cut.

    https://twitter.com/#!/Caltrain_News/status/162230018817277955 
    But they want to raise fares even though they are $3M over budget in fare revenue.

  • Anonymous

    The cost of more bicycle parking spaces is a tiny fraction of the cost of adding car parking spaces. Caltrain needs to add capacity one way or the other if they are going to be successful, so they as well do the cheaper, which is more bicycle parking space. The amount of money they are talking about seems trivial compared to the amount of service that they are getting.

  • Consider –

    A similar amount of people park in that one little building as park in all the spots SFMTA wants to meter around the Caltrain station.

  • Adrienne Johnson

    Free parking is wonderful, but if it was a dollar a day for 170 bicycles parked 5 days a week for 50 weeks of the year that is over $42,000 a year. That would greatly reduce the amount of money needed to be raised to keep WP open without being an undue hardship on those parking their bicycles. I bet there are quite a few people who would be willing to buy a year long pass, too.

  • Guest

    If you pay taxes, you already paid for the bike parking. The problem is that the money is subsidizing other transportation options. Until bicyclists get a per person subsidy equal to the subsidy spent on other modes, they’re being asked to pay twice.

  • Anonymous

    Bought my folding bike there last year. Great little store.

    A parking lot with the same capacity in cars would take up the whole Caltrain station.

  • Andy Chow

    I would suggest the bike station to ask for tips and donations to keep the facility going. Most of the users there have the ability to contribute financially and it is a very valuable service, considering that it provides indoor, secure parking. If the current owner doesn’t think he’s paid well enough to keep it going, we might need to look at alternative arrangement, including volunteers.

    Anything that involves a public agency takes time to implement, and often involves a cumbersome planning process. My feeling is that it would be better off to ask the bike community first before asking Caltrain for money.

  • Really hope they find the funding to keep this great little spot opening !

  • VP

    I am sorry, but a business owner that is failing to make ends meet that is giving away a service he can charge for probably does not deserve to be in business.  

  • Somehow $2.25 per day to park a car at the 22nd Street Caltrain is “fascism” (this word was actually used in an SFMTA meeting to describe it). Warm planet takes up the same real estate as maybe 15 cars to service 170.

    REgardless…

    When it was just 100 bikes, those cyclists would buy stuff from Kash and produce more than 42,000 in profits. Kash decided to cannibalize his retail space, hurting sales, in order to park more bikes for EVEN MORE customers who would produce profits buying merchandise instead of paying for the service if there was room for merchandise. This is a simple business problem, if you have too many customers, you can either raise prices and drive them away, or you can expand. If we can expand the facility we won’t need to charge.

    And no matter your thinking on this being a hardship, the 22nd Street situation shows that someone would protest and when that happens, instead of getting a dollar for parking, the rider will either blow off Caltrain or take their bike on board (using an *actual* scarce resource) and Caltrain will lose $18 in round trip fares in order to get a buck.

  • Once again. He is failing to make ends meet because he is providing a service for free that benefits the business that he’s asking for a subsidy from. Charging for bike parking would remove money from Caltrain. Expanding the space makes money by selling tubes and bike lights and tuneups.

  • sissybar

    If Kash is running Warm Planet as a place for free parking instead of as a bike shop, why doesn’t he change his business model and become a 501(c)3? Then he would qualify for grants and donations from corporate sponsors more readily?  It seems to me like he should have done this some time ago. What am I missing in this story? 

  • chuck

    My commute is outside the hours of Warm Planet, so I rent a secure bike locker from Caltrain at $33/6 months. This is quite reasonable and suits my flexible schedule.

  • • The wider problem is that the region needs to embrace bike/transit intermodal commutes in something other than a piecemeal fashion.  Cobbling some “pilot program” grants together is the opposite of strategic planning.  This is how the Palo Alto BikeStation came and went.  This is how offering free transit on Spare the Air Day came and went.

  • @chuck – I’m glad you found a solution that works for you.  It doesn’t scale for everyone, though.

  • mikesonn

    And this is, on a larger scale, why Caltrain is in “fiscal emergency” mode annually.

  • Anonymous

    170 more bike lockers would go where?

  • Frank Francisco

    Why shouldn’t those who use the bike parking have to pay something for it?  

