BART officials, transit riders, and bicycle advocates have given a provisional thumbs up to a pilot program that ran on Fridays this August, allowing cyclists and their bikes to board trains during rush hour. Bikes are not usually allowed on Transbay trains during peak commute periods, which cover weekday mornings from roughly 6:30 to 9 am and during the afternoons from about 4:30 to 7 pm.
According to BART Communications Department Manager Alicia Trost, bicycles are restricted from trains during rush hour due to concerns about “passenger comfort, safety and ease of getting on and off.” But the restrictions were lifted on Fridays last month. BART wanted to see if allowing bicycles on trains during commute periods was feasible. Trost said lifting the bike blackout hours could “extend the reach of BART for passengers with bikes and potentially grow ridership.”
“It looks promising,” said Steve Beroldo, BART’s bike program manager, of the bike pilot program. “There haven’t been any disasters.”
The pilot will not continue into September, but its results may affect future bike policy for the agency.
BART planned the Commute Period Bike Pilot in conjunction with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC). Renee Rivera, executive director at the EBBC, has been advocating for BART to lift the bike blackout hours entirely. According to Rivera, cities like New York allow cyclists to board subway trains with their bikes at any time, as long as there’s room in the cars.
Rivera said the trial period went “very smoothly.” Bicycles did not cause train delays during the first four Fridays in August. According to Rivera, lifting the blackout had a “positive impact for people living in the East Bay more than anywhere,” given the number of BART riders who commute to San Francisco each weekday. According to June 2012 ridership statistics, BART riders make nearly 182,000 Transbay trips every weekday. BART spokesman Jim Allison called these East Bay riders commuting to the city BART’s “bread and butter.”
Riders making trips within the East Bay also stand to benefit from the pilot program, Rivera said. She offered the example of a bicyclist who commutes on BART from Orinda to Emeryville, with short bike trips on both ends. Typically, this rider would face four hours of blackouts during commute times.
Kristie Osgood, 44, rides her bike to BART every morning, and was sitting on the train floor holding her bicycle last Friday. Osgood recently moved to the East Bay, and commutes to San Francisco daily. She said that since her move, she has been waking up at 4 am in order to board BART before the bike blackouts started. Asked about the August Fridays, Osgood said, “I love them.”
Other bicyclists on BART last Friday agreed. Adam Theisen, 22, is a bike messenger. He said he appreciated being able to take his bike on BART in the morning. But Theisen was critical of BART’s usual bike policies. “I don’t understand why BART hasn’t figured out what Caltrain has,” he said, referring to the designated bike cars on the trains that run between San Francisco and the South Bay.
Other riders said they would like to see a train car reserved for bikes, and expressed concerns about bikes causing additional crowding during the busy commute period. Vi Jones, 50, said she has trouble getting on and off trains when three or four bikes are clustered around the doors. “It crowds out other people,” she said. Jones said she supported a “an extra car or two” specifically for bicycles, to avoid crowding.
Bob Davis, 65, was riding a packed BART train to San Francisco Friday morning and was critical of the pilot program, calling it poorly planned. “To assume that any car will always have the room doesn’t seem like good planning,” Davis said. Davis pointed out bicycles that were blocking the doorway as the train pulled into the West Oakland station.
BART has been conducting an online survey about the pilot, and received more than 4,000 responses in the first two weeks of the program, according to Allison, the BART spokesman. Rivera estimated that 2 out of 3 of these surveys were either positive or said that the bikes made no difference. BART officials have been monitoring how bikes and riders have coexisted on trains in August, and will conduct a more scientific survey in September.
BART officials will next write a formal report on the pilot period, which Allison said the transit agency will bring to its Board of Directors in November. Any changes in policy would need to be approved by the board.
In the meantime, according to Bike Program Manager Steve Beroldo, BART officials are also reviewing how to accommodate “various wheeled objects,” including strollers and wheelchairs. Since 2008, the transit agency has removed seats near doors from more than 300 cars to create more open space in its trains.