Metro Moving Slowly to Make Space for Bikes on Trains, But What About Bikes for Trains?

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During my hiatus, the issue of how Metro deals with cyclists and their bikes on Metro trains rose again.  You may remember way back during Bike to Work Week, Metro staff announced that they were working to reverse their rush hour ban on cyclists bringing their bikes onto certain trains at rush hour.  While Metro hasn’t backed off that commitment, they also haven’t exactly been rushing to implement bike areas on trains, proper signage in stations, and then finally reversing this long-standing policy.

Writing for The Source, Metro public relations specialist Dave Sotero, who happens to ride a folding bike to a bus to a Metrolink train to get to work, tries to explain why Metro is still "working on it."

Metro Operations is now actively seeking bicycle community input
directly through the newly created Metro Bicycle Roundtable series, a
forum for working closely with community stakeholders on bicycle-related
issues. Two Operations subcommittee meetings have been held to
specifically address how cyclists interact with the Metro Bus and Rail
system.

Ok, fair enough.  Metro staff tried to tackle this issue last year and received a drubbing from a bicycle community concerned with restrictions on the number of bicycles that could be on each rail car.  Sotero notes that issue hasn’t been resolved, but that we can expect an update for the Metro Board Operations Committee for their September meeting.

Another issue that may have slowed down the implementation of the rush hour ban reversal is that the staff at Metro don’t always work in concert.  The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition noticed a proposal going to the aforementioned Operations Committee in July that, amongst other things, re-affirmed the rush hour ban on certain trains and set up a civilian court to deal with violators.  The bicycling-related part of the proposal was removed, but it goes to show you that just because the agency holds a press conference doesn’t mean everyone gets the memo.

Streetsblog will post the report to the Operations Committee as soon as Metro places it online.

The other issue relating to bicycles on trains that’s been in the news is the issue of folding bikes.  Metro allows folding bikes to be brought in to all of their trains and buses provided that they’re, you know, actually folded at the time.

Screen_shot_2010_08_28_at_8.30.12_PM.pngMetro’s Tony Jusay stops for a chat during a chance meeting when Streetsblog and the Eastside Bike Club were joining forces for the Gold Line Eastside Safety Ride last fall.

Back in July, the non-profit CALSTART and Metro partnered to survey transit riders to find out how they could encourage more transit riders to take folding bicycles on to trains.  For years, it has been rumored that Metro was working to create a program to provide discount vouchers to help ease the cost of buying a folding bicycle.  For an equally long amount of time, CALSTART has been examining the "last mile problem" that keeps many people from taking transit, i.e. that people aren’t willing to take the bus or train because they feel stranded when they arrive at the transit destination that isn’t quite at their final destination.

The goal of the program is for people who are transit averse because of the last mile program to start using a bicycle to connect to transit or to get people who drive to their transit connections to switch to the bicycle.  Similar programs have been tried in Europe, including England and Denmark, with mixed results.

Some cyclists wonder if this is indeed the best way for Metro to be spending its resources. A supportive quote from Roadblock about the project illustrates the problem:

I’m 6’8" so folding bikes are not an option for me, but I do support that the fact that metro
is being proactive about taking bikes on the train. The fact is that
the bicycle is the perfect compliment for a train service that kind of
sort of gets you where you want to go. Just hop on the train and bike the rest of the way.

Or put another way, this is a great idea, but it doesn’t work for everyone, including tall people.  Is finding ways to encourage folding bikes a solution in search of a problem, or is it smart policy?

Los Angeles Council District Four Candidate Stephen Box laments that by focusing its resources on promoting folding bikes, Metro is ignoring the potential customer base of current cyclists who don’t use Metro because too often the system doesn’t work for moving both cyclists and their bikes.  Box sent me a laundry list of concerns with the program, all of which can be read here.

The survey demonstrates the huge disconnect between the Metro‘s perception of reality and…reality! Who will be buying Folding Bikes? What are the bus lines that have the highest number of bike commuters? The Metro‘s
survey  is targeting a middle class rail market. (plus the Orange Line)
How about the overcrowded #4 which is so packed that cyclists simply
give up? How about the #150 or the #761 or some of the other critical
and crowded bus routes? Has the Metro determined how many cyclists can’t get on these crowded buses?

