Board to review bikes and standing room with electric trains – what do you think?

At tomorrow’s board meeting (Thursday, June 4), the Caltrain board will review staff recommendations about the amount of space for bikes, standing room, and bathrooms on the train.   The key recommendations are: 1) zero bathrooms on the train (see blog post) 2) a ratio of 9:1 seats to bikes, which would keep the ratio the same as today.
This post looks at several different scenarios for how to support the growing number of people who want to use bikes with Caltrain, since a bike is a powerful tool to travel the first and last mile to and from the train.
There are two important factors with respect to decisions about bike space – the willingness to use offboard facilities, and riders’ tolerance for standing.
Willingness to use offboard bike facilities
To date, most people who use bikes with Caltrain bring their bikes onboard the train. Caltrain is a world leader in enabling people to bring a bike onboard the train. Today, only a small percentage of Caltrain bike users take advantage of bike lockers and bike share. However, the facilities have been inconvenient (e.g. key lockers that you need to rent for six months at a time) and relatively scarce.
Based on new analysis of data from Caltrain‘s most recent survey, a full 72% of people who use bikes with Caltrain said that at least one alternative would work for them, including shuttles.  Excluding shuttles, 64% said that they could use one of the bike alternatives, e.g. better storage or bikeshare.  A smaller number (56%) said they could use one of the storage alternatives in the survey (bike lockers, or a staffed facility).
Interestingly, out of the 39% of people who said that convenient bike share kiosks would be useful to them, 16% said that their last mile station was in San Francisco or San Jose, where the bike share system is scheduled for massive expansion, and 13% are in Palo Alto, Mountain View, or Redwood City, where the pilot is being allowed to continue to test the last mile “use case.”
Of course, if someone responds to a survey saying they might use something in theory, there’s no guarantee they would use it in practice, but this seems like the upper bound of people who would consider alternatives to bikes on board.
Update. The good news is that with the Caltrain board recommendation, or any of the other community group recommendations, the share of people who would need to use offboard facilities is smaller than the number of people who said they would in theory.   However, all scenarios assume a five to tenfold increase in the share of people using offboard facilities, which is a big change and a level of risk.
Do you ever bring your bike onboard? Use bike and at least one alternative Use bike and at least one storage alternative Use bike and at least one bike alternative
1535 1101 854 984
72% 56% 64%
Standing room
Another important factor relating to bikes onboard is passengers willingness to stand on the train.  One bicycle takes the amount of space of a seat on the train. The good news is this does not displace a passenger, since when there are fewer seats, passengers can stand, and standees take up less room than seated passengers.
Until Caltrain put some additional cars into service in recent weeks, the average share of standing passengers at peak hour was about 25%.  On the most crowded trains, over 50% of passengers have been standing.
The analysis uses new information from Caltrain, published last Thursday about the expected peak hour capacity with electric train service (page 29 in this presentation)
With its proposal for electric service, Caltrain is proposing to keep 9:1 ratio of bikes to seats. Given the design of the electric cars and ridership growth, Caltrain expects the ratio of standees to increase to 37% on average.
The number of passengers using bikes with Caltrain has been growing even more rapidly than ridership overall. If bike use increases to 20%, the Caltrain staff recommendation would require 67% use of offboard facilities.  But according to a recent survey, 64% of passengers said that they would use an alternative, in theory.
The most assertive proponents of bikes onboard are asking to accommodate an increase to 20% bikes onboard. This scenario would assume over 70% standing passengers when Caltrain reaches full capacity with ridership growth.
More moderate assumptions of 8:1 or 6:1 ratio of bikes to seats would result in relatively fewer standees, and would include heavier use, and heavier investment in offboard facilities.
Update: the bike offboard percent has been updated, incorporating updated analysis.
Bicycle support scenarios
Bike to seat ratio Standee percent Bikes offboard percent
9 37 13
8 63 12
6 67 10
5 71 8
Caltrain is already assuming heavier use of standing room than previous expectations that 80% of rush hour passengers would be able to sit.  How much standing room is acceptable on a system with an average travel time of 40 minutes?   Given survey responses about willingness to use offboard facilities, how much should Caltrain bet on an increase in offboard bike use?
What do you think about the tradeoffs between bikes on board, standing room, and reasonable expectations for offboard bike use?
The model analyzing the impact of various bike on board electric car decisions on standing room and offboard bike use is in a Google Spreadsheet here.   Feel free to check the math and ask questions about the assumptions.
Another consideration is the cost of providing offboard solutions.   Caltrain staff have talked about substantial increases in offboard bike facilities to help accommodate more bike users without bringing bikes onboard. How much would be needed to meet the demand?
More analysis and discussion to come…