Monday, January 5, 2009

California beats Italy

On Caltrain this AM I saw a man come rambling into the bike car with his camera, snapping pictures of the bike configuration. The SFBC had been taking some photos to show full bike cars on trains with low passenger loads, but I didn't recognize the guy and the car was half empty. No, the capacity problem isn't gone, it was raining and I slept in and was taking a local.

Anyway, it was pretty obvious to me what was up. I walked up to him and said "you are from Europe?". He answered "Italy". Europe has us bested for transit, especially trains, but every Euro who sees Caltrain's setup loves it, I've seen 10 or so take pictures over the years. He said "in Italy this would be impossible" (I love how the Euros use the word impossible). I have actually taken a bike around Europe on trains and it isn't as nice. Most trains you had to box them and hope you don't get yelled at. Some had a "bike car" which was a big freight car with a high entrance door and no seats.

Maybe we need to get a Milano newspaper to do a story on Caltrain's bike car.


Yokota Fritz said...

Part of our problem is that Caltrain probably has the best bike program in the world already, and then we complain about it. OTOH, we need the bikes on board because the connecting transit is so poor. The only agency that does it better is the heavy commuter rail in Berlin, which has capacity for 48 bikes (with hanging hooks) on their trains. But nobody brings their bikes on board because connecting transit works so well.

Speaking of the complaining: I'm told that Caltrain's woes with the bike program have made it industry trade journals and discussion lists, and this has discouraged other commuter rail agencies from allowing bikes on board in the first place.

murphstahoe said...

Therein lies the rub. Caltrain experiences a surge in customers during a weakening economy and it is a "woe". Mervyn's and General Motors should have such woes.

Their woes are self inflicted because they don't react like a normal business, trying to optimize revenue and profit. Most businesses do not consider themselves "victims" of their own success.

Granted - Caltrain does not turn a profit so it's not like the cyclists are pouring money on top of the profit pool, Scanlon doesn't have stock options, etc... But Caltrain's bottom line is always ridership numbers, operating loss is not ignored but it's never the headline.

Bikes on board was pushed by a cyclist, but Caltrain was receptive because they needed to attract ridership in the days when it was not a prevalent commute option.

Because there is not an internal profit motive for optimizing revenue/profit (the analysis of subsidy is there for all to see in the SFBC documents) the only way improvements happen if the customer (rider) goes over Caltrain's head to the boss (JPB). If the ridership of other rail systems want bikes on board, they will do the same.