Caltrain Board Ups Bike Capacity, Dumps Bathrooms on Electric Trains

Image: Caltrain
Image: Caltrain

Note: An earlier version of this article’s headline indicated that the increase in bike capacity came at the expense of bathrooms. The two were features were essentially unrelated.

The Caltrain Board of Directors voted today to increase the share of space on its future electric trains devoted to bike capacity, though the trains may lack bathrooms.

More room for bikes on Caltrain’s electric train cars will let more commuters board with bikes, but they may not have a bathroom on the ride.

The Caltrain board rejected a proposal from its staff to include one bathroom on every six-car train while maintaining the same seat-to-bike ratio that exists today of ten-to-one. After a push from board member Tom Nolan, who is also the chair of the SFMTA Board, that ratio was increased to eight-to-one in the request for proposals from train manufacturers

The board also requested a report on the costs of adding more bathrooms and bike parking at stations.

“The board’s refusal to go along with the status quo” for on-board bike capacity “is a real victory for improving regional transit,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick in a statement.

“We hear from folks all the time about how Caltrain’s current car design causes people to be late for work or to pick up their kids because there isn’t enough space for them on the train they needed to catch,” he said. “When transit options don’t meet the needs of a community, you see more people turn to private autos for their commutes.”

The SFBC and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition had pushed for a six-to-one bike capacity ratio, as well as funding to build more secure and convenient bike parking at stations to reduce the need for bikes on-board. The Caltrain board approved $3 million for station bike parking.

SVBC Executive Director Shiloh Ballard said in a statement that the organization “is excited with this initial investment in bike parking for Caltrain stations that emphasizes the importance of bike access.”

According to Adina Levin of Friends of Caltrain, however, an estimated $9 million would be needed to provide enough bike parking for 20 percent of Caltrain riders to bike, if trains have an on-board bike capacity ratio of nine-to-one. With the eight-to-one ratio in the RFP, the necessary investment to accommodate 20 percent of passengers won’t be quite so large, but $3 million will certainly fall far short.

While some trains could still include a bathroom, it’s not mandated. Levin and other Caltrain riders were not pleased about the vote against on-board bathrooms:

Levin wondered if the board is “really serious about bathrooms at the stations given the struggles of BART to open and clean bathrooms” which have been closed since 9/11.

According to a tweet from Levin, Caltrain board member Ash Kalra, of San Jose, pushed to eliminate the on-board bathroom mandate “because [electric] trains will be faster (but not that much faster).” When electric Caltrain service starts in 2019, the trip from SJ to SF is expected to be about 45 minutes, roughly 10 minutes shorter than today.

  • Buying and planning for longer trains seems like the most expensive way to deal with the lackluster bike parking at the Caltrain stations.

  • Rail, track record. Good one. Though I do agree as we have what is supposed to be a TOD project going up near one of the Metrolink stations that is walled off from the platform, turning what should be a 30 foot walk into a quarter of a mile hike.

  • jonobate

    Bike parking isn’t a solution for people who need their bike at the destination end of their journey, which is the majority of people who take bikes on Caltrain. We should add bike parking for the people who would find it useful, but it’s not going to solve the capacity problem by itself.

  • With decent bike parking at all stations, people would be reasonably able to expect their bike to be at their end station when they need it and thus wouldn’t feel like they have to bring it on the train to guarantee the ability to use it. To say nothing of improvements to BABS.

  • Actually yes, when the options were more space for bikes or bathrooms on every car, then making a choice means that one was chosen over the other. There’s no way around that. As for the Civil Code, two words: change it. However, that certainly might take some time, so they should also go ahead and move forward with that $3mn worth of parking immediately. Iff Caltrain can get the bike parking right, many more people will feel confident enough to lock their bikes at the stations.

    As for the current era of increasing demand, that’s precisely the reason why it just isn’t practical to encourage more people to bring their bikes on the trains. This is ultimately rather similar to widening a freeway to lower congestion, as we all know can be rather futile. The same applies here.

  • Actually, even a relatively modest charge could provide a decent source of funds. If, as you attest, there are really an average of 80 bikes per train and the bike surcharge is just $1 per trip, that would amount to over $3.5mn/year in revenues, which is more than they’re currently even planning to set aside for bike parking. I don’t think that a dedicated funding source of that magnitude for bike parking and BABS would be unwelcome.