  • why shouldn’t those who use napkins at McDonalds have to pay something for the napkins? The napkins enable the food selling business. The bike parking enables the train ticket selling business. As do parking lots, conductors, websites, etc…

  • Mark M

    A lot of great points but I think Adrienne J got it right – $1/day is a small price to pay for such a service.  Taking muni would cost $4/day.  Caltrain subsidizing bike parking is asking others who don’t need that service to pay for those that want it.  It’s great that we are biking more be but not everything can be free.

  • mikesonn

    See: $25 fee for checked bags on planes that cost $400+ to fly. Everyone carries on now.

    Prediction: $1 fee for cyclists on trains that cost $8.75 to ride. Everyone carries bikes on.

    Caltrain now has to spend umpteen million to add more bike capacity or risk losing a large customer share.

  • Kevin

    I definitely see riding Caltrain being more attractive if folks have a place to store their bikes. People who can choose not to drive to work a good thing for everyone – pedestrians, transit riders, bikers – even other drivers.

  • Dan

    Right now, Warm Planet is very fast in getting bikes parked, even when there is a big rush of cyclists.  If they charged even a dollar, they would have to deal with a cash register, making change, waiting for debit card transactions, etc.  This would significantly slow the service they provide and potentially drive away some people who are doing something that we should want to encourage.

  • Kevin

    I agree with mikesonn, why is it that every year Caltrain is in crisis – then they get bailed out by taxpayers and suddenly all the upper management get bonuses and pay increases? It must be a strategy to net funding, much like a crying baby.

  • Jim Frank

    This is the key idea of all these comments. They need to plan strategically for the future.

  • mikesonn

    @bc7e5583cff1290ca2c6791469a98985:disqus The lack of dedicated tax revenue is a big issue. Also part of the reason why people clamor for BART down the peninsula, they see it as “efficient” because they don’t see “fiscal emergency” every year. @murphstahoe:disqus posted a link to PA daily about Caltrain looking into a sales tax, but that has to be at least 4-5 years out and will require at 2/3rds vote which they won’t get by trying to slide fare increases past people as “changes to Codified Tariff”, especially when ridership and revenue are exceeding expectations.

  • You are assuming those people would take MUNI to Caltrain. For me, MUNI requires me to leave 1 hour before Caltrain departure. On my bike, 15 minutes. That is the difference between me taking Caltrain or not taking Caltrain. Caltrain subsidizing bike parking means that they get Millions in fares from cyclists, which keeps the train afloat for  all of us.

  • Anonymous

    John:  It’s not 170 lockers.  170 is parked on a given day.  In a given year, how many independent passengers park their bikes?  You’d need probably 500-1000 lockers to get all customers who ride the train at least once per week.

  • Just about all of Caltrain’s funding problems come from the fact that the general public outrageously (and invisibly) subsidizes private car travel. How? Let me explain.

    As transit goes, Caltrain is actually one of the most economical around. Its farebox recovery ratio is one of the highest (51%). In theory, if they just doubled fares, Caltrain wouldn’t need any outside funding at all. But then few would take Caltrain because driving a car would be so much cheaper.

    That’s because car drivers pay through user fees (gas taxes, parking and tolls) only a fraction of the costs they impose on taxpayer and general public at large. The rest of the costs (health costs associated with particulate matter pollution, external accident costs, congestion, and road costs not covered by user fees) come to $.47 per *mile* (in 2005 dollars.)

    (For particulars, see http://www.spur.org/publications/library/article/estimatingtheexternalcostsofdrivinginsf09012005. I took the middle case of the estimates. These estimate do not include costs due to carbon emissions, noise pollution, water pollution, other ecological damage, and damage to buildings due to vibrations, so they are underestimates.)

    So looking at a 30 mile trip from San Francisco to Palo Alto, the cost to drive a 30 mpg car at present is $3.74 (gallon of gas) + $1.59 (tires and maintenance) =  $5.33.  Travel by Caltrain (monthly pass/divided by 80 trips) = $4.48. You can see that if the pass cost were doubled to $8.96 per trip so that Caltrain would be self-funding, the car would be the far cheaper alternative. However, if the car were charged the true costs it should be paying, the car would pay $3.74 (gas) + $1.59 (t & m) + $14.10 (externalities)=$19.33. Public subsidy of Caltrain is an acknowledgement (though half-hearted and inadequate) that there is economic value in getting cars off the road. If each car trip had to pay its true costs (or even anywhere near its true costs) then Caltrain would not need to be subsidized at all and it would still be a great deal. We might then say that mobility is a social good that we want to subsidize and encourage, and the most economical way to do this is with mass transit, but that is a different matter. Private car subsidy is of course very popular.  However, if the economics were plain (rather than invisible) and felt by the end user, its use would drop a ten-fold overnight.

