TagCaltrain

San Francisco is an expensive place to get around

$8.15 if you want to exit the San Francisco airport via public transit.

In June I visited friends in San Francisco and attended the State of the Map US conference. I spent a lot of money on transit and bicycle rentals. This doesn’t exclude the cost of driving to Davis, California.

BART

Airport to 16th/Mission: $8.15
Union City to North Berkeley: $4.10
16th/Mission to Berkeley (roundtrip): $7.60
16th/Mission to airport: $8.15

I needed to travel from Stanford University (where my friend Stefano does research) to Berkeley (to visit Rock The Bike) and the cheapest and soonest way to get there was to take the Dumbarton Express bus across the lower San Francisco Bay to the Union City BART station. 

Dumbarton Express
Bus from Stanford to Union City BART: $2.10

Caltrain
22nd Street to Stanford (Mountain View): $7.00 (Google Maps says it would cost $21.99 to drive this trip)
Stanford (Mountain View) to 4th/King: $7.00

Total for 8 transit trips: $44.10

In Chicago, if I had taken all trips individually (no transfers), my cost would be about $31.75. To compare Caltrain to Metra, I calculated the cost of a trip from downtown Chicago to Geneva, which is $6.75 each way. This includes the $5.00 trip cost to get out of O’Hare airport, significantly less than BART’s $8.15.

I didn’t ride Muni trains (they’re kind of slow compared to bicycling) but I took a lot of photos of them arriving at Duboce Park. 

Bicycling

Bike rental in Davis, California for 3 hours: $10
Bike rental via Spinlister for 4 days: $72

This is the Surly Long Haul Trucker I rented via Spinlister, seen on the BART train in the roomy bike spot. For the most part, the bike can rest here without any securement. 

This is the charge I’m least concerned with, except that Spinlister charges me a 12.5% service fee). I also picked it up in Stanford because that’s where the bike owner lived; it was the best alternative of the available bikes for people my height as it was a bike I liked (Surly Long Haul Trucker) and it was $16 per day, the cheapest by $9 per day!

Part of the OpenStreetMap conference included a trip to the California Academy of Sciences on the Friday before the meetings started. The SCUBA diver on the left is cleaning the glass while the diver on the right is talking to the museum worker outside the pool. 

Not having a bicycle in a place I visit makes me feel naked. Having the bicycle reduced my potential fees on getting around. I had to move from my friend’s house to the OpenStreetMap conference (which would have required two transit trips or a taxi), between the conference and downtown for the World Naked Bike Ride, and between the conference and Sunday Streets in Dog Patch and Mission Bay. I also biked to Golden Gate Park to visit the California Academy of Sciences, pedaled over to see the Aether shop made with three shipping containers, joined SF Bike Party on Friday night, and biked around Berkeley to see Paul Freedman at Rock The Bike.

I left the OpenStreetMap conference during Sunday’s lunch to check out Sunday Streets. Even though I sold my Yuba Mundo for a WorkCycles Fr8, I love seeing families on cargo bikes.

Can we standardize rules about bikes on trains?

Every transit agency across the United States has different rules about bikes on trains.

I think every bus operator with front bike racks has the same rule: “all day, every day”. But taking your bike on the train is a different story.

In San Francisco, there’re three operators with three sets of rules:

MUNI, a city agency, doesn’t allow bikes on trains, ever. I almost learned about it the hard way. I was returning from downtown on Market Street to my temporary apartment in the Castro District and I took my bike into the MUNI subway. I entered the station without seeing a sign or a staff member that would indicate I couldn’t do this. While walking along the platform, I saw a rules board and noticed no bikes. The trains were not busy, but they’re also not very big. I can see where some people would say, “Oh, I’m new here and I didn’t know”.

But that’s not me. I went upstairs and rode the bike all the way home.

Update May 26, 2011: Streetsblog SF tells us that MUNI will now allow folding bikes on the light rail trains.

BART, a state-controlled transit agency, allows bikes on their trains most of the time. Just not at certain stations, at certain times, and in certain directions. You either memorize these restrictions or carry a brochure.

And BART trains run on broad gauge track making them wider than all other rail transit vehicles in the country. This makes for a lot of space – dedicated space!

Finally, there’s Caltrain, a commuter/regional rail system operated by a joint committee of three transit operators. They seem the least restrictive: every train has a bike car or two, capable of holding about 40, 48, or 96 bikes. “But by the end of 2011, every gallery train set will have two bike cars, allowing for 80 bicycles minimum.” (See last photo.)

In Chicago, the Metra (like Caltrain) and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA, like BART and MUNI) have their own rules that differ from each other and from above.

It’s quite simple to remember the rules of one transit agency, but to be subject to the rules of two or three makes bicycling with rail transit a bit more complicated. The size and design of train cars has a big influence on rule making, but so does politics – the Active Transportation Alliance, né Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, had to lobby the state and the transit agencies here in Chicago to open up their trains to bicycles, and to further liberalize the rules as the agencies became more comfortable.

National or regional planning efforts could ensure that the designs of future or upgraded transit systems follow guidelines that “standardize” the rules of bringing bikes on board. The first step in this direction could be a dialogue between BART and CTA about carrying bicycles onto escalators:

BART did its own study on the “safety issue” years ago and concluded that escalators and stairs were equally safe for cyclists to use in BART stations. (Via Cyclelicious)

The rule banning bicycles from escalators is expected to be lifted this year. The CTA, and other rail operators, could review BART’s study and come to the same conclusion.

Photo of a loaded Caltrain bike car by Richard Masoner.

Another case for integrating biking and transit

Integrating biking and transit can reduce a user’s transportation costs.

A friend just instant messaged me to describe his “bike instead of transit” commute,

“I spent $440 on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) this year and $300 on bike stuff. When I was just taking the CTA it was $1032 per year. I used to have the monthly pass deducted from my paycheck, $86 per month. Now I pay as a I go, and I go much less.”

In some places, and for other people’s situations, commuters could bike TO the train or bus and reduce their costs by eliminating a transfer. Transit also lengthens a bike rider’s possible trip distance when they combine the modes. In this sense, providing services or facilities for people riding bikes attracts new customers or maintains relationships with existing customers.

The Department of Transportation is now funding projects that improve bicycling (and walking) connections to bus and train stations. We should continue focusing on expanding and improving our bikeway networks by connecting them with our transit networks. By doing so, we make each system more robust and give people more options to choose the route that’s best for them.

Boarding northbound Caltrain at Palo Alto University Avenue station.

Some buses can hold three bikes (see Seattle and Silicon Valley). Highway 17 Express bus Santa Cruz bound at San Jose State University stop. Photos by Richard Masoner.

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