    Even if we lower the assumption quite a bit so that the average is only 48 bikes, that that average only is good for 48 weeks out of the year, and that fare compliance is just 75%, the result is that revenue would still be a hair over $1.5mn. While certainly quite a bit smaller, that’s still about half of what they’re planning to set aside for bike parking and would again take that fund quite far still. If they collect a more Dutch-like $6/trip (NS charges €6), that’s $20mn in one year. With that level of funding, Caltrain can definitely double BABS and put in the biggest and most comprehensive bike parking facilities in N. America. (For reference, one of those newer garages at Dutch train stations that hold in the range of 5000 bikes almost all cost more than the top 50 cities in all of N. America spend for bike parking annually. Combined.)

    Of course, those are rosy projections and wishful thinking. I’m certainly aware that a fee will definitely discourage folks from a BiTiBi commute (if not the amount, the very act of having to load it will certainly be off-putting) and there might be enforcement issues. Still, even the lowest amount will provide enough to add an extra officer or two to the daily trains to conduct random enforcement.

    Really, since Caltrain has already said that they will be investing in bike parking, which hopefully will hopefully be of a design that the majority of people will feel is usable, and since they won’t be using the new equipment tomorrow, the timeliness of a fee is premature. As already established, $3mn can provide for a decent expansion of the bike parking at the stations and if they do it right, the majority of people should be willing to leave their bike at a station, whether it be a first or last mile for them. However, a fee may be necessary to help them make a decision to do so. Also, an even bigger upside is that it could provide a dedicated funding stream to ensure that bike parking remains free.

  • jonobate

    Okay, let’s say that we build lots of bike lockers and every cyclist leaves their bike at the station before they get on the train. Great! We’ve freed up 80 bike spaces on each train.

    Now we add seats back into all those bike spaces. Each bike takes the space of one seat, so we now have 730 seats per train instead of 650. Great!

    Except… On the busiest trains, we already have loads of over 1000 passengers, with 350+ people standing. Now, with all the bikes gone, we have 270+ people standing. The trains are still standing room only, and we’re still dangerously close to the absolute maximum number of people we can carry.

    Bottom line: even if we got rid of all the bikes, and all the restrooms, we’d still need more capacity. So start planning for it.

    Bike lockers are great, but they’re not going to solve the problem

  • murphstahoe

    Your math is incomplete. I’ll go into that below, but here is the real reason this is a non-starter. We have bitched at Caltrain since the inception of Clipper to fix the fact that Clipper cannot handle zone upgrades. This was an oversight in Caltrain’s specification to CUBIC, and they don’t want to pay for the very expensive change order. If Caltrain asked CUBIC to integrate a bike surcharge into Clipper, it would cost tens of millions.

    Let’s say I ride 10 times a month, and take a bike some of the time. When I am going to board the train, I need to tag on with my clipper card. Now, I’ll need to have a separate way to tag on if I have a bike or do not have a bike. That means changes to the Clipper readers themselves, in addition to the change order to CUBIC for the programming. $$$$$$$$$$

    Here’s more math.

    Let’s say you have a $1 bike surcharge. The average fare on Caltrain is $9.

    If we put 80 bikes on a train, we’d collect $80. But if the surcharge discourages 5 of them, we only collect $75, plus also lose $45 in fares, netting only $30. A conductor works at least 2 hours per train run with layovers/etc… and they are paid more than $15 all in with benefits/etc…

    And if we are adding an extra conductor, we have to add them to *all* trains. The 101 train at 4 AM might have 3 bikes on it.

    You also neglect that the majority of Caltrain riders have monthly passes. How do you price the surcharge for passholders? Presuming you give a similar discount to surcharge monthly riders as you give for their train tickets, your revenue projections go down. And if you require passholders to pay $1 per trip regardless, you’ve really jacked up the overall cost to them of holding a monthly relative to the costs of the train ticket. And the big benefit of a monthly pass is not having to deal with tagging on/off – that goes away if you don’t sell monthly surcharges with less revenue.

    Another issue – if the surcharge is a flat fee, that will be a huge disincentive for riders who take trips within a zone. A $2.75 ticket from Millbrae to Redwood City would see a 33% increase. We’ll lose a huge percentage of those riders.

