At a public meeting last week, the BART Board of Directors decided that two five-day pilots weren’t enough to make a permanent decision about whether to allow bikes on trains during peak hours. Instead, they decided to create another pilot -- this one five months long -- review the results, and make a permanent decision in November.
The two earlier pilot programs, called “Bikes on Board,” allowed bikes on trains at all hours and in all stations. Current rules don’t allow bikes on San Francisco-bound trains during peak morning hours or on East Bay-bound trains in the afternoon commute. And bikes aren’t allowed in the cramped 19th and 12th Street Oakland stations, where the passengers just get one half of a platform to wait for trains. The pilot programs, which BART staff called successful, lasted a combined total of ten days in 2012 and 2013.
At the board meeting, BART staff recommended that the board vote to lift the ban completely, starting July 1st. But the short length of the pilots caused concern for some of BART’s directors, who worried that not enough riders were aware of the rule changes to be a realistic situation.
While all nine directors said they would eventually support lifting the ban on bikes, six of them voted to create an extended five-month pilot instead, giving BART staff more time to survey riders and make adjustments.
“I do support lifting the blackout, but I do think five days in 2012 and five days in 2013 is not enough time,” said Director Gail Murray. “The general population needs more time to understand this.”
Public support at the board meeting was overwhelmingly in support of lifting the ban. Most of the speakers were cyclists, who shared stories about being stranded in the city after work and said bikers would continue to be considerate of other riders and follow the rules. Several pointed out that the New York City subway doesn’t have any rules about bikes (although New York's MTA "strongly recommends" avoiding rush hour), so BART should allow their riders the same choice.
But Stuart Gooderman of Albany (CA) expressed concern about rude bicyclists he has encountered on his daily commute from the East Bay to San Francisco.
“They don’t follow the rules, they block the doors,” he said.
“So do you!” someone shouted from the back of the room.
Gooderman later said he was glad the Board had decided to extend the pilot, which would give BART more time to work out the kinks of allowing bikes on BART. He added that comparing BART to New York’s subway system was pointless.
“I rode the subway in New York for years,” he said. “You never saw a bike during rush hour.”
Some of the cyclists, who have been pushing BART to lift the ban for years, initially seemed disappointed the ban wasn’t lifted outright. But community leaders were quick to call this vote a victory.
In a press release, Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, called the decision momentous.
“For years people on both sides of the Bay have had to contort their lives simply because they needed to take a bike on BART but couldn’t during commute times. We commend BART for taking the smart steps toward opening up regional travel by bike.”
The pilot will start on July 1st and run until December. All nine of the board members indicated that barring some unforeseen problem, they will vote to lift the ban at the end of the pilot.