Next Round in Fight for Bike Space on Caltrain

BIKES ONBoard and the Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bicycle Coalitions urge advocates to chime in

Bicyclists Boarding Caltrain
Passengers with bicycles wait to board Caltrain. Photo: Bryan Goebel/San Francisco Streetsblog

Note: Metropolitan Shuttle, a leader in bus shuttle rentals, regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog Los Angeles. Unless noted in the story, Metropolitan Shuttle is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Caltrain is electrifying and getting new trains. But the new trains, as Caltrain plans to configure them, may only have enough space for 72 bikes, as opposed to the 77 they can accommodate on the aging diesel fleet they run today. That is not ideal for riders who need to take their bikes, especially given projected population and ridership growth.

But thanks to pressure from advocates at BIKES ONBoard (BOB), the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC), and the SFBC to provide more space for bikes on the new trains, Caltrain has agreed to take another look at the issue.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, the Caltrain Citizens Advisory Committees and the Bicycle Advisory Committee will hold a work session to figure out a configuration that can meet the promised one bike space for each eight seats. “Basically, Caltrain is trying to limit reconfiguration to only two or three bike cars,” wrote Shirley Johnson, who formed BOB to help advocate for bike space on BART and Caltrain, in an email to Streetsblog. “But we need four or more to meet the board-mandated 8:1 ratio of seats-to-bike-spaces and simultaneously get enough seats within view of bikes to deter bike theft.”

Below is one of BOB’s recommended configurations, which differs sharply from what’s currently planned for the new trains:


Beyond the ratio of bike spaces, BIKES ONBoard, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are taking issue with Caltrain designs that have riders store their bikes on the lower level, but sit in the upper level or at the ends of the car, with no view of their bikes. As Streetsblog reported previously, advocates say this is like ringing the dinner bell for bike thieves.

“Caltrain has the opportunity to potentially reconfigure train layout to address bike theft on-board,” wrote the SVBC’s Emma Shlaes, in a blog post about the issue. “Bike security, on and off board, is the number one concern of SVBC and our members, as this will determine the comfort and convenience of being able to bike to and from Caltrain.”

Caltrains current proposals segregate bike space and seats. Image: Caltrain
Caltrain’s current configuration options segregate bike space from seats with dedicated bike cars. Image: Caltrain

According to documents for the meeting, Caltrain staff will provide large drawings of the new EMU (electric multiple unit) cars. Attendees will be asked to arrange seats, seats with tables, and bike racks in the cars.

Johnson has posted more details on the configuration options here.

Poles and other infrastructure and work is now visible along the route as Caltrain moves toward electrification; the new trains cars are on the way. Cycling advocates want Caltrain to include enough space for riders who need their bikes on both ends of their commutes. Today, cyclists sometimes get “bumped,” and have to take a later train, if there aren’t adequate spaces available.

Caltrain asks riders to report when they are bumped so that the railroad can quantify how much space it needs for bikes moving forward. They have a “bump” report online which breaks down which stations and trains experience the most bumps.

The tomorrow/Wednesday, April 17th  meeting will be at 5:45 p.m., Bacciocco Auditorium, 2nd Floor, 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos.

  • Andy Chow

    It may be time we question of wisdom of bring bikes onboard when most rail systems in bike friendly Europe don’t accommodate as many bikes as Caltrain:

    Some people want bikes access on every rail car, but on Caltrain it can mean people running or biking on the platform looking for open spots, or creating a potentially hazardous situation by overloading.

    There’s a cost for carrying bikes onboard that currently the cyclists aren’t paying. They’re saying that somehow they’re a protected class where their preference can’t be charged. But whatever it is we have to acknowledge that it is not free or even cheap compared to alternatives like improved bike parking and/or bike sharing.

  • crazyvag

    23 sets for 20 bikes. I would argue that you don’t need such a high ratio of seats to serve as an adequate deterrent. For example, swapping one rack for 4 seats would give you 24 bikes with 19 seats. And if you can convince Caltrain to keep 4 bike cars, you’d get 100 bikes per 7-car train.

  • Roger R.

    The Europeans are SO much better at land use and connecting transit, I don’t think that’s a good yardstick. I think over time, as micromobility/sharing and land use is improved (example: Google’s plans for San Jose’s station area) we’ll need a lower bike-to-seat ratio, but for now I think it’s best to maximize how many people can use Caltrain. Remember, people can stand in the bike space if that’s how things shake out, or flip seats or regular seats can be added.

  • wave9x

    More bikes on trains = fewer people on trains. We don’t need bikes on trains to encourage people to ride, because trains are beyond max capacity now, with people standing in the aisles. Thus more bikes on trains translates to more people driving, more pollution, and more traffic. A far more practical solution is bike share and bike lockers.

  • Ethan

    You’re more aware of the rise of scooter-shares than most. Since most commuter bike trips can be replaced by shared scooters, and scooters don’t need to be taken on Caltrain, what’s your prediction over the next five years regarding scooters and commuters? The way I see it, over the coming years fewer commuters will need or even want to take a bike onto Caltrain as many switch to scooters instead.