  • @Marven Norman – Something doesn’t become true just by putting the word “Actually” in front of it. Caltrain staff said it was impossible to fit 24 bikes on the existing Bombardiers, the JPB directed them to do so, and they found a way:
    Caltrain staff deserves credit for finding the way. My point is that the existing Bombardiers weren’t customized for Caltrain’s needs (they were Seattle’s leftovers), and now we have an opportunity to customize them. The JPB has made it clear how much space to devote to bike carriage, and that’s independent of where a bathroom can fit in the car configuration. Time to find a way again.

    As for changing the Civil Code, Hell no. That was a hard-won right in 1896, one that was ignored with impunity by many common carriers in the 20th Century. You don’t take away rights when there’s a demand to exercise them, you design with them in mind. (The comparison to induced demand from freeway-widening is specious, this is an entirely different dynamic.)

  • Sparafucile

    Then park a car at your destination end. I don’t get to take up extra seats to carry my car or motorcycle with my on my commute. Why should you get to (for free) take your vehicle?

  • jonobate

    If you’re worried about people on Caltrain getting space ‘for free’, we should just close down the entire system, because every ride is subsidized by the taxpayer to a greater or lesser extent.

    You could argue that weekend riders are the biggest cost to the system – because there are so few people on each train, the per-rider cost of providing weekend service is huge. Does that mean that fares should increase on the weekends? Of course not.

    The point of transit is to reduce auto trips. Aside from the fact that it’s completely impractical, parking a car at your destination creates auto trips, and so is not a solution we should be encouraging.

  • Sparafucile

    Nice job hyperbolically mis-stating the issue. That’s what liars do, not people with legitimate points to make.

    Furthermore, the point of transit (except in the minds or Utopian imbeciles) isn’t to “reduce auto trips”. It’s to enhance resource effectiveness — both of roads and rails. Pulling cars off the busy and long-distance corridors, and putting them onto the sparsely-used short-distance corridors, is a big gain that commuter rail accomplishes.

    Bicycles, on the other hand, are the least effective means of resource utilization — as they offer the lowest-density usage of any dedicated resource. That inefficiency is multiplied on trains, too, where a cyclist and his vehicle take up two spaces, while all other commuters take up one.

  • jonobate

    Pulling cars off the busy and long-distance corridors, and putting them onto the sparsely-used short-distance corridors, is a big gain that commuter rail accomplishes.

    So encouraging people to leave a car parked at 4th & King Caltrain station, where parking space is at a premium, and drive to downtown SF, where parking space is at even more of a premium, along roadways which are the most congested in the Bay Area, is going to “enhance resource effectiveness”?

    Allowing bikes on trains as a last-mile solution essentially converts the space taken up by one car on the downtown street network to the space taken up by one bike on a train. That’s a net benefit when you consider that it’s relatively easy to add more train capacity, and very difficult to add parking capacity in downtown SF or at 4th & King, or to widen the streets that connect the two locations.

  • Sparafucile

    More stupid false choices? That’s all you’ve got?

  • jonobate

    Well, what else did you mean by “park a car at your destination end”, if not the scenario I just described?

  • Sparafucile

    One uses a car at the SPARSE end of a commute, not the dense end, served by transit. You have the scenario precisely (and unsurprisingly) backward.

  • murphstahoe

    This is not relevant. Bike capacity on Caltrain is the rare issue where the cyclists are the status quo. Sparafucile – Go to the JPB meetings and argue with Jack Hartnett if you want changes. Jon – why bother with this guy?

  • Sparafucile

    How typical of your ilk — dismiss the observations and measurements of others as “not relevant”, and then seek to silence the contributor.

    You are the perfect SF cyclist.

  • Andy Chow

    Caltrain needs to provide more bike parking to handle the growth in bike usage and allow people more options. Yes, there are folks who need bikes on both ends, but plenty of folks also ride bikes because of the need at mostly one end, but bring bikes onto the train because of the lack of easy and secure bike parking. Since opportunities to add bike space on train is limited, the additional growth in bike usage would have to be handled by improved parking, and free up space to those who really need bikes at both ends.

    There’s high usage at BABS and bike station in SF, which shows that there are people who are willing to leave or pick up the bike at stations. But the options are far more limited in the rest of the system. The cost to provide additional bike parking facilities to allow someone to park 2 bikes (one at each end) is lower than the cost of increasing bike space onboard. I think that people should have an option to park their bikes at each end to be as easy and convenient as bring their bikes onboard.

