Sorry for two such lengthy posts so close together. This one is more detailed about our thinking concerning our bicycle service.
Dear Caltrain Bicycle Service Customer,
Continuing our efforts to reach out to the cycling community and gather as much information as we can about how to improve our on-board bicycle service, this e-mail will review some of the options we have begun to consider, based on input from you through our e-mails and several meetings with individual cyclists and representatives of cycling groups.
Your comments would be very helpful. We are interested in hearing your thoughts -- unfiltered, original and directly.
A personal note – I will be on vacation until January 5, and will not be responding to any communications you send to me until I get back. We will – and do – read every e-mail you send us and we will respond to all of them. As you might imagine, we are receiving a great deal of comment, so I hope you will forgive us if we group comments and respond in that manner, rather than responding individually. We will respond individually as time and resources allow.
Consistency/Capacity – We have begun to examine how much of the capacity problem is linked to inconsistent delivery of the service. In rapid succession, we provide trains with 16 biker slots, 32 bike slots, 16 bike slots, 64 bike slots, 16 bike slots, with no set pattern to this. Some of the inconsistency has to do with the varying amount of bike slots on each train and whether we can provide two bike cars. Our policy is to guarantee one bike car per train, and we provide a second when it makes sense in the context of our service patterns.
It is important to understand that we may start the day with the trains in a certain line up – we call each train set a consist, emphasis on the first syllable. The vast majority of days, our line up changes, frequently before we even get to the morning peak commute. The reasons for this run from minor to major – a door won’t close properly, a hose will break, or there will be an incident involving a collision between the train and a pedestrian or another vehicle. The result is that a car has to be pulled out of service, or even an entire consist in the case of a struck pedestrian.
Because we are essentially mixing and matching to create consists throughout the day, there is an inconsistent pattern to how we assign the bike cars.
By the way, the technology of our two rail car types – the sleek Bombardier cars and the steel, bulky Gallery cars – does not allow mixing the two types. A Bombardier set has to be all Bombardiers, etc.
Our impression is that this inconsistency is a major source of bumping and frustration. As a customer, you don’t know whether you’re waiting for a 16-slot train or a 32-slot train. If we follow one 16-slot train with another 16-slot train, we are virtually guaranteed of bumping people. Worse, you don’t know if the second train you’re waiting for is a 16-slot train or a 64-slot train, so you can’t be sure if you should wait, or find another way to your destination.
We think we can add bike space to all of our bike cars such that the difference in capacity between them is minimal. Again, when we talk about improving the consistency, it is with the intention to increase capacity on all our bike cars – in some cases by as much as 100 percent.
Some of your e-mails have called quite specifically for a certain number of bike slots on every train – in some cases 64, more recently 80.
We think the focus should not be on a specific number. The issue, if this can be explained properly, is how many bike slots go by a certain point at a certain time of day. If there are unused bike slots at a certain time of day – the non-peaks, for example – how do we apply that unused capacity to the peak commute hours, when the demand is much greater?
We have more research to do, including ensuring that our understanding of the boarding patterns is accurate and will be improved by this more consistent bike-car size.
Information – The above section talked about consistency and we think if we improve that, it will go a long way toward improving the issue many of you have raised about the lack of information concerning how many bike slots a particular train might have.
For the reasons I described above – the continually changing nature of our consists – we are reluctant to send out information at the beginning of the day about how many bike slots each train has. The result likely would be that by the time you get to the train station, that information is outdated and inaccurate. We are torn: Is it better to give consistently inaccurate information or no information? We tend to lean toward giving out no information if we can’t get it right.
If there is a consistent number of bike slots on every train, however, it is our hope that will reduce the information issue.
Meanwhile, why don’t we provide better information and real-time information? Right now, our infrastructure for providing that information is outmoded and inefficient. We are working on a proposal to upgrade our real-time information system and, ideally, it would be Web-based and accessible by PDAs, etc.
We have a bid proposal in circulation now for the redesign of our Web page and one component of that will be links to scheduling information networks that have been created outside Caltrain, such as Twitter.
We also are putting together a working group to meet with customers with technical expertise to discuss if there is a quick, relatively easy and relatively inexpensive technology we can deploy now that allows real-time tracking of each train. Right now, we track trains as they pass certain checkpoints.
Bike car location – We wonder what you think of moving the bike car to the southern end of our consists, rather than the northern end. This would allow bicyclists to board at the same time as other customers and reduce interaction – some might say conflict – between cyclists and pedestrians. It also moves the bike car out of the way of some ADA loading platforms at mid-line stations. The problem is that at some mid-line stations, it would be a long walk (of course you walk your bike on the platform, right?) from the ticket machine to the bike car.
Wayside – The Bicycle Access and Parking Plan adopted by our Board calls upon staff to improve our wayside bike parking facilities. Some of you express no interest in wayside parking and are skeptical that anyone else is interested in leaving his or her bike at the station. The fact is that once the Warm Planet facility opened in San Francisco, it swiftly reached capacity. Our bike lockers at the Palo Alto station is almost 100 percent subscribed.
We think some percentage of our customers currently driving to the station, or, perhaps, bringing their bikes on board, would be happy to park their bike at a station if they were confident that the parking facilities we provide were safe, secure and easy to use. This may relieve some of the demand pressure on board the train, but, more importantly, it may provide even more would-be customers to use our trains and get drivers out of their cars and on to bikes.
What are your thoughts? What kind of facilities would you consider using? How could this program be organized and managed so that it would be effective?
One recommendation in the BAPP is to consider a bike-sharing program. What have you learned about such programs elsewhere? What kind of program would you consider using?
More communication – This is the second lengthy e-mail we have distributed to you and we appreciate your efforts to help us stay informed. This is the beginning of a permanent outreach to the cycling community so that your needs, thoughts and insights can continue to inform our service.
Thanks for your time and attention and I wish all of you wonderful holidays.
Again, I’ll be on vacation until January 5, so I’ll be back in touch in the New Year.
Special Assistant to the CEO
San Mateo County Transit District
San Mateo County Transportation Authority
Phone: (650) 508-6340
Fax: (650) 508-6281