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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You either like your job or you don't. If you find yourself continually annoyed by your management, your customers or any type of change, then you might need to seek some other occupation.

The majority of conductors I've dealt with seem really happy with the job. 

I bike and commute on the UP North Line from RP to Lake Bluff every day, unless there are black out days which infuriate me. I have never once had any problems with the conductors on that train or being permitted to bring my bike on board. They are friendly and recognize me. They know many of the riders and when first timers come on they will often ask where they are getting off so bikes can be stacked accordingly or so the new rider is aware which bikes are getting off where. I find this to be good "customer service." Regular cyclists will often help newbies if they see they need help or do not have a way to tie down their bike. On another note: I do not understand some of the reasons behind NO bikes on out bound trains at 6-7am because of a parade or the taste (nobody is going that way to attend these events) but I guess it is just easier for the people making decisions to just say no and be done with it. Thanks to the conductor for sharing. Maybe one day Metra will get on board, stop giving ousted execs huge payouts and buy train cars specifically for bikes. They exist and have been very successful. Plus I'd rather sit in a train car with fellow cyclists. Who wouldn't?

I wasn't aware that my 'Metracycle' trips to kenosha/Milwaukee had become popular. I haven't done one in a few years, but, I've been telling people about the concept longer than that. I won't go into detail due to fear of losing my spot on the train.

Jennifer on the lake said:

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.

The real issue is not whether the conductors like the bikes on the trains or not. To me, the real issue is, do we as a society want to empower, promote the use of sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy modes of transportation, or not? If we as a society want to do that, then we may have to put up with some inconvience, expense, etc. to make that happen.

I've had mixed experiences with conductors when bringing my bike on Metra. I think the approach expressed by Steve is probably why I do it rarely. We all confront this kind of issue in different arenas. Rules may allow something, but if the people in charge don't like it, they can find ways to make it feel undesirable or unpleasant. Blackout dates (including secret ones) and the possibility of being tossed off the train in the middle of an unfamiliar neighborhood, maybe late, mamke it an unreliable mode of transportation.

 

My view is that allowing bikes on trains is a VERY GOOD THING for me, society, the environment, the world! It's just a plain old good idea. If that requires some inconvenience for conductors or passengers, it's not really that big of a deal. Find a way to accomodate the bikes, more bikes, not fewer. Because it is a good idea!

 

I'm from LA, as car centered a place as you can get. But they allow all bikes, on all trains, at all times! (This is more the CTA like system, bvut the issues are the same). It can be a bit of a mess, even though the cars seem to have been designed to allow bikes to get on and off and stow easily. They don't even have to be secured (not sure that's a good thing...). It seems to be working really well. There are inconveniences, but people seem open to accomdating something  they see as a good idea!

 

+1

Jim Shaw said:

... the real issue is, do we as a society want to empower, promote the use of sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy modes of transportation, or not?

thanks to whoever included a link to this in the weekly chainlink email.

what i like is the ideas about how things could be better. i lead rides that take advantage of the metra, and i'm planning from now on to (1) check to see if it's a blackout date and (2) include a link in the description to metra's Bikes on Trains page.

what if chainlink had a Bikes on Trains page?

i applaud the metra management for deciding to allow bikes on trains. even though it hasn't always been smooth sailing since. i wonder if they would be open to recommendations from a committee that included representatives from a range of stakeholders. there's conductors, commuters, recreational riders, and i guess passengers. anybody else?

Thanks Bob!  Great idea.  Yes, yes, yes! 
robert hsiung said:

thanks to whoever included a link to this in the weekly chainlink email.

what i like is the ideas about how things could be better. i lead rides that take advantage of the metra, and i'm planning from now on to (1) check to see if it's a blackout date and (2) include a link in the description to metra's Bikes on Trains page.

what if chainlink had a Bikes on Trains page?

i applaud the metra management for deciding to allow bikes on trains. even though it hasn't always been smooth sailing since. i wonder if they would be open to recommendations from a committee that included representatives from a range of stakeholders. there's conductors, commuters, recreational riders, and i guess passengers. anybody else?

Slightly off topic, but now you can use Divvy in conjunction with your back up plan! :-)

tex said:

I live in the faaaar north suburbs(Antioch....go ahead and find it on a map)I take the train to Chicago only for recreation. If I can take my bike with me it is preffered.It took me a few rejections to learn to check for "no bike days" and have a back up plan for when the train is full. It is nice to hear this side of the story. I reccomend any other recreation commuters like me. Have a back up plan. Usually mine is to lock up at the suburb station and deal with a hoof/bus/or cab route when I get off the train. I do wish there was a way to guarantee my bike on the train. Even if I had to pay more.

Thanks for the pointer.  Their bike page: http://www.caltrain.com/riderinfo/Bicycles.html

First sentence: "Caltrain has the most extensive bicycle access program among passenger railroads in the nation."

Hmmm...  They might, indeed, have some ideas Metra could adopt.


Cameron 7.5 mi said:

Caltrain, which is very bike friendly and uses the same equipment as Metra would probably be the best example to follow.

I admit you're right you don't HAVE to tell people that things are going to get crowded down the line, but as you admit, Ravinia is different.

This is plainly management's job. They know that the UP-N gets crowded for Ravinia. In fact, they sell passes to go up and back and run special trains. Since they know that, why don't they simply black out the UP during Ravinia? Have it prominently printed on the UP-N schedule brochures where they explain when bikes are allowed on trains. That way, people can plan around it and take MD-N instead?

In other circumstances, I've ridden with my bike most of the way inbound on the BNSF. Those trains get plenty crowded by about Brookfield, but never so I've been asked to take my bike off. I really doubt that unforeseeable spikes in passenger traffic happen all that often. And if they're foreseeable, they should really be management's problem. Not the conductors', not the passengers'.