  • Sparafucile

    “plenty of folks also ride bikes because of the need at mostly one end, but bring bikes onto the train because of the lack of easy and secure bike parking”

    And because taking up the space of two people is “free”. If I could carry my car with me on Caltrain, for free, I’d do that, too.

    I agree with you — bike parking should be greatly enhanced. Hopefully, with polycarbonate and reinforced locker doors (so they can be inspected). It’s a cheap solution to many other options. And if you need a bike at BOTH ends (and the bike parking is available), then get yourself a “beater” for one end or the other.

  • Sparafucile

    Cyclists already cost other Caltrain riders 312 man-years of their working lives, per year, so that their freeloading can be accommodated.

    That’s what the additional boarding/de-boarding time (estimated at 5 minutes per train, accounting for all stops, 300 trains/week, 52 wks/yr, 500 other commuters affected per train).

    Cyclists should be STORING their conveyances at/near stations, not bringing them along.

  • gneiss

    Many people who use CalTrain are reverse commuting. They go from San Francisco (where car parking is at a premium and they live) to jobs down the peninsula. Then they ride their bicycles from CalTrain to jobs that are at most a mile or two away from the station. Longer than walking distance, but very doable with a bicycle. Are you arguing that those people should leave their cars on the peninsula?

    Or maybe you are suggesting that people in San Francisco shouldn’t ride bicycles at all, but take public tranist to CalTrain, even though it doesn’t make sense for them to do so. Are you then further arguing that they should be forced to use Uber or Lyft, or maybe inadequate shuttle services at their destinations?

    Seems to me that you just have an irrational dislike of bicycles and how they can be leveraged into a ‘final mile’ solution for a transportation problem that people who work on the peninsula are trying to solve.

  • gneiss

    This is the kind of crazy accounting that traffic engineers do. They try and argue that the collective lost of time is as bad as 5 minutes for each individual. That’s like saying that we can save money by reducing commute times on 101 by 10 seconds. This is a ridiculous statement.

  • Sparafucile

    Then let’s reduce it to the selfish, ye who like to ignore data in favor of feelings: cyclists eat up apx 8 hours of my time every year, so they can carry their precious luggage around with them.

  • Sparafucile

    Then they can STORE a bike at at their peninsula destination. In the same way that I do.

    If anything, it seems you have an irrational and antisocial love for freeloading. Since cyclists in & around SF are about the most antisocial (in the literal sense) group there is, I’m not surprised.

  • gneiss

    Now who’s being hyperbolic? Anyway, you’re missing the point. People who ride bikes ride them to CalTrain and then use them again at their destination. How are they supposed to do that if they are storing their bicycle at one of the end points? As for people who ride bicycles “freeloading” that’s a laugh. Just read the Atlantic. You’ll quickly find out that the real freeloaders are people driving in cars:

  • gneiss

    When you consider all the possible ways that CalTrain has been delayed by car drivers and pedestrians getting into crashes with trains over the last year saying that “cyclists have eating up 8 hours of my time” sounds like a bargain.

    However, let’s consider the time my wife (a very social person, by the way), who is a regular CalTrain bicycle commuter, saves.a bunch of time over walking or using public transit .She can pace our 9 year old daughter to school in 20 minutes. From there, it’s a 15 minute ride to CalTrain at 4th and King, where she brings on her bike. Then once in Hillsdale it’s another 15 minutes to her office in Foster City. Trying to walk or take public (or private) transit would eat up many 10’s of minutes more of time, which means she would defaullt to using a car instead.

    So even though you might be spending a few extra minutes at each station loading passengers with bicycles, those people are saving many more minutes in their commutes easily negating your loss of time. Now who’s being selfish?.

  • Sparafucile

    Nice job conflating the willful actions of cyclists with the accidental behavior of drivers, and then throwing in pedestrians just to conflate the issues further. Now who’s being dishonest?

    And it’s not JUST the incremental delays cyclists create — it’s a big issue when it comes to the system being able to run more trains.

    As for Hillsdale — park a bike or car there. Or pay TWO fares, to account for the space you occupy.

  • Sparafucile

    They can park one bike at one end, and pick up another at the other end, bring a packable bike, or PAY TWO FARES to account for the double space they occupy.

    Why do you cyclists always (and I do mean ALWAYS) insist on getting for FREE what the rest of us pay for?

