Bikes, Bikes, and more Bikes

We are nearing the end of our first week of MetroRail service. Things have gone fairly smoothly, and rider feedback thus far has been pretty positive. One (somewhat) surprising discovery this week has been the number of bicyclists taking advantage of MetroRail. We’re seeing about 90 bicycle boardings per day.

photo by Michele Hadderman

It is fantastic to see so many cyclists onboard. Unfortunately, some of the trains have been completely overloaded with bikes–like 6 to 8 in one compartment–and staff observations this week related to bike boardings and the bike hooks have been troubling.

Bikes by themselves are not exactly the problem; too many bikes sharing the space with lots and lots of passengers has resulted in a few passengers getting scraped by the bikes, and a lot of difficulty in moving in and out of the railcar. Herzog cautioned that with this number of bikes onboard, if there was an accident or a need to evacuate the car, passengers would not be able to safely get out.

So, eventhough we love our cyclists and we want you to ride with us, we are going to limit the number of bikes onboard to eight total per train (four per compartment). If you arrive at the station and you have bike #9, you will have to wait for the next train.

Fortunately there have been only a couple of instances in which there were more than eight  bikes on the train, so the four-per-compartment limit may be enough capacity for the bulk of the trips.

22 thoughts on “Bikes, Bikes, and more Bikes

  1. Barry

    Unbelievable that we’re surprised by this. There are very few stations and they are mainly in remote locations and bikes are the most appropriate way to transport from the station to your destination.

    Until CapMetro comes up with a way to serve more sections of our city, you should be doing anything in your power to accomodate bicycles on your trains.

    I can’t believe that you would say “If you arrive at the station and have bike #9, you will have to wait for the next train.” How in the world will this ever be successful if you’re already turning people away? It’s not like the trains are on a frequent rotation. The fact that there is a ‘last train’ in the middle of the day doesn’t exactly make this convenient. Waiting for the next train isn’t an option for someone trying to get to work on time or make an appointment.

  2. Chris

    This wouldn’t be quite an issue if the service were more frequent than once every 35 minutes, or if the trains ran throughout the day and well into the evening. Additionally, due to the limited accessibilty of many of the stations, which are “served” by buses several blocks away (Kramer), a bike is the only way to leave the train and make the connecting bus stop in time to catch the next bus. Capmetro either needs to do more to accomodate the bike traffic on the train, which isn’t going away since it is the easiest way to access the stations, or come up with a more frequent service.

  3. Andy

    Oh, it’s ok. I mean, if the infrequent times, inconvenient times, and high cost didn’t chase you away, would the very real possibility of not being able to get where you’re going because you’re on a bike deter you?

    I rode the train north from Highland today, and the rear car was nearly empty. Except for bicyclists, all but two of whom had to stand for the whole ride. And this is on a day when the ride was free.

    5 years ago, I bought my house, and being near the Highland Station was something I considered with excitement. I only live 12 miles from work, and have to ride my bike around 3 miles from either of the two closest stations (Lakeline or Howard). There’s just nothing in it for me, anymore. The train represents paying twice as much to take twice as long to get to work, and I have to spend about the same amount of time on a bike as I would have spent in my car.

  4. Colin

    This is an extremely disappointing response from Capital Metro.

    What was done during all the years of planning?

    Please provide a real fix to the problem.

  5. John

    Absolutely ridiculous. Why am I not surprised that Capital Metro’s response is, it probably won’t happen to you, and if it does just wait for the next train. Oh right, because I have been stranded by Cap Metro dozens of times over the years, be it by express buses with filled bike racks, early buses, inattentive busdrivers, etc.

  6. Erik

    The most infuritating thing about our bike ‘facilities’ on these $1.4 million trains was the removal of 2 hooks per compartment. Yes, that’s right, these trains had out-of-the-factory accomodations for EIGHT total bikes to hang out of the way of exits and standing passengers. CapMetro decided to remove half the built-in capacity before service started? Why? To accomodate for wheelchairs and non-cycling passengers. The mobilty-impaired thing I get, but I’m insulted that if there’s not enough room to sit down in the regular seats, they’re stating it as POLICY that non-cycling passengers are to sit in the bicycle area’s folding seats and cyclists may stand with their bike. What?

    This dude *also* abides that there be secure bike parking at stations.

  7. Erik

    Additionally, an asinine response of ‘wait for the next train’ isn’t even an option for the 7:19 AM northbound train departing downtown-area. Why’s that? Oh, yeah, because the next one comes at 9:07AM. *shakes head* What? Yeah, my thoughts exactly. And guess what? It doesn’t go further north than Crestview station. It goes halfway to the end of the route and just stops. Get off. Thanks for paying $3. Really, guys? I’m looking for a new job, you need help? I think you do.