    A few observations as to bike parking:
    1) 84% of Caltrain passengers ride the Baby Bullets. Car parking at these eleven Baby Bullet stations is at capacity. These stations altogether offer secure or relatively secure bike parking for 687 bikes in total. In 2011, 3664 bikes came on board Caltrain each weekday. Capacity for bikes on the train comes at a loss of seating capacity. The most popular trains are already at 90% capacity in terms of seating.
    2) Although published data is scare, I did find that at present as many people walk to Caltrain as drive. It is unclear what percentage of riders take transit to the stations. Bicycle boardings make up 10% of all boardings.(13 % of 22nd street boardings.) Riders boarding with bicycles are increasing at a greater rate than any other kind of rider.
    3) Again data is scarce, but I would guess 80% of people who walk to Caltrain live within 3/4ths of a mile of a station; 80% who bicycle live within 3 miles, and 80% who drive live within 4 miles (or fifteen driving minutes.)  I would also guess 80% of commuters work within a mile of a station. (I would hope Caltrain has all this demographic customer data even if they don’t choose to publish it.)  I would also guess 80% of those taking public transit to a train station ride on that public transit for 15 minutes or less before reaching the station.
    4) In Assen, a town of 65,000 in the Netherlands, there are 754 indoor guarded bicycle parking spots and 1550 outdoor spots. (That is one for every 28 residents.) In San Francisco we would need 28,000 bike parking spots to achieve that ratio. We have 180. In Assen, they were able to create 800 additional bike parking spots in the place of 15 car parking spots. It is not unusual in the Netherlands to have a two bike, one train commute–one bike is kept at the train station in the town one works.
    5) In San Francisco, if you live within 3 miles of Caltrain, it is faster (and more reliable) to bike there than to take Muni. If you live more than 3 miles away from Caltrain and use it to commute, you sure spend a lot of your life commuting.

    Given all this, Caltrain should do everything it can to attract riders in a 0 – 3 mi radius of their stations. 
    1) Create 500 secure bike parking spots at each Baby Bullet station (including 22nd st), 1000 at the 4th St. Station, and have plans for even more. Charge $1 per day, but offer free bike parking as a perk to anyone who has a monthly Caltrain pass.
    2) Strongly encourage the communities at each Baby Bullet station to create protected cycle tracks so that all people within a 3 mile radius of each station can safely and calmly bike to the train. Also strongly encourage these Baby Bullet communities to make sure everyone living within 3/4ths of a mile has a safe, pleasant walking path to the station that is well-lit in the evenings.
    3) Work with companies that are more than 3/4ths of a mile from a Baby Bullet station but within a fifteen minute car ride to have shuttle vans meet baby bullet trains to pick up and drop off their employees.
    4) Offer family discounts and baby bullet trains on weekends to increase weekend ridership.
    5) Encourage high density zoning within 3/4ths of a mile of each Baby Bullet station.
    6) Get the word out that while the Bay Area taxpayers subsidize the 300 million annual passenger miles on Caltrain at 15 cents per mile ($46 million) this avoids 47 cents per mile in other costs had those miles been traveled in a private car (totaling $141 million).

  • Charge $1 per day, but offer free bike parking as a perk to anyone who has a monthly Caltrain pass.
    “Clipper is hosed again so now I have to pay to park my *^&(%*& bike!!!”
    🙂

  • Anonymous

    the big fail here is “one time grant funding” for this project. Did no one realize this and just assume that more “one time grant funding” would show up once the money ran out? 

    Worse, the politicians and the advocates got a great press op 3 years ago. Alas, where are they now to find permanent funding for this press opportunity?

  • Victorveysey

    Back when this wall all in the planning stages I submitted a proposal for a permanent facility without subsidy and suggested a fee for bikes left over 24 hours, and was roundly savaged for wanting to charge at all.  Hard to make the economics work. 

  • Joan

    The bike valet is a great service. Some people will always need the bike on both ends, however, and the bike car service is necessary, too. There are so many people riding the bike car these days that there is no space, especially since those without bikes take all the bike car seats, forcing cyclists to sit on the floor or in the aisles. The bike car should be for cyclists.

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