  • gneiss

    People riding bikes are not getting for free what the rest of you are paying for. They are paying a fare just like everyone else. So what if they have a bicycle? Many people carry luggage that takes up room. Or their bring their children. For example, a child less than 4 may travel for free accompanied by an adult. Do you think that those parents who let their kids take up an extra seat are feeloading too? Or how about people over 65 – they get to travel with a reduced fare – how about that for freeloading.

    Admit it – you just have a bias against bicycles. Stop trying to couch it as some kind of high and noble casus belli.

  • Sparafucile

    “People riding bikes are not getting for free what the rest of you are paying for. They are paying a fare just like everyone else.”

    Then they can sit atop they bikes, instead of taking both the space of a seat for their bikes, and another seat for their rumps.

    As for your idiotic comparative claim about children — I’ve never seen a single child under ten on the train during commuter hours. Not a single one. Ever. If you want to reduce the number of bikes to be similar to the number of children under ten, then say so.

  • gneiss

    As of now, there’s no reason to follow this directive to keep bicycles parked at both places, nor is there a need to pay two fares. As CalTrain already has a flexible fare structure (kids get reduced fares, as do seniors and those less than 4 travel for free) I doubt you’ll get much sympathy for the position that bicyclists must pay double for bringing their bike onto the trains.

  • Sparafucile

    Except from he tens of thousands of Caltrain commuters (the overwhelming majority), if they understand that bicycle accommodation is the single and most easily-correctable factor standing in the way of immediate capacity improvement and the ability to run more trains.

  • gneiss

    Sure, drive a bunch of passengers off the trains and you’ll get immediate capacity improvements – well done! Oh and by the way, you’ve just increased the number of car commuters onto Highway 101. Way to go!

    Why not just double fares for everyone while you’re at it too. That’s sure to reduce the number of passengers riding as well. Then you’ll be sure to have that extra capacity you’re looking for.

  • gneiss

    Just because you haven’t seen them doesn’t mean that it’s not in their fare structure. If it’s okay to bring children who can take up seat, why is it not okay to bring a bicycle? Sounds to me that you’re just trying to roll back a program that’s been wildly popular with many riders. They wouldn’t even be considering capacity increases if it wasn’t for the fact that so many people bring bicycles onto the trains in the first place. Sure you’d get capacity improvements. But you’d also drive a lot of people who are using the trains off of them. Well done!

  • Sparafucile

    Your innumeracy doesn’t serve your arguments well.

  • Sparafucile

    That would be the “bunch” who compose 10% of the riders, but take up 20% of the space, and who DOUBLE the boarding/disembarking time? That bunch?

    I’m all for expanding bike lockers at stations. But your days of being freeloaders, space hogs, and system limiters should be over.

  • murphstahoe

    Let me make this more simple for you. You are complaining about the space on the current trains taken up by cyclists.

    If Caltrain sold the parking lots in Mountain View and Palo Alto at market value, they would net tens of millions of dollars and we could buy several additional new train sets – with capacity for hundreds and perhaps because they aren’t vintage equipment, might not break down on a daily basis. Why should the passengers who bike or walk or take transit have to suffer the indignities of crowded trains and broken down trains in order to provide car parking at pennies per day for a tiny fraction of the ridership?

  • murphstahoe

    There’s high usage at BABS and bike station in SF, which shows that
    there are people who are willing to leave or pick up the bike at

    What it shows is that there are people who don’t have a place to securely store their personal bike ato work on the San Francisco end.

  • murphstahoe

    As for your idiotic comparative claim about children — I’ve never seen a
    single child under ten on the train during commuter hours. Not a
    single one.

    We are taking different trains then. There are multiple child care centers near Palo Alto, Lawrence, and Cal Ave that have a string of children escorted by parents to the day care as they then head to work.

  • Sparafucile

    Hahaha. Never seen a one. Not once. Ever. At any of those stations (and I see them all, every day). You’re a **LIAR**.

  • Sparafucile

    Changing the subject because your argument doesn’t hold water? How unsurprising.

  • jonobate

    I’m not, anymore.

  • …And each locker is one bike, one train, on trip saved; there are dozens of trains a day filled with bikes. Each locker doesn’t even relate to one standing room person! The bikes store tighter than the people do.

  • True, but I’d rather a seat than a loo in that case.


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