Days before the Connecticut Department of Transportation opens public hearings on a proposed 5 percent fare increase on Metro-North, Gov. Dannel Malloy held a media event to promote good news about “improved service” on our highest-fares-in-the-nation railroad.
What? A return of the bar cars? More seats on crowded trains? No, nothing that monumental: just a new e-ticketing app and word that bike racks have been installed on our trains.
Now, the new MTA eTix smart-phone app is a big deal, but it’s not anything that CDOT or our governor had a hand in. It was designed and built by the MTA, parent of Metro-North. So far it’s functioning well.
But the other piece of news was more concerning. The governor said that “as a result of listening to our customers” 190 new bike racks (hooks, actually) have been installed on the new M8 rail-cars. Great!
But in the next breath he said “now this is not for prime commutation periods,” i.e. no bikes at rush hour. Not so great.
The reason is that trains are too crowded at peak times. The seats are full and there’s often standing room only. Trying to bring a bike onto such a train wouldn’t be possible, partly because these new bike-hooks sit over the handicapped passenger area meant for wheelchairs. If there’s no wheelchair onboard, a fold-down seat can be used, and on crowded trains, it always is.
I’ve written for years about restricting bikes on trains until every ticketed passenger has a seat, a utopian dream we have yet to fulfill. But for off-peak riders, where there is less crowding, bring your bike and hang it up. (Folding bikes are always allowed if they can be stored in the luggage rack).
I also remain skeptical of any pent-up demand for bikes on Metro-North. Sure, lots of commuters bike to their train station. Others may even take advantage of the Citi Bike service on arrival in Manhattan. But how many people really want to take their bike on the train into Grand Central?
Connecticut’s buses have offered bike racks for almost a decade and are widely used. But that’s for shorter trips where the first / last mile of commuting by bike makes sense.
So, let’s see how popular these new bike racks (hooks) on Metro-North prove to be. Maybe I’m wrong. It won’t be the first time.
Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.