  8. oldguy

    hey you could be in DC with one of the best systems in the U.S. — they allow zero bikes

    seriously CapMetro, you couldn’t see this coming?

  9. Pingback: MetroRail to limit number of bikes to 8 per train | Austin On Two Wheels

  10. Joel

    There are a lot of little things that add up to this not being a good system.

    1) Turning away people on bikes. Seriously? That’s insane. Especially if the reports of them coming from the factory with more bike hooks are true.

    2) Live music capital of the world, with no Friday or Saturday night service? The rail ends 2 blocks from 6th street!

    3) Reports that a traffic crossing guard goes down and up with no train passing because the signaling system is not smart enough to know the train is stopping at a station until it actually stops at the station.

    4) This big gap in schedule in the middle of the day. Not running into the evening late enough for many people’s work schedules. No weekends at all.

    5) The train that turns around at Howard can’t do it at the station itself, it has to go up a bit farther to clear a signal and then come back.

    1. Adam

      The issue isn’t that that gates aren’t smart enough to know the train is stopping at a station. The gates have to react for the worst-case scenario. In other words, we know the train is supposed to stop at a station; but for safety, the gates can’t “assume” that the train will stop.

  11. trza

    This change makes me less likely to ride the train, since you can’t count space being available for you if you are a bicyclist. I think this is a shortsighted decision by CapMetro.

  12. kriss

    there is one reason capmetro is getting this wrong, staff. what has been described here stems from staff’s use of capmetro transit, they don’t. sure they ride a bus, take the train while at work but with only a few exceptions, rarely do capmetro employees actually use the transit system personally. i base this on 12 years of using capmetro as my sole source for getting around the city.

    if the staff, and particular the policy and process people, were to commit to a couple of weeks of exclusive use (with a bicycle and only a text capable cell phone), then there would be an appreciation of what a rider goes through. they would perhaps understand why there so many bicycles in the rail coaches, the transfer policy is parsimonious. perhaps they would experience making abandonment decisions mentioned in this blog. abandonment decision means having to decide what leave behind, change itinerary or give up. the transit dependent user will typically experience several of these issues in a week, sometimes all in a single day. situations such as mechanical failures (exploding engines, collapsed suspensions, inoperative wipers or air conditioning), full racks, full bus, late bus, no bus. perhaps they would also gain appreciation of some of the awful stops riders have to contend with. such as overcrowded landings (try pushing a bike through a crowd), and bus stops in pools of turbid water w/submerged hazards. there are a plethora of more examples of the complexities caused by capmetro’s indifference. however, the worst one is found by calling customer ‘service’. reported problems are not acted on, promises are not kept, callbacks never made. after tracking this in a CRM log of my calls, a pattern emerged, placate and ignore.

    so guy’s what you shed light on, rail bicycle policy, is but one corner of an institutionally indifferent organization. in my experience you should give up on staff fixing this and go to the board. if staff suggests CSAC, beware. even though CSAC members are riders, they are overtly yes men to the board. i sat in enough CSAC meetings and reports to the board to see this as well. it is best to just tell the board yourself.

  13. Well, that’s not completely fair – I know that JMVC, at least, is riding the buses all day long.

    But you can end up with a distorted view that way too – being ‘voluntarily transit dependent’ can lead you to an inaccurate view of what it takes to get people who currently drive to leave their car at home and use your service.

    There’s really no substitute for actually paying attention to individual incentives (use cases, in my field). Pick a representative imaginary commuter from a given address in Leander, for instance, figure out what it would take to get them to their job at UT or the Capitol. Then do the same with some other common commute types – a guy living in Hyde Park who could walk to Guadalupe and works downtown. Somebody who lives downtown and works at IBM. Etc.

    1. kriss

      JMVC was the exception i was referring to. i cc: JVMC on many emails when reporting safety and service problems. i reported unsafe traffic and pedestrian rail crossings for over a year in in my neighborhood. i was even at the CSAC meeting when the rail fence was first being discussed and identified this fence funneling pedestrians to a dangerous crossing. this fence also split my neighborhood in two and hence disrupts our vision for a walkable mixed use community. i suggest stop with the unfunded promises to fix these issues and produce a project. capmetro should send outreach staff to all neighborhoods with these rail safety issue and develop a project to resolve these ongoing issues.

      The current activities at 51st street had been reported even longer and only recently received attention. however, this serves as an example, capmetro does not have a full plan, they react.

  14. Ed

    Thanks for the comments everyone. We hear you.

    Our CEO Doug Allen has asked me to pull together a group of stakeholders to develop a management plan for using MetroRail with your bike and I will be doing so starting next week. John-Michael Cortez will be a part of the group and we will ask for participation from our Operations, Rail, and Safety departments and include representatives of the cycling community as well.

