Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bikes on Metro-North, Story in Today's Courant, and Battling Transportation Advocates

As of last week (in the wake of the theft of my beloved folding bike), I began traveling on Metro-North with a full-sized road bike - not just full-sized, in fact, but oversized (because when you are 6'5" and a tall frame comes your way, you acquire that frame, even if, upon further reflection, you realize the frame is more suited to someone 6'7"). I had acquired a Metro-North bicycle permit, and although the permit says bikes can only go on trains during off-peak hours, I felt confident that the peak-off-peak distinction simply didn't exist on the Waterbruy branch line. Why did I feel this way?

Well, if you look up the train schedule at Metro-North's website, for every train from Waterbury to Bridgeport (including the 6:40 a.m., which I take), there is a big "N" in the column labeled "Peak Fares Apply?"

So I felt good, and on my first attempt, there was no problem - the conductor didn't ask for the bike permit, didn't really notice the bike at all. Just the regular "All tickets please!" But yesterday, I got a semi-rhetorical line of questioning:

CONDUCTOR: "You got a permit for that bike?"
ME: "Yes sir." [I start to reach for my wallet to get the permit.]
CONDUCTOR: You ever read that permit?
ME [realizing now where he's going, but determined to play dumb]: Sure, why?
CONDUCTOR [producing a weathered paper schedule from one of the many specialized leather pouches hung from his belt]: This is a peak train. All the trains in gray are peak. There's no bikes on peak trains.

Anyway, you get the idea. I was polite, pleaded ignorance, website, etc., and he was cool, saying that I could bring the bike on as long as I kept in out of the way and it wasn't keeping people from sitting down. So, on the one hand, Thank you, conductor, for bending the rules for me in exactly the sort of no-nonsense, reasonable way that rules ought to be bent, and on the other hand, Damn you, Metro-North, for having this dumb rule! (Also, damn yoo, Waterbury car burglar, but that goes without saying.)

Apparently, I'm not the only one bemoaning this silly policy, which is great for leisure cyclists wanting to go to the 5-Boro bike tour, but not so good for regular commuters wanting to reduce their car use. In today's Courant, we learn that there is a whole campaign to get Metro-North to change the rule, which counts among its proponents none other than the CCBA's #1 Legislative Bike Pimp, Tom Kehoe (state rep. from Glastonbury).

But here's the weird thing: Jim Cameron, the head of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, opposes greater bike access to trains, because he thinks it makes seats too scarce. He says on his blog, Talking Transportation, "Bikers have no more 'right' to bring bicycles on crowded rush-hour trains than I have to haul aboard a steamer trunk." His post is actually pretty vitriolic. He also says, basically, that it's dumb to even want to bring a bike on a NYC-bound train because you could just take the subway once you get there.

Now, I agree that there should be room on the trains for everyone who needs to ride them, but I need to take ol' Jim to task on a couple things:

  1. Metro-North has no regulations regarding the carriage of steamer trunks or other large, unwieldy parcels. The only item that gets this treatment and requires a paid permit is a bicycle. So if he wants to say that bikes should have the same rights as steamer trunks, I'll back him 100%.
  2. Maybe bringing a bike to New York City is unnecessary, but I would like to remind Jim that between New Haven and the Big Apple, there are a few other places, and some all of them don't have subway systems or reliable bus systems. (cough, Bridgeport, cough, cough)
  3. If people can get bikes on the trains without taking extra seats, what's the big deal? And also, what's up with being so obsessed with there being a seat for every paying passenger? I grew up in Brooklyn, and I certainly didn't clamor for a refund on my token if I had to stand during my whole subway ride. (And if you try to tell me that the rides on Metro-North are longer, I will tell you to try living in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and dating a girl in the Bronx.)

All that said, let me add one thing: Bike commuters and train commuters clearly need to be on the same page. Jim Cameron et al. should not be so rude just 'cause they personally can't imagine the utility of a bicycle. On the flip side, people bringing bikes on trains should makes sure to accommodate them somewhere other than on seats.
Also, did I mention how cool the specialized leather pouches are that Metro-North conductors carry? They have one made just for their hold punches, and that shit is awesome.


Karma said...

You said bike pimp! Thats my dream job. Well said on the steamer trunk comment, Maybe we should all just get giant steamer trunks to put our bikes in and then we won't have any problems. I look to find one, might be a bummer to fit it on my rack upon arrival, however.

El Presidente de China said...

Steamer trunks with wheels that can be towed like trailers. That would be the hotness.

Brendan said...

We need to get Rick Green to write a column about it like he did for beer and wine on Metronorth. He totally saved beer and wine from being banned.

He's a good friend of bicycles. He wrote a nice piece about the necessity of a bike lane over the Putnam Bridge.

Karma said...

With a name like Green he has to be good. Steamer trunk Xtracycles anyone?

chillwill said...

hey, i just got my own metro-north permit!

who wants to go to the rotten apple?

El Presidente de China said...

Forget that, let's go to Danbury. Woot!

Anonymous said...

I tried to bike into work this friday 02/24/2017.. I commute from Fleetwood to GCT. Going in even at rush hour the guy didn't give me a hard time as I was not obstructing the path of the passengers as such. Going home at 538 the conductor didn't let me in even when the train was half empty. I didn't feel like arguing with him. So Its up to the conductor and I have to agree even if you have a permit these guys give you a hard time. Its just the way it is. Sad that we have come to this point.