Caltrain Unswayed by Pleas for Secure Bike Space on New Fleet

Bicycle commuters disappointed by decision not to add additional bike cars to electric trains

A Caltrain bike-car. Photo: Shirley Johnson
A Caltrain bike-car. Photo: Shirley Johnson

One bike advocate called it a huge step backwards for Caltrain bike commuters.

The Caltrain board voted Thursday to go with its staff recommendation on bike cars and seating for the new electric fleet. That means fewer seats with a view of the bike storage areas and still only two bike cars per consist rather than a more-evenly distributed three, as advocates wanted.

“Our ask was really to spread out the bike spaces and seats among three cars instead of two cars, the reason for that is we wanted better security,” explained the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition’s Emma Shlaes in a phone interview with Streetsblog. The idea was that if the bike spaces are spread out, more customers will be able to keep an eye on their own steads.

“I am very disappointed that the new cars will have only half or fewer seats in view of bikes as the current cars,” wrote Friend’s of Caltrain’s Adina Levin, in an email to Streetsblog. “This is a theft risk.” In addition, Levin suggested some board members were dismissive.

“It was also pretty disappointing to hear various board members propose solutions that would require riders to purchase additional folding bikes or lower-cost bikes that are cheaper to replace if stolen. Electric Caltrain will have opportunities to diversify the rider base and it is not good to expect riders to have to pay hundreds of extra dollars in gear to be able to get too/from the train.”

Shlaes said some 20 cyclists and Caltrain customers spoke to the board in favor of another bike car, but to no avail.

“Electric trains will have 72 bike spaces per train, whereas today’s diesel trains have 77 bike spaces on average. Caltrain broke its promise made to the public in 2015 for more bike capacity on electric trains,” said Shirley Johnson, who helped found the advocacy group BIKES ONBoard. “The bike-car layout encourages bike theft due to only seven folding seats within view of 36 bike spaces. Instead of designing bike cars right before they are built, Caltrain will be faced with expensive retrofit costs when the design fails in the field.”

A rendering of one of Caltrains electric train sets, now under construction. Image: Caltrain
A rendering of one of Caltrains electric train sets, now under construction. Image: Caltrain

The new electric fleet is expected to come online in 2022. For now, “…we’re going to keep focusing on bike parking and bike share, to get additional options for people who want to bike,” said Shlaes.

  • This is designed to fail, but only because it’s not incrementally scale-able like bike share and bike parking. Systems with hi-demand allow folding bikes for free or place the bike-to-train access solutions at stations. No one expects to bring their full-size on board during certain hours.

    Caltrain, MTC, local municipalities and large companies in the area need to kick butt on bike share and parking and should consider significant financial support for folding bikes. That the board talks about this yet doesn’t do nearly enough is also a fail, but a high-demand commuter train with bike cars is not the best response.

    Bike parking technology is robust but it’s true that adapting bike share to the specific needs of users on the Peninsula is a huge challenge, but the years go by and all we have is a patchwork of appearing and disappearing bike share systems, major players fighting each other, ridiculous minimum age limits, greenwashing by car companies, bikes incapable of holding a bag of groceries.. and something acceptable – if not perfect – for all users.

  • crazyvag

    I rarely take my bike on the train, but I’ll agree that it’s an odd decision to go from 3 bike cars on Bombardier cars to 2 bike cars on EMUs.

    Costs aside, Caltrains continued paranoia to keep even the existing configuration is never well explained either.

  • Ezra Kainz

    They also did this when they out out a servey asking if people wanted a stacking bike configuration, or a “hybrid” configuration where bikes each had their own slot side but side. The majority of people choose the “hybrid” but Caltrain put out a press release saying they had chosen the stacking setup because it could support more bikes and more types of bikes.

    That’s great and all, but now we have to do the shuffle trying to get our bikes from a stack of 4, while the train is coming into the station. If they were worried about not supporting enough bikes, they could have put one stacking car in each train.
    Or even better they could have just done a trial with one or two of each type of car and seen what people like better. I’ll bet you it’s the one they each bike had their own slot…

  • Javen O’Neal

    I’m not interested in parking my bike at a station. I have a several mile commute on both ends.
    The suggested bike share solution also doesn’t work. My workplace doesnt have a bike share stable, which means I’d have to walk from the nearest stable to work.

    Using my own bike is the most direct route and most efficient with my time. Caltrain is making their solution less appealing to commuters who aren’t commuting into big cities where people have more fast transit options to get to their final destination.

  • John Cordes

    I am really disappointed with this decision. After having a bicycle stolen at the Sunnyvale Caltrain station, I always take my bicycle with me on the train now. Caltrain is being shortsighted by not order cars the public want to use so we can keep an eye on our bicycles.

  • Jame

    I do not take Caltrain often (probably 5 times ever), but I have had many colleagues bike in from the train station – even in downtown SF where bike share is plentiful. Considering most of the job centers/communities served by Caltrain are devoid of bike share and useful transit, it is ridiculous not to have useful bike capacity on the train. I wouldn’t be comfortable leaving my bike in a place that is not in view – and have had a bike stolen at home.

    The ridiculous suggestion of having multiple bikes is also crazy. Sure Caltrain commuters are more affluent than other transit users, but the idea that they should accommodate transit versus being served by the transit agency is illogical. And will lead to lower ridership/more congestion/longer commutes.

  • sf in sf

    Very disappointing. How did each board member vote?

  • Creating secure bike parking is not rocket science and a lot simpler than creating bike capacity by purchasing more trains.

  • Obviously Ford GoBke or even JUMP is not a solution for you….you need a bike for a longer commute… this can be solved by a bike share system tailored for a particular commute.

  • Javen O’Neal

    And have a bike share that always has bikes that are adjusted to my size, are in the same or better mechanical shape as my own, have clip in pedals, a saddle that isn’t too big or too soft, have fenders when I want them and no fenders when I don’t?

    Call me stubborn, but the only bike share I’ve found that works for me is my own N+1 stable.


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 […]