The Chainlink

Ive looked through a few of the topics on this matter and thought I'd give my 2c from a different viewpoint, that toolbag from the kingdom of jerk off, a Metra conductor. Have 15 years in and it was oh so nice for the first 9 not to have to deal with this but as we all know, that ended a few years back and the geniuses at Metra who came with the plan as usual half assed it and left us , the operating employee, holding the bag for it. While they are at home every weekend, they leave it to us to enforce the policy, rules and regs that go along with being able to bring bikes on board, a policy that  to this day many riders have zero clue about the proper way of doing. Of course the people who read this forum dont fall into this category at all, you are all respectful and abide by what the conductor says every time you ride Im sure. Bikes in general are a pain to have on the train, whether or not there is room for them. To this day, my estimate is that 60% of the people STILL get on without a way to secure their bike to the bottom rail like theyre supposed to, then want to fight with me about letting them ride anyway. Main reason we are such sticklers for this? If for some reason that bike is unsecured and something happens where the train moves suddenly, derails, goes through a crossover, etc and it breaks loose and hits little Tommy sitting with his Mom across the aisle and hurts him, management and Tommys Mom arent going to come after you the bike rider. Nope, theyre going to come after me, the conductor and first thing theyre going to ask / tell me is why didnt you make sure those bikes were tied down? Boom, Im out of a job when Tommys Mom sues and Im not putting my families future at risk because some doofus doesnt carry around a bungee or chain. Next, relinquishing your seat or being asked to leave the train when the train becomes too crowded IS a possibility and a risk you take when you bring your bike on board. Ive had so many arguments over this its not even funny. People seem to think once theyre on, thats it and they cant be asked to leave when we need the space. Sorry, but we can do that and Im not making a family of 5 stand up for 30 plus miles just so you can bring your bike on. Next up, reaching max capacity . Certain trains can take up to 15 bikes but we dont have to take that many. If the bikes that are on board are clogging the aisle making walking by them unsafe, Im going to cut off the bikes right there and no more will be allowed to board. So when you try to get on halfway down the line and I tell you we're full, its my decision and its final. I usually get the "cmon man you can take 1 more" stance and Im not going to compromise the safety of the other passengers no matter how much people beg and plead. Youve all seen how crowded those trains are especially on weekends, and when I have to move 4 people from their seats when you get on 1 stop out of Ogilve / Union so you can bring your bike on, its a pain, I dont like my job to be a pain, I like it to run smooth. Bikes in general cause the train not to run so smooth because of all the baggage that goes along with it. Just keep that in mind next time you think the conductor is being a jerk to some rider about their bike. NONE and I mean none of the conductors I know like having them on board m we are being forced to do it because some dopes at the top thought it would be a good idea and forced it on us without really creating a way to make it palatable for us and for you the rider. For that I dont fault you I fault them but they leave us to clean up the mess . Thanks for reading, Flame away.

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For a bit I lived in the South Suburbs and biked to a night shift job from downtown and never had a problem though the hours I went the trains were thinly occupied.

As I have never heard a single bad Metra bike story I honestly think there will be a shortage of flaming here. While we are at it what covers "properly attached?"  I used a cable lock but will a bungee cord do it? But there was something about not locking it?  (in case the bike needed to be moved in an emergency) 

Could you enlighten us if you would please. Thanks

I don't ride Metra often but the times I have looked, it was spelled out in no uncertain terms on their site and I had no trouble finding it.

Suggested search terms= "bike + Metra."

15. Bicycles must be secured to the lower rail of folding seats in the priority seating area with long bungee cords (approximately 36 inches recommended) or other devices supplied by the cyclist which adequately secure the bicycle.

Haddon said:

For a bit I lived in the South Suburbs and biked to a night shift job from downtown and never had a problem though the hours I went the trains were thinly occupied.

As I have never heard a single bad Metra bike story I honestly think there will be a shortage of flaming here. While we are at it what covers "properly attached?"  I used a cable lock but will a bungee cord do it? But there was something about not locking it?  (in case the bike needed to be moved in an emergency) 

Could you enlighten us if you would please. Thanks

Personally I've always found the conductors more than helpful when trying to board a train with my bike. No complaints there.

I don't use it as part of my daily bike-train commute, but I can understand some of the frustrations voiced on the Chainlink around blackout days and blackout times. It does diminish the reliability of using Metra as part of your commute. This may have to do with the inconsistent leadership on this topic.

Agreed:

Personally I've always found the conductors more than helpful when trying to board a train with my bike. No complaints there.

I also have limited experience taking bikes on Metra.  I do ride Metra regularly, though live and work close enough to my stations that I can just walk.  In my limited experience (mostly watching people with bikes trying to board), most of the cyclist doesn't understand the "not during rush hour" rule, or has nothing with which to properly secure the bike.

