Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Adopts Wildly Anti-Bicycle Policy

Starting on June 1, the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner service connecting San Luis Obispo to San Diego by way of Los Angeles is adopting a new policy that will make life harder for anyone planning on biking to or from the train. The policy is so onerous for bicycle commuters, one has to assume it’s intentional.

Click on the image to see their current rider brochure for the Surfliner. The new bicycle policy is after the timetable at the bottom of page 2.

Amtrak will require reservations and a $5 fee to “accommodate” bicycles on the Pacific Surfliner. A cyclist will either have to call Amtrak or go to the ticketing window to make a bike reservation and pay the fee; there isn’t any way to do this online because Amtrak apparently is operating in 1992. This change will apply to everyone: occasional riders, Amtrak monthly pass holders and Rail2Rail/Metrolink monthly pass holders.

“The Surfliner serves the most popular bicycle tourism route in the country, so it’s frustrating to see Amtrak California antagonizing what would otherwise be one of its most loyal customer bases,” writes Eric Bruins, the Program and Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.  ”

For any Surfliner rider who uses a bicycle to connect to the train this new policy will add $1250 a year in costs (one-way travel on Amtrak, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year), in addition to the time and hassle of making reservations for every Amtrak trip. The Streetsblog reader who pointed this out is already making commuter accomodations that don’t include riding Amtrak services.

“Instead of dealing with its capacity issues, Amtrak is suppressing demand with a reservation scheme that makes commuting prohibitively expensive and leisure travel burdensome,” Bruins continues.  “I hope Amtrak reverses this poor business decision and instead seeks to grow ridership by promoting bike-train travel as a convenient and cost-effective way to enjoy California’s coastal destinations.”

Bruins’ anger was reflected by bike advocates at the other end of the Surfliner Tracks.

“As a society, our priority should be to expand capacity on our most efficient and robust modes of travel,” writes Sam Ollinger, a Board Member for California Bicycle Coalition and executive director of Bike S.D.

“With all the investment poured into Amtrak, it is foolish to implement policies that is not only destined to backfire but also destined to be ineffective. Expanding the carrying capacity for bicycles on trains is such a simple step to take. Amtrak should not be penalizing riders for doing something that benefits our collective pocketbooks – both from a societal perspective and from an individual’s perspective.”

An easy way for social media users to let Amtrak know their displeasure would be to tweet @PACSurfliners. If one would like to notify a local elected official, your Congressman or Senator would be the best one to contact. However, Streetsblog Contributor and Southern California Transit Advocates Board Member Dana Gabbard offers a more practical way to lodge your displeasure.

While working a booth for SO.CA.TA at Fullerton Railroad Days this weekend my railbuff contacts informed me that Amtrak Board member Yvonne Brathwaite Burke will appear at the National Train Day event next Saturday at Union Station. My guess is for the opening ceremony at 11 am. A turnout by bicyclists to protest the policy could have an effect.”


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