20121107

On Trains

For those of you who know what Caltrain is, or those of you who take it, you can skip this part.  But since most of the world is not based in the bay area, California, Caltrain is one of our train commuting systems.  It runs up and down the Peninsula from Gilroy to San Francisco, and lots of people (more than ever, it seems) are commuting on it.  It's public transportation, and you see all sorts - cyclists, drunk Giants fans, businesspeople, etc. 

Caltrain has bike cars, which are probably the most terribly designed bicycle cars anyone could have conceived in the entire world.  The system is: label your bike, group bikes going to same destination together with bungie cords, and cry as your bike is getting the shit scratched out of it.  I watched in horror as a guy practically threw his beat up mountain bike against mine, then sort of grind it in place while my soul died a little.  I don't bring my carbon bike on Caltrain anymore. 

This.  Seriously guys...this.
 When I was living in the bay a few years back, I never had problems getting on or off the bike car.  Even during peak rider season, cars were never this full.  Things have changed since those days.



I was expecting with the weather getting cooler and the days getting shorter that the crazy amount of cyclists would decrease a bit as the fair-weather riders hibernated for the winter.  Boy am I wrong.  

Don't get me wrong - I love seeing this many people riding.  But this is a problem, and a big, big problem, because people are getting either kicked off the train, or not being let on at all.  

That's the risk being run right now - ride and take the train, which is awesome and convenient, but risk either missing your train and having to wait for the next one (if that one also isn't full) or...well, give up, I guess.


Then there are the labels.  Every bike has to gave a Caltrain issued label stating where it's going and where it's coming from, so they can be grouped together in some sort of seething mass.  Caltrain has been out of these labels for months.  A few people decide to make their own, but mostly it's a a guessing game of "well, it looks like maybe this bike is going to Palo Alto," followed by being yelled at for putting your bike in the wrong place. 

The best part about Caltrain if you do get on though is dealing with the other people.  The bike cars have a limited number of seats which always inevitably seem to be full of people who appear to have not ridden a bike in a number of decades. I've been told by these people that they can sit wherever they want, and therefore chose the bike car because it's less crowded.  No, really.  I politely asked a businessman to move so that I could sit and watch my bike.  He politely told me what I could go do with my bike. 

Thankfully, baseball season is over, because then you get to deal with Giants fans as well. Giants fans on Caltrain are the most vile, terrible group of human beings I have ever encountered.  Aside from getting drunk on the train and being completely rude in general, sitting on the floor of the bike car and refusing to move, they have no respect for anyone or their property.  I watched a man vomit all over someone's bike, with no apology.  I see these people mocking the cyclists and commuters because they ride a bike, which is apparently something no one does anymore, according to these idiots.  I've seen lights, computers, and entire bikes stolen by these lovely examples of human beings.   My friend tells me a story of a girl who went up to a bike, rang the bell, then proceeded to ask "like oh my gawwwwd who like rides a bike anymore?"

Caltrain has an open container law, for those of you wondering about the alcohol.  This is to prevent drunk driving. 

The conductors have some power, but not much.  I've never seen the environment unsafe, just completely obnoxious, so I suppose I should be grateful for that.  But something has to change, and I was disappointed that no local measures were added to the ballot this year to address these issues, despite lots of people complaining about them.

This needs to be fixed, and fast.  Caltrain just added four cars during the day, and still this is a huge problem.  BART, one of our other train systems serving SF and the East Bay, primarily, just ordered a bunch of new cars...and none of them are bike cars.  Plus, bikes aren't allowed on BART during peak commuter hours.  You read that right.  

We don't have enough room for bikes, a terrible system, rude people (yeah yeah, it's public transit, that will never go away, I know.  I'm ranting here) and the need for something better.  I honestly wonder if there's anywhere that does have this down - Portland, perhaps? 

I love hate Caltrain, and I always will.  I will continue to take it, and try to help improve it.  But that doesn't mean I won't complain about it. 

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