I'm not sure it's all that helpful for Metra that people can bring bikes on CTA trains, and that many/most/all CTA buses have racks up front.  That probably confuses people who think of the "L" and Metra as "the train," and don't realize they have different rules governing bikes.

I agree partially but my God, everything people need to know about that is right on the website, You'd think they would do a little research to find out the whens / wheres/ and hows before attempting to bring it on lest you get stuck 25 miles away from your house. 

Skip Montanaro 12mi said:

I also have limited experience taking bikes on Metra.  I do ride Metra regularly, though live and work close enough to my stations that I can just walk.  In my limited experience (mostly watching people with bikes trying to board), most of the cyclist doesn't understand the "not during rush hour" rule, or has nothing with which to properly secure the bike.

I'm not sure it's all that helpful for Metra that people can bring bikes on CTA trains, and that many/most/all CTA buses have racks up front.  That probably confuses people who think of the "L" and Metra as "the train," and don't realize they have different rules governing bikes.

Steve: thank you for weighing in from the conductor's perspective.  I'm sure your job is not an easy one.

Metra management has never seemed to be particularly good at communication with its passengers.  I have never once seen a sign about a bike blackout posted on a station platform, nor a customer service representative on a platform when something unusual is happening with the system.  It seems unreasonable to expect passengers to check the Metra web site every day to see if the system is operating the same way today as it was yesterday.  Even if it was the ticket seller who popped out of his box occasionally to caution cyclists waiting for a train, on a day bikes aren't allowed--that would at least give the rider five minutes to properly lock his or her bike before the train arrived, rather than being turned away by a conductor and having to wait another hour for the next run.  Beyond bikes, more than once I've found myself standing on the usual platform waiting for a train, only to watch it arrive on the opposite track, where I can't get to it, because of track work.  There has never been a customer service rep on affected station platforms, or a station master, directing passengers in unusual circumstances, when I've needed one.  By contrast, the CTA floods the system with written signs and on-platform reps when something unusual is going on, like line reroutes or big events, which is enormously helpful.

Part of the frustration from riders is that getting bikes on board Metra trains was a long difficult battle, and it seems that getting to work or an event via Metra often comes down to the capriciousness of some conductor.  I've got either a two mile walk or bike ride between my destination Metra station and a frequent job site, so I often take my bike along.  It seems difficult to imagine how taking my bike from a North Shore suburb outbound up to Lake County, near the Wisconsin border, would have any bearing on Taste of Chicago sixty miles to the south.  Yet the bike blackout is a total blanket prohibition, whether you're traveling toward the city or away from it.  There's no precision in the directive, just a big "NO!"  It just makes no sense.

There's also a sense of fairness here.  There are a number of days when bikes aren't allowed on the Metra system.  I've yet to hear of a day when other commuters were prevented driving cars to Metra stations.

Well said.

Thunder Snow said:

Steve: thank you for weighing in from the conductor's perspective.  I'm sure your job is not an easy one.

Metra management has never seemed to be particularly good at communication with its passengers.  I have never once seen a sign about a bike blackout posted on a station platform, nor a customer service representative on a platform when something unusual is happening with the system.  It seems unreasonable to expect passengers to check the Metra web site every day to see if the system is operating the same way today as it was yesterday.  Even if it was the ticket seller who popped out of his box occasionally to caution cyclists waiting for a train, on a day bikes aren't allowed--that would at least give the rider five minutes to properly lock his or her bike before the train arrived, rather than being turned away by a conductor and having to wait another hour for the next run.  Beyond bikes, more than once I've found myself standing on the usual platform waiting for a train, only to watch it arrive on the opposite track, where I can't get to it, because of track work.  There has never been a customer service rep on affected station platforms, or a station master, directing passengers in unusual circumstances, when I've needed one.  By contrast, the CTA floods the system with written signs and on-platform reps when something unusual is going on, like line reroutes or big events, which is enormously helpful.

Part of the frustration from riders is that getting bikes on board Metra trains was a long difficult battle, and it seems that getting to work or an event via Metra often comes down to the capriciousness of some conductor.  I've got either a two mile walk or bike ride between my destination Metra station and a frequent job site, so I often take my bike along.  It seems difficult to imagine how taking my bike from a North Shore suburb outbound up to Lake County, near the Wisconsin border, would have any bearing on Taste of Chicago sixty miles to the south.  Yet the bike blackout is a total blanket prohibition, whether you're traveling toward the city or away from it.  There's no precision in the directive, just a big "NO!"  It just makes no sense.

There's also a sense of fairness here.  There are a number of days when bikes aren't allowed on the Metra system.  I've yet to hear of a day when other commuters were prevented driving cars to Metra stations.

Were you working the UP-North on Sunday evening?

