Petition for Bike Space on Caltrain’s Electrics

When Caltrain finishes modernizing, there may be even fewer places for bike storage

Despite promises, it looks as if Caltrain still plans to decrease space for bikes on its future electric trains.
Despite promises, it looks as if Caltrain still plans to decrease space for bikes on its future electric trains.

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Caltrain is busy converting from diesel to electric propulsion. But according to Caltrain rider, bike advocate, and sometimes-Streetsblog-contributor Shirley Johnson, the agency is still talking about reducing the number of bike spaces on the new electric trains. That’s why the organization she helped found, “BIKES ONBoard,” recently started an online petition to push Caltrain to maintain a ratio of eight seats-to-every bike space. “The [Caltrain] Board mandated an eight-to-one ratio on electrified trains in 2015,” explained Johnson, but Caltrain staff is trying to wiggle out of that mandate.

From the petition:

Caltrain plans to electrify its line and run six-car electric trains, which have fewer seats and less bike capacity than today’s diesel trains and no dedicated seats within view of bikes. I urge Caltrain to run eight-car (instead of six-car) electric trains with seats within view of bikes. Eight-car trains with 96 bike spaces per train satisfy the board-mandated 8:1 ratio of seats-to-bike-spaces and provide more capacity for all Caltrain passengers.

Overall, the current bike space count is 77 bike spaces per train. For electrified trains, Caltrain staff is proposing only 72 bike spaces per train, 36 in each of two bike cars.

Despite promises, it looks as if Caltrain still plans to decrease space for bikes on its future electric trains.
Despite promises, it looks as if Caltrain still plans to decrease space for bikes on its future electric trains.

As Streetsblog reported last year, Caltrain staff is trying to claim a net increase in bike capacity because they’ll be running more trains. But Johnson has pointed out that given the growth in transportation demand on the Peninsula, these trains will immediately fill up, leaving more cyclists stranded on the platforms – unless current bike-to-seat ratios are maintained or increased.

In 2014, Caltrain surveyed riders specifically to find out how many people depend on bikes getting to and from the stations on its system, as a guide for operating and designing the new electric fleet.

Some results below:

From Caltrain's 2014 rider survey.
From Caltrain’s 2014 rider survey.

And here’s a look at how many people bring bikes on board, at least some of the time:

CaltrainSurvey Pie Chart
From Caltrain’s 2014 rider survey

Bikes Board First

In related news, Caltrain has announced that this week it will expand its “Bikes Board First” pilot.

From the Caltrain release:

Bicyclists on the northbound platforms at the Sunnyvale and Hillsdale Stations, and the southbound platform at the 22nd Street Station, will be allowed to board bike cars first. Passengers with bicycles are encouraged to board the bike cars at the southern end of the platform. Caltrain staff will be on hand at those stations to enforce the policy, which would prevent bicyclists from having to navigate through a crowd of riders blocking the entrance. These boardings will be timed and compared to the standard boarding process to determine if this new approach could make overall Caltrain service more efficient.

In April, Caltrain started Bikes Board First in Mountain View, Palo Alto and Redwood City and found it reduced dwell time and delays. “Bikes-board-first has two distinct advantages (1) bike riders have first choice of seats in the bike car to guard bikes against theft, and (2) walk-on passengers can board at other doors to speed boarding,” wrote Johnson in an email. “We applaud Caltrain for conducting this pilot.”

Speaking of theft, BIKES ONBoard is also advocating for better security on the new electric fleet. They want to make sure bikes are distributed among the cars, so that riders have a good shot at sitting in a place where they can keep an eye on their steeds. Caltrain prefers dedicated bike cars with bikes on the first level and the seats on the second level. “So you would not be able to see your bike at all,” said Johnson in a phone interview with Streetsblog. “This layout is a theft magnet; Caltrain would never ask someone to put luggage or a laptop in a car where they can’t see it, but they’re asking someone with a bicycle to do that.”

Again, the petition is available here.

“BIKES ONBoard” is also asking for help from Caltrain riders to get more people to sign the petition and get involved, by handing out business cards for the organization. If you’re interested in helping with outreach, contact them directly to bikesonboard [at]

  • thielges

    It appears Caltrain expects to address the bike security issue with cameras. From the website there’s the somewhat redundant statement “Security cameras will be posted in each bike car to enhance security”.
    What would be cool is if the security camera video feed were routed to the LCD video screens on the upper level of the same car so riders at least have the chance to hop up and interfere with a thief. However expect that the camera feeds will only be routed to the Caltrain central security office.

  • saimin

    I doubt the video would be routed to the Caltrain central office in real time. More likely, it will be saved to memory and only looked at after a crime is reported.

  • Martijn

    It would be interesting to know how many of the bikers need their bike on both sides of the train ride and how many bring their bike because it is easier/safer than parking it at the station.

  • agvs

    The video screens are a pretty good idea. Still, I bring my bike on caltrain all the time and I’ve never heard of anyone getting a bike stolen. How often does that happen?

    As a thief, you’d have to be pretty darn sure the person isn’t in the car and that nobody else recognizes their bike. Then you’d need to stand there holding the bike to be stolen waiting to exit the train. Maybe you could quickly grab whatever bike is on top closest to the exit just as the last cyclist gets off.

    It doesn’t seem like a great way to steal bikes. Much easier and safer to do the traditional method of scouting out bikes in public and breaking the locks.

  • Urbanist Brian

    How would installing real bicycle lockers (Bikelink) at stations instead of the ancient monthly rental keyed ones affect bikes on board?
    What about dockless bikes, ebikes, and e-scooters at every Caltrain stop?
    Caltrain could try these out now to give real options to riders instead of bikes-on-board.

  • Mike

    True, that’s the case today because there are people in the bike car, but would that be true if there wasn’t anyone there? You could look for a bike that had a tag describing a station way down the line and assume that person was not nearby. I personally would not feel comfortable having my bike out of sight. Bike theft is a huge problem.

  • saimin

    Having dockless bike share or scooter-share at every Caltrain station is a great idea, but these systems are mostly deployed by for-profit startup companies who are only interested in the highest-profit areas. Most train stations along the peninsula haven’t interested them so far.

  • thielges

    One of my Caltrain bike car buddies had his bike stolen. He boarded a NB train at downtown SJ and as he was walking upstairs to his seat, the thief nabbed the bike and left the train before it pulled away from the station. I’ve also heard of other people having their electrical items stolen off of their bikes.

  • Patrick Devine

    I’m not for this and I take Caltrain and bike every day. I do, however, sympathize with the people who *do* need to bring their bike on board and get bumped. If Caltrain provided adequate secured bike parking (plus parking for larger cargo bikes) at each of the stations, many people wouldn’t need to bring their bikes on board. Getting a bike locker took me months, despite Caltrain saying that there were free lockers at my stop.

  • crazyvag

    I can see benefits for having dedicated bike cars, so bikers don’t have to run across the platform for a bike space. Two big bike cars is better than 6 small bike cars.

    Perhaps cameras with video feeds on upper levels is the solution here?

  • 4dgroves

    Thank you, Shirley Johnson for all that you do and all of your staff and volunteers at Bikes on Board for your vigilant work and being a Positive Force for Good.