    It seems like this coming shift isn’t getting the attention it deserves because advocates keep thinking the ratio of bike commuters on Caltrain will remain the same and won’t be changed by shared scooters.

  • Taurussf

    Or, more trains.

    Because your argument comes down to:

    Caltrain has too many customers. Make it harder for some of them, maybe they’ll go away, rather than increase capacity for all of them.

    If Safeway management suggested the same response to long lines at the checkout counter, their shareholders would crucify them. Why does the JPB get treated differently?

  • Taurussf

    The prediction is that once the scooter fad goes away, Caltrain will have put all its eggs in one basket, have no room on the train for bikes, and we’ll all be worse off.

    Scooter and bikeshare are running at a loss. They add external costs to the solution that are not being represented right now.

    When Uber and Lyft stop subsidizing them and the cost goes up, let’s see whether having another layer of administration and operations that include vans driving around rebalancing fleets looks so attractive.

  • p_chazz

    But I thought that bikeshare was supposed to be the solution for the last mile.

  • Ethan

    Caltrain’s farebox recovery ratio is 70%. So when a rider pays $7.70 for a ticket, taxpayers subsidize the remaining $3.30 of the true cost of that ride. We apparently want Caltrain to transport more people, and are spending money to soon run more trains per hour, which will add to expenses. So if we’re willing to subsidize more Caltrain riders, lets get on with subsidizing a dollar per ride to the scooter companies if it means Caltrain can fit another passenger or two for every less bike on board.

    Even if I accepted the premise that scooters are a city-wide fad, that doesn’t mean they’ll stop being used at stations by commuters. Stations can be retrofitted with dozens of charging docks. Scooters get rented in the morning and returned in the late afternoon by the same commuters. Minimal fleet rebalancing is needed for that. Many employers already offer transportation reimbursement, which makes paying higher prices for scooter rental feasible.

    But since I don’t accept that premise, what evidence do you have that scooters will be a fad?

  • Taurussf

    Scooters don’t replace train rides, they replace local transit, including highly subsidized shuttle buses.

  • Ethan

    At what point did I say scooters replaced train rides? I never did. I said they can replace bikes which are taken on Caltrain for the last mile connection.

  • Taurussf

    Can replace, but only if the customer wants them replaced.

    You have a situation where scooter evangelists are completely ignoring that there is an existing user base for whose needs scooters do not satisfy.

    If the scooters worked for everyone, we would not be having this discussion.

  • Ethan

    Scooters don’t have to work for everyone, unless Caltrain allows zero bikes on board. I’m not advocating for that. Caltrain should continue to allow some bikes on board, so the riders whose needs aren’t met by scooters can keep biking.

    However, and this is important, scooters haven’t rolled out to every city in the Caltrain corridor, and they haven’t necessarily been deployed in numbers large enough to reliably serve local demand. In the coming years, that will hopefully change and scooters will be readily available at all or most Caltrain stations as well as in the rest of each city. Then they’ll be much more useful and reliable for commuters. Some of whom will stop biking because scooters will have satisfied their needs and work for them. Which means Caltrain won’t need as many spaces for bikes on board.

  • Taurussf

    Scooters are not functionally equivalent to bicycles. Their range is shorter, their effective speed is slower, the maximum climbing ability is lower. And they don’t carry as much.

    Scooters and bicycles are not interchangeable. Caltrain has been behind the demand curve for onboard bicycle access for many years. Right now, they have insufficient capacity for bikes.

    Until that demand is satisfied and starts to drop, there is no case for further cutting access. If scooters do someday magically replace the need for people to bring their own bikes, we can always put seats back in. But that day is not today.

  • Ethan

    To copy and paste my first sentence:

    Scooters don’t have to work for everyone, unless Caltrain allows zero
    bikes on board. I’m not advocating for that.

    I agree with you that today Caltrain has insufficient capacity for bikes.

    However, by the time the new train cars arrive in quantity next decade, scooters will probably have changed the demand for bike space on Caltrain because scooters are functional replacements for some commuters’ bike trips.

  • Jame

    The challenge is, for much of the area that Caltrain serves, there is no single set of destinations that would provide the density needed for effective bike share. Office parks + bike share = pretty crappy.

  • Jame

    Scooters are scary! No way would I prefer a scooter to a bike on our terrible streets!

  • Taurussf

    Caltrain will be happy to make bikes on board go to zero if they get any excuse.

    Scooters on the platform may reduce demand in some future, but right now, we have an antagonistic staff that will use any excuse to get rid of onboard access.

    When bike demand drops to less than capacity, Caltrain can start installing seats. Until then, capacity has to increase. That means more bikes on trains until nobody gets denied access.

  • crazyvag

    Well, Mountain View – which is one of the top 5 stations – recently removed its bike share system. And they are not the only ones, San Mateo (or was it Menlo Park) recently decided to completely ban scooters.

    That’s what you get without statewide regulation. Some cities look at the same data and make opposite conclusions.

  • Taurussf

    At a recent micromobility conference, one of the presenters joked about “monetizing walking”.

    When you see someone preaching about how scooters will change the world, remember the Segway, and be very careful that this person is not an associate of one of the companies pushing scooter share.