    John-Michael and I are both regular cyclists and bus riders. In addition I was on Austin’s Urban Transportation Commission for three years and (on my own time) have created the maps used by cyclists for the Rosedale Ride, Urban Farm Tour and recent Treewheelin’ Ride. I hope/think I have a good appreciation of what our riders go through and as the station lead for the Downtown Station since service started I am seeing some of the issues that cyclists are facing using MetroRail.

    Very quickly let me address a couple of things that have been raised here…

    — As you can imagine, Capital Metro’s first priority is safety. The decision to limit bikes to four per car was based on trains being at or beyond capacity last week and input from our operator Herzog. It is not “insane” to limit the number of bikes onboard our trains – transit systems and rail operators around the world do it. Some do not allow bikes on at all. I once spend an entire Sunday afternoon in Lyndhurst, England waiting as train after train passed my wife and I by because the bike racks onboard were full. In Washington, DC I had to watch a video on safety and then pass a test at the transit agency’s headquarters before being issued a picture ID that certified that I could bring my bike on. Capital Metro is not unique in wanting to ensure that everybody can board and alight safely.

    — The onboard bike racks. Capital Metro’s decision to remove the opposite-side bicycle racks was again based on safety. When we had bicycles up on both sides of the car the passage between the two sets of bikes was too narrow to get people through the gap safely. So we elected to remove the racks from one side.

    — Capital Metro is not indifferent to the problems of cyclists who would like to ride our services and are well aware of the great potential in combining bicycles and transit to get people to leave their cars at home. On the bus side we have looked at several possible replacement racks that would allow us to accommodate 3 bikes instead of the current 2 and we’re looking at ways to provide for more secure bicycle parking at the stations and transit centers. There are limits to what we can provide but we are always working to increase bicycle access to the system.

    If you have constructive ideas on how MetroRail could better accommodate cyclists or if you’d like to participate in the process please feel free to email me (ed.easton@capmetro.org). Additionally if you happen to be passing through the Downtown Station in the next few days please stop and chat with me – I would be happy to have you share your experience and feedback with me.

  15. jcs0009

    Ed,

    You Rock! Some of these folks sound like the world is going to end. But we both know CAPMETRO is going to work it out this time. Especially as the system grows and the city you thought you knew stretches out to embrace and make its weird CAPMETRO love with this funky commuter train. I totally agree with those fools about the schedule; and the train not serving northern stops after from 9 am to 4. How long will this schedule last? What do the people need to do to influence change and prevent failure; besides keep the train?

    Couldn’t the wisdom of other cities be considered? Santa Clara has a great system and you can put 4 bikes in their hangers and 2 bikes can stand for a total of 6. They also have a Bike Ways Map. Apparently some genius overlaid the streets, the train tracks and stations and the bike paths and safe streets together and developed a map. The schedule is very frequent also; http://www.vta.org/schedules/SC_901NO_WK.html

    FYZ. I noticed the Howard station is really cool. I left the station heading east on foot; under Mopac, on the first day, pressed the pedestrian street crossing safety button and watched traffic pass as I was pressing 3 times. the light cycled through; it was pretty. I never was I allowed a signal and safe passage. Same thing happened once I passed under the bridge. Our alcoholic change collectors on our corners will be mushed without safe passage. Something must be done!

    A woman was ran over riding her bike at near lake line mall a week before the train opened. This are has no sidewalks and walking people from Lakeway will be bit by small insects where the grass is not properly grooved through during the summer. Something must be done!

    Also, Can I ride my car to Lakeline, then once I arrive downtown, hop on my pre-parked bike? Can I rent a bike? Do I need to rent a locker for my bike or can it be free of charge and I only pay a security deposit? Can I simply lock my bike up and trust that it will be there once I return; maybe because there is a security camera and someone watching it for me? Its a real nice bike.

    Also, My bike commute to Lakeline station; if everyone stops riding bikes but me, is over 3.5 miles away, if I were to buy one of those cool electric bikes that go 20 km per hour, and assuming I could get a spot for my bike on the train; far from an elderly or handicapped person of course, can I bring this battery pack on board? Its practically a laptop. Its not gas, its electric. Santa Claras VTA clearly states “sealed dry or gel cell electric assisted bicycles” are allowed.

    Also, If my bike folds up and I am #9, what happens to me? Is there any preference given to smarter commuters? Again VTA does not count these as bikes.

    Also, What is a fair price to ask you to stay around for the next train; #8? Ed, couldn’t #8 still ride an express bus? Will there always be an express bus?

    No one can accuse CapMetro of being too proactive here. It seems there must be a problem to get anything to happen in this town, and once it gets done, its a bigger problem than before. Its like we live in the state capitol and there are politically minded people running around taking things over and changing them all the time.

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