Kat Busch of Redwood City lifts her bike up onto a bike car at the San Francisco Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Caltrain is planning to expand the number of seats on bike cars. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Caltrain adds seats on electrified train cars to curb bike-theft fears

Bicycle advocates have called for adding additional bike cars

Caltrain is adding more watchful eyes to prevent bicycle thefts on its trains.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which owns and operates Caltrain, voted Thursday to add four more seats per bicycle car to cars in their newly electrified fleet, which is due in 2022.

That’s a total of seven seats near bikes, increasing the number of people whose presence can help prevent theft, according to Caltrain staff.

Theft is a growing fear for cyclists who ride Caltrain, and a number of them told the board on Thursday of the incredible lengths they go to to keep their bikes from vanishing. One woman hoisted her heavy-looking folding bike to the podium at Thursday’s meeting. She paid $1,600 for it, she said, just so she could slide it into a Caltrain luggage car, away from thieves.

As it exists now, people stack their bikes in bunches aboard bike cars, with few seats nearby. That’s been a recipe for theft, critics charge.

Bike advocacy groups said the board’s solution was lacking.

Both the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition argued for Caltrain to add a third bike car to its trains, and for each of those cars to include 12-18 seats each. By adding an additional bike car the same number of bikes could fit on board — 72 — but people would be better able to watch out for theft, the groups argued.

“Three cars would better distribute seats and bikes for better security,” said Emma Shlaes, advocacy director with Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

Janice Li, advocacy director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, was perhaps more pointed: “There’s been little action, with lots of talk,” she said.

But the two different rail car configurations come with far different price tags: The approved configuration with four additional seats will cost roughly $1 million, while the additional bike car came with a $10 million price tag. That was a significant enough difference to concern the board, its members said.

There are also more solutions on the way for bicycle riders, Caltrain staff said.

More space for people to watch their bikes on board trains is “not the wrong answer, but it’s not the best answer,” said Dan Provence, a Caltrain bike planner.

Some of those so-called “best answers” have already been implemented, and others are on the way:

Caltrain recently instituted a bike security task force, began blasting bike security messages on social media, and incorporated bike theft data into their safety reports, among other changes. Staff also said they’re going to soon introduce electronic lockers for bicyclists, make new shared access bike rooms, and expect to see bikeshare stations proliferate along the Peninsula — which may encourage some riders to leave their personal bikes at home.

Although the fear of bike theft was alive and well at Caltrain’s governing board Thursday and in emails the board received on the issue, the actual number has actually dropped year-to-year. Caltrain’s own numbers show 15 bikes stolen onboard trains in 2016, 22 in 2017, and 12 in 2018.

While the numbers have been dropping, that may have less to do with preventative measures, and more to do with Caltrain’s bicycle ridership dipping during the same period: The agency saw 6,200 bicyclist boardings per day in 2015 compared to 5,919 daily bicyclist boardings in 2018.

Numerous factors may have contributed to the dip in bicyclist ridership, staff said, including a rise in bikeshare options. Caltrain-adjacent bikeshare stations, notably, are among the most-used sites for bikeshare service Ford GoBike, Caltrain staff said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

This story has been corrected to show bike theft data onboard Caltrain, which was lower than previously stated.

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