The five stations where Metro and CALSTART staff administered the survey were four rail stations and one Orange Line Station.  To be fair, most models for innovative programs concerning folding bikes and transit do take place on rail stations because rail, unlike local bus service, usually has large gaps between stops.

The results of the survey will be incorporated in to a more detailed implementation plan which will also be released sometime next month.  Streetsblog will have full coverage  when the results are released.

While the survey is closed, you can still read it here.

  • David Galvan

    Interesting post. I have a couple of comments:

    1.) The folding bike subsidy: I think it’s going to be tough to encourage bicycle USE with the folding-bike subsidy. You may encourage bicycle PURCHASING with the subsidy, but it will be nearly impossible to determine how many people are actually using their new discounted bikes in combination with transit. Ex: “Hey, my niece needs a new bike! She lives in San Diego, but here in L.A. I get a discount on a new folding bike! So I’ll just buy it here and send it to her.” Investing money into a bike-share / bike-rental program like what they’ve done in Paris and parts of Washington D.C. might be a better use of the money. That way you expose transit users to the benefits of bike usage without them having to take the plunge of purchasing a bike. This would only work in certain parts of the city, of course, but Metro probably already has data on which rail/bus lines have stops where such a program would be most useful, and it would directly address the “last mile” problem without the added issues that come with when/how someone can bring a bike onto a bus/train.

    2.) folding bikes in general: That said, I’m all for people exploring the use of folding bikes on transit. (I use it and it’s about as close to an optimized solution as you can get using transit, though it’s still not perfect.)

    I own two folding bikes: one cost $130 to buy, the other $1200.

    The cheaper one is a full-size mountain bike that folds in half. (it would easily support a tall person, by the way) It is a fairly bulky package when folded, and is better suited for throwing in the trunk of a car than for carrying onto a bus, but it works ok. I have taken it onboard the Rapid 761 several times when the external bike rack was full, saving myself ~20 minutes of waiting for the next bus. The problem with buying a cheap bike, though, is that you will eventually pay a higher cost in more frequent part replacements. After 6 months of near-daily use, I had probably spend an additional $200-$300 on new parts and repairs, since the cheap bike was made with cheap parts. That said, if I were to buy another bike of this type (folding full-size), I’d probably get the Dahon Jack. It’s around $400 – $500, I think, but it’s well-made.

    The pricier folding bike is a Bike Friday Tikit. Google it and marvel at the it’s super-fast (~5-10 seconds) fold: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQscBxx7wLE . Check out how you can use it to go shopping at the grocery store: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSSgkcWqR6I .

    This bike is much better suited to transit, thanks to its faster, smaller fold, and lighter weight. It is made of durable material and comes with great customer service from the company that makes it. . . . But. . . it’s $1200. Not exactly something that is going to become ubiquitous among the masses.

  • joe

    I used to commute to Beverly Hills from Lake Balboa. I have used several modes of transportation to get there.

    The 761 during rush hour can often be hard to get a bike onto the first bus you see. only 2 bikes per bus. This can delay 30 mins at times.

    The commuter express (ladot) 573 often has room on the racks, but the bus racks are so high on most buses I was often glad that I’m 6 foot 3. If I was any shorter I wouldn’t have been able to take my bike.

    The orangline is packed every morning and night. I would ride by my stop (balboa and victory) I would look to see if there are other bikes waiting. If they are there is a good chance I can make it to NoHo by bike faster then waiting for a spot on a bus rack. So usually I just rode the orangeline.

    the redline to hollywood was always nice. I would just always pick the back train cause there is more room.

    In the end, I bought a scooter rode that 3 days a week and rode my bike over the hill straight 2 days a week.

    A drive in a car that was at best an hour, turned into 45mins.

    and riding up over Supulveda to Wilshire and LaCienega was 10 mins shorter then taking mass transit.

    but hey, I loved the ride.

  • Erik G.

    Removing seats from the Light Rail cars (Gold, Green and Blue Lines)for a bicycle/stroller/luggage/standee area, as has been done on the Subway cars (Red & Purple Lines) sure would help.

  • Luke

    I use my folding on the buses and trains. The best part is my bike is chainless and relatively inexpensive. Folds in half and tucks away neatly as I read my newspaper.

    Got it on sale $550. Abio Bikes http://www.abiobikes.com. Small company but great service. Not too crazy about their purple color though so I went with the oter one.

  • Matt

    Readers, please post more recommendations on folding bikes. Thanks, David and Luke.