Steve Taylor said:

@ Jennifer

                  Nice rant Ill try and address your points best I can though I do not work for the UP so I cant tell you what goes on on that line. You're wrong in stating that its my job to tell you that the train will probably get crowded down the line and you  probably will have to leave the train because of it. Thats the inherent risk everytime you board a train especially during the summer with all the events , etc going on. If its a common occurance on that Ravinia train, sure I guess they could mention it to people with bikes but by no means are we required to. 

I have only had very good experiences with bikes on Metra.  Conductors have always been courteous, professional, and direct.  I am prepared to get off and ride.  My last trip, I left my bike home and rode DIVVY- a great experience.  I would like to see a rail car dedicated to bikes once in the morning and once in the afternoon so that nobody would have to negotiate.  Metra should put a workable solution in place.

The REAL real issue is that our public transportation system is a series of warring fiefdoms, each of whom is overlorded by a political appointee, many of whom also have agendas which each other that have nothing whatsoever to do with moving people efficiently, expediently, or pleasantly.  Of these, Metra seems to be the most egregious fail.  For further evidence, look no farther than the front page of any local paper this week.

It is appalling, almost despicable, and sad, that the system is rigged in this way.  The whole Metra bikes thing was dictated by Quinn, who forced Metra to finally allow bicycles, but didn't dictate any procedures.  The political hacks that run Metra then did the bare minimum to implement the pilot program to get Quinn off their backs and we're left with what we're seeing here;  a system that has pitted passenger against passenger, passengers against conductors, conductors against passengers and management.  It doesn't have to be this way.

I would love for the Chainlink community to put together a plan and submit it to Quinn (while he's still in office).  Metra would have us believe it takes years and millions of dollars they don't have (because they're paying it to outside legal council and sealed document severance packages) because the wheel needs to be reinvented for them to use it.  There are several current examples of working models that would not be exorbitantly expensive for Metra to implement, i.e. CalTrans, that feature:

  • 1 separate car for bikes (no more wondering which car to go to or bikes all over the platforms mixing with passengers).  Available in/out at all times, but still subject to availability.
  • Separate racks.  Portland Max uses hooks.  You can get a lot of bikes on a train using hooks that eliminate the "piles" of bikes banging against each other, ruining the paint jobs of those who dare to take their "good bike" on board, as well as the "how far are you going" question.
  • A sign (Metra has plenty of accommodating sign contractors) that clearly states the general runaround of "use of this car absolves Metra of any liability for damages to persons or property."
  • Bikes on one side of the car, seats on the other, a la CalTrans, perhaps by implementing the otherwise-maligned aisle-facing bench seat of the new CTA cars.
  • This is admittedly a stretch, but shouldn't be too hard... have some kind of sensor that indicates how many rack spots are occupied, and relay that to a sign on the outside of the train.  Ultimately useful would be a realtime representation of this on the website, twitter, google maps, etc.

You're still going to have issues with invariability of passenger load but that is truly outside the scope of management.  I used to live in Berkely CA and went to school in SF.  BART had the same "no bikes during commute hours" policy then and the only way across the bay was a CalTrans bike shuttle that left out of Oakland, which I think I remember accommodated 12 bikes?  Whatever the number, it was never enough but people in the bay area dutifully respect the queue so you knew that if you were the 6th person there with a bike, you were going across.  Similarly, if you showed up and there were already 15 people there, you immediately made other plans.  Somehow, I don't see that working in Chicago, but regional cultural differences shouldn't unilaterally squash the idea that bikes should now be part of a reliable, sustainable,  public transportation system, not an afterthought barely fleshed out, relegating it to "maybe for recreation only" status.

In the meantime... Metra, would it really have killed you to install a few simple eyelets above the bench seats so that one could actually secure their bike without aimlessly fishing for something dirty beneath the seat to which to barely anchor a cord?  And while we're at it, how about providing a stationary, tethered cord to facilitate this rather than placing a policy on a website that few passengers observe?  I know, right?  Bungee cords are like, $1 a piece.  The industrial ones are like... $1.50.  We've got a $740K severance package to deal with here!

It's your policy, the onus of execution should not fall on the citizenry, your customers.

Jim Shaw said:

The real issue is not whether the conductors like the bikes on the trains or not. To me, the real issue is, do we as a society want to empower, promote the use of sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy modes of transportation, or not? If we as a society want to do that, then we may have to put up with some inconvience, expense, etc. to make that happen.

I've had mixed experiences with conductors when bringing my bike on Metra. I think the approach expressed by Steve is probably why I do it rarely. We all confront this kind of issue in different arenas. Rules may allow something, but if the people in charge don't like it, they can find ways to make it feel undesirable or unpleasant. Blackout dates (including secret ones) and the possibility of being tossed off the train in the middle of an unfamiliar neighborhood, maybe late, mamke it an unreliable mode of transportation.

 

My view is that allowing bikes on trains is a VERY GOOD THING for me, society, the environment, the world! It's just a plain old good idea. If that requires some inconvenience for conductors or passengers, it's not really that big of a deal. Find a way to accomodate the bikes, more bikes, not fewer. Because it is a good idea!

 

I'm from LA, as car centered a place as you can get. But they allow all bikes, on all trains, at all times! (This is more the CTA like system, bvut the issues are the same). It can be a bit of a mess, even though the cars seem to have been designed to allow bikes to get on and off and stow easily. They don't even have to be secured (not sure that's a good thing...). It seems to be working really well. There are inconveniences, but people seem open to accomdating something  they see as a good idea!

 

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