OK, here is this passenger's perspective. I was the girl with the blue bike who got on at Winthrop Harbor last Sunday evening, and I agree, that was a hot mess. But it was nothing at all like the disaster when I went outbound from Ogilvie on Saturday evening. I didn't anticipate that there would be a huge concert at Ravinia, and that everyone in the world gets on at Clybourn and Ravenswood these days---but I should have, and I'm sorry. On the other hand, it's not my job as a passenger to understand the nuances of Metra ridership. That's the conductor's job. If the bikes were going to be a problem further down the line on that particular train due to the Ravinia concert, then we should have been denied boarding at Ogilvie. I was fully prepared to disembark in order to accommodate all the lawn chairs and coolers, and indeed I was told to move to a different car when a woman in a power chair arrived at the first car I was on. But I was never told to leave the train, so I didn't. Maybe the conductors figured that getting all the bikes disentangled and off the train amidst all the lawn chairs and coolers that were already clogging the aisles and vestibules by Ravenswood was more trouble than it was worth.

 

Now, about Sunday. First, I assure you that some of us are just as irritated as you are by the passengers who don't know how to stow their bikes properly. When I got on at Winthrop Harbor, there were already four or five bikes in that car just laying there in a haphazard pile that threatened to overflow into the aisle, and my first thought was, "Well poopy, I guess I'm not going home tonight after all." I bungeed my bike to that tangled mess as best as I could, took a seat on the upper level where I could spend the entire ride watching it, and prepared myself for the possibility that I would be asked to leave at Zion. Nope, at Zion yet another passenger with a bike got on our car and added his bike to the pile, which at that point did overflow into the aisle, but I don't think the conductor made any comment about it. Now, I know it's not your job to help passengers secure their bikes, and if there are still people who don't understand that they need to bring a bungee cord with them (I for one still don't see how this is the case all these years after the pilot program, but alas, it is), then there's not a whole lot you can do about it. But if a couple of passengers get on board at a terminal station and think the correct way to secure their bikes is to lay them on their sides and U-lock the top tubes together to the seat rail, then they need to be set straight by the person who's job it is to conduct the passengers on board. Otherwise they are going to do it again, and the problem will continue.

 

Second, at Wilmette, from my perspective on the train, what I saw was a half-dozen or people with bikes on the platform and a conductor who got off and barked "No more bikes!" There was no further explanation or customer service skills that I could see or hear. Granted, I was on the train instead of on the platform, so I don't know whether or not the conductor then proceeded to to make it politely and explicitly clear to them that both ADA cars were already at capacity, but if I had been on the platform and seen what I'd seen from the train, you'd better believe that within an hour I'd be right here on the Chainlink forum griping about the rude Metra conductors who deny bikes on board for no reason. OK, maybe those passengers should have known better than to try to board the only train out of Kenosha on Sunday evening at Wilmette, given that everybody's favorite pastime these days is to organize weekend multimode trips to Milwaukee with their 12 best friends---but again, it's not the passengers' job to know that. It's their job to know the rules. It's the conductors' job to clearly communicate when their discretion supersedes those rules. What I saw was not example of clear communication. Not being told at Zion that those of us on our car needed to get together and somehow organize our bikes properly before the train went any farther was not clear communication. Not being told "Hey, there's a concert at Ravinia and we expect more people to board at the next several stops, so I'm afraid we can't let you on board this train" is not clear communication. Passive-aggressive rants on the Chainlink forum after the fact is not clear communication.

 

Third, I'll hazard a guess that part of the reason your job was so wonderful for 9 years was that the ridership simply much lower back then. I have a haunch that if the passenger numbers were still what they were in 2005 when the pilot program launched (I just Googled to confirm my memory and found this, which should give everyone a good chuckle), there would be far fewer problems.

So, those are my 12 cents.

That has usually been my experience, especially in the last few years, after conductors had time to learn the ropes of working with us on this issue.

My biggest frustration last year and this year has been the decrease in the number of available ADA cars on the Rock Island, which has been steadily shrinking, even as I see more available ADA cars when I ride other lines.  Thank you, Metra management, for making life tougher for passengers and conductors by taking away cars that we need to accommodate growing numbers of people with bikes, kids, and large suitcases in addition to disabled passengers who need that space.  This slows boarding, delaying trains, making everyone's life tougher, and often means that passengers with bikes who want to board more than halfway along the route may be out of luck because there's no available space. 

If only Metra could place ADA cars together in trainsets, so that as many ADA cars as possible could be available for use during off-peak runs when the number of open cars is limited....

Steve - Thanks for weighing in on this topic. It seems like management often makes choices that make your job tougher, making your interactions with passengers more challenging.

Haddon said:

Agreed:

Personally I've always found the conductors more than helpful when trying to board a train with my bike. No complaints there.

whats the problem again with a bike only train car? That would solve so many problems right?

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