    This is big money, being spent not because we need the services, but because they need the VC funding. And now, the scooter companies are attempting to create astroturf support by buying community groups and bicycle organizations with large donations.

    For instance, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recently accepted a large donation from an autonomous vehicle company, in violation of policy. Simultaneously, Lyft spread a one million dollar grant around three community organizations in Oakland. This is not charity, it’s investment. And companies always want a return on investment.

    Do not be surprised when it comes time to turn out supporters for legislation or programs favorable to or sponsored by Lyft, that these organizations enthusiastically supply them.

    A few weeks later, a stealth slate made up of at tech employees, one of which works for Uber, and another who had been a Coalition member for only a month, were elected to the board of directors. It was a routine election, so it is suspicious that there was a sudden spike in votes. I’d be curious whether the spike in votes matches a sudden influx of members who work in ridehail and associated companies.

  • david vartanoff

    because unlike Safeway–and particularly the VC funded money burners–the JPB does not access investment as easily. (How long was it that one of the counties refused to actually pay their share of the initial buy-in?)

  • Taurussf

    Yeah, but then the answer is still not “your customers are wrong for wanting something” The answer is “find the money to serve your customers properly”.

    The JPB has been crying about their structural deficit for so long we forget that this is not a legitimate excuse.

    Along with state and federal funding, the JPB gets its funding from the three member agencies. Samtrans sets the level and Muni and Santa Clara match it. If the level is too low, it needs to be raised.

    The thing about onboard access is that the savings for the three member agencies are not accounted for. A bike on the train means no need to provide a local bus seat at either end. This may not be a problem in the suburbs, where buses run half empty, but for Muni, not needing to add buses is huge.

    Let’s get Caltrain funded so that it can do its job. Then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

  • Taurussf

    Oops, and also.

    Bikes on board benefits the suburbs too. A bike on the train means no need to tie up valuable real estate with an expensive to maintain parking space.

    Imagine how much better Caltrain, and by extension, peninsula downtowns, could do if they were able to fully utilize all that asphalt next to the stations for something that generates income instead of draining it?

  • T W

    Not only are those who choose to bring bikes onboard imposing more cost on Caltrain and taking away space from others, they are also getting reserved seating because the policy now is for those with bikes to cut in line ahead of other riders who got there first.

    So, it’s not so much a “protected class” as it actually is a “privileged class.”

    As a daily cyclist, I do support efforts to increase cycling obviously, but reducing the number of transit riders able to fit comfortably on Caltrain is an absolutely terrible method and works against overall sustainability and equity goals.

  • saimin

    The original docked bike share systems were too expensive and inflexible for most peninsula cities. Now most cities are reluctant to try the undocked bike share or scooter-share instead. These sorts of systems will be useful for getting people from their homes to the train stations. They won’t work for everyone, but I am disappointed that cities are not at least letting them help some people.

  • midringrider

    Munich here. Our underground and suburban rail allow bikes. They have almost no extra provision for them and you are supposed to pay a little to do so. Also not during morning rush hours for full sized bikes. Folding bikes are okay any time of the day.

    Underground trains are 110 meters long and run every 10 minutes. The suburban trains run about every 20 minutes. The S-bahn trains are short 67 meters but two or three are always coupled. So effective length is more.

    The big advantage for not needing a bicycle at work/shopping stops is that they have built up shopping ans work areas near the stops or put stops near the same. Also there are 2 interlocking systems of bus and tram. So you see a lot of bike parking at stops in the residential areas at the all the stations.

    Another option that could be used for people living further out is the Bayern ticket. This is for the regional train. If you can get a group together you could train pool as one day ticket is good for up to 5 riders round trip for about $30 per day total. (Mostly used by families or friends coming into Munich for the day and then going home.)

  • midringrider

    70% is on the high side for fair box recovery. I thought it would be much lower. One thing not mentioned in the FB recovery is how much tax payer support is reduced by people taking the train compared to using the street? If a group of people take the train that takes pressure off the roads, less wear and tear, less congestion, less pollution. All those have costs which are born by tax payers also.


Caltrain to Present Plan to Increase Bicycle Capacity

Caltrain claims it "values bicycle commuters." In its goals and objectives the agency says "Caltrain must be a competitive alternative to traveling by automobile." That goal will be tested tomorrow when the agency presents its final plan to increase bicycle capacity on Caltrain to the Board of Directors. Advocates are frustrated it isn’t being made […]

Advocates say Bicycle Riders Could Save Caltrain from Service Cuts

Photo: sfbike With Caltrain facing a $2.3 million deficit, and its governing board considering service cuts and fare hikes, bicycle advocates from three Bay Area counties who have been leading the call for more bicycle capacity have calculated that the commuter rail line could stave off reductions if it would just accommodate the increasing demand […]

Coming to Caltrain: Longer Trains With More Room for Bikes

Caltrain will add a third bike car to all six of its Bombardier trains, Executive Director Michael Scanlon announced at the transit agency’s monthly board of directors meeting last week. With the new cars, bike capacity will increase from 48 to 72 on each of the Bombardier trains. But it could take up to one year […]