You could call it BART's Great Rush-Hour Bike Experiment.
For five days starting Monday, the transit agency will be open to bikes on all lines, all day long. It's a long way from the days when to ride on BART, cyclists had to go down and apply in person for a permit at the Lake Merritt Station--but only during certain hours. When you paid your fee, you got a little green BART bike permit. To ride a train, you had to show the permit to the station agent before you went through the fare gates. And it seemed like the agents would always find a reason to bark at you about something: "Use the stairs! Not the escalator!" Oh, yeah—those were the days.
The system has become much friendlier to cyclists since then. No permits, no fees, no scoldings from the agents. And next week's rush-hour bike trial aims to answer questions about what will happen if cyclists can get on any train any time they want, even when BART is crammed with commuters. Not to get too carried away, the rush-hour bike trial will have some rules. Perhaps most important: no bikes in the first three cars of a train during the heaviest commute hours (the usual rule is the lead car is off-limits on all trains).
BART also suggests bicyclists use common sense: Don't try to board cars that are already jam-packed with commuters.
Ridership has risen steadily and is near an all-time high, with about 400,000 commuter trips per weekday. So gauging rider feedback on attitudes towards bicyclists trying to squeeze into standing-room-only train cars during rush hour will be a key measure of success, and BART will ask passengers to take a survey (on the agency's website)about their experience during the pilot week.
BART ran a similar test allowing bikes on trains during rush hour during Fridays last August, and said feedback was 90 percent positive.
BART Bike Program Manager Steve Beroldo says the system has practical reasons to encourage more biking to and from stations.
"We know our ridership's going to be increasing in the future, and our parking lots are full," Beroldo said. "Folks are going to need a way to get to BART. A bike's an ideal way to do that."
The transit system has been upgrading train cars to create more space for bikes and their owners.
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Director Leah Shahum said her organization is putting boots on the ground to guide cyclists to the proper train cars and make the week go as smoothly as possible.
"We will literally have hundreds of people who are volunteering their time to help make this program a success," she said.
BART Riders Weigh in on the Pilot Program
Jim Smith avoids running afoul of commuter-period restrictions by bringing a folding bike on BART, which he takes every weekday to and from his home in Lafayette.
"I think that it's so busy, a lot of these maximal commute hours, that it'd be tough to bring on a full-size bike," Smith said. "So, I would rather people just get folding bikes and tuck them away."
Occasional BART rider and Hayward resident Karen Bauermeister said she's not opposed to the pilot program, but she thinks BART can improve to accommodate all passengers.
"It could be made more realistic in offering real solutions around getting on and off and where to put your bike when you're on the train," she said.
Burlingame resident Ryan Hanke got stuck with his bike at Powell Street Station in San Francisco on March 14, during the no-bikes afternoon rush. He's for lifting the commute time bike restrictions, for obvious reasons.
"I'm just trying to find a way home," Hanke said.
"A lot of people need to get to work, and a lot of people, after they get off at their station, need to go really, really far afterwards," Hanke said. "Biking is pretty much one of my only ways around besides that [the train], so I really need it. I'm pretty sure other people do too."
Hanke eventually left the station after realizing he still had more than 30 minutes to wait. He was thinking of Caltrain or a bus to make his way back home.