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Caltrain adds bike capacity
February 06, 2009, 12:00 AM By Dana Yates

Daily Journal file photo Caltrains new plan will increase bike capacity on the newer streamlined Bombardier-style cars from 16 to 24 and capacity on older gallery-style cars from 32 to 40.



Caltrain officials hope to increase bike capacity on its trains by April under a revised plan to address bicyclists’ concerns about being "bumped” during commute hours.

It appears the squeaky wheel got the grease. For the last several months, bicyclists from San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties pressured the transit agency in a mass letter-writing campaign to increase room for bicycles. Bicyclists are upset with the practice of being asked to wait for the next arriving train because the one they were trying to board was already at its bike capacity. Caltrain has been stuck between meeting the needs of loyal customers and balancing both their budget and aging equipment, officials said.

The new plan will increase bike capacity on the newer streamlined Bombardier-style cars from 16 to 24 and capacity on older gallery-style cars from 32 to 40. Currently, the number of bikes allowed on a car can vary from 16 to 32. Caltrain will immediately order and install more bike stands, a process expected to take eight to 12 weeks, according to Caltrain.

The newer Bombardier-style cars now fit 16. The older gallery cars fit 32.

"It’s not everything the bike community wants ... it’s not everything we want, but I think it’s doable,” said Caltrain Chief Operations Director Chuck Harvey.

Caltrain introduced the plan with the intention of increasing the Bombardier-style car capacity to 36. However, that plan would eliminate all seats on the ground floor, leaving no way for bicyclists to supervise their bikes.

The idea was dubbed the "stand or steal” plan by bicyclists because it would force them to crowd the bottom level by standing near their bikes or risk having their bike stolen when they’re out of sight on the second level.

Bicyclists only found out about the new plan at yesterday’s Caltrain meeting. However, the issue is not new to bicyclists, who sent more than 250 letters to Caltrain regarding the bike capacity issue since mid-October.

In those letters, 102 bicyclists complained of being bumped. Many of them use their bikes to commute to and from work and are forced to wait for the next train on their evening commutes homes.

Despite the last-minute disclosure of the plan, San Francisco Bike Coalition Program Director Andy Thornley said he was "very much encouraged by the agency’s commitment.” He praised the agency for helping to facilitate "truly green end-to-end trips,” in which people could ride their bikes from home, to the train station and to work.

Caltrain is limited by a tight budget, aging equipment and limits on how many trains can run on the system at one time. Ideally, Caltrain said it would like to run at least two gallery cars just for bikes on each train, but it does not always have the stock to do that.

Still, bicyclists argue there are steps the agency can take to improve its service. Some suggest the agency find a way to alert customers via the Internet of bike capacity on approaching trains. Bike riders can use their cell phones to text messages to the Web site Twitter alerting other riders to train capacity and any issues that may delay the train.

Other companies, such as Bay Area Rapid Transit and Jet Blue airline have similar programs.


Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: dana@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.


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