Bikes on Mass Transit

Pedal, carry and ride to commute efficiently

By Suman Mudamula, April, 2014


New Urban cycling
     "Urban Cycling" , CC BY- SA 4.0 : by Wikimedia Commons

You have made every effort to make your business bike friendly; you offer your employees all kinds of incentives; yet, in spite of all the hard work, long bike commutes are keeping many of your employees from getting on board.

Well, this should never be the case.

In fact, with some simple pre-planning, anyone seriously committed to sustainable living can commute on a bicycle comfortably and efficiently. By taking a close look at the Bay Area’s mass transit choices, we will see how this effective transportation network can work in tandem with cycling, making that trip to the office a ride in the park.

Challenges and Solutions

Our home and workplace are rarely within close range in the Bay Area, making a door-to-door bike ride extremely long and possibly exhausting. Yet, where long distances are a concern we have the option of using our public transportation system, which offers multiple bike-friendly solutions in the form of VTA Buses, Light rail, BART, Amtrak and Caltrain. Indeed, if we cannot bike all the way to work, we have the option of so-called multimodal commuting, where part of the way is travelled on bike lanes, while relying on mass transit for other, maybe longer stretches of the route.

Types of Bikes

There are three types of bicycles that are commonly seen on the trails: conventional bikes, folding bikes and recumbent bikes.

Folding bikes are notably small and slightly more uncomfortable than common types, however, these can be made very compact, and most public transportation allows folding bikes in the general seating areas.

For people who want to commute longer distances (15 miles or more), a recumbent bicycle might be an option. However, given their large size, it is important to note that this type of bike may fit on Caltrain, but not on VTA buses or light rail.

As we will see with some detail, the logistics of carrying a bike on mass transit varies depending on what mode we are using.

Remember, alternate transit choices are beneficial even if they are not used every day; a single day off riding our cars will reduce our carbon footprint!

Bikes on Buses

New bikerack pic
     "Bikerack for 3 bikes " , CC BY-SA 2.0 : by Wikimedia Commons  

According to the official VTA website, all VTA buses operating on 53 local routes have installed exterior bike racks capable of carrying two bikes. These include the buses on the Highway 17 Express and the Dumbarton Express. The Highway 17 Express can accommodate up to three bicycles.  In special cases, when the racks are filled, “up to two bicycles will be allowed inside the bus subject to the driver's discretion and when passenger loads are light.”

The full rules can be found on the VTA website.

SF Muni also encourages bike commuting by providing exterior bike racks on all buses, with folding bikes being the only type allowed inside. However, it is important to note that historic cable cars, streetcars and Muni Metro light rail do not have bike racks. Hence, there is no provision to hold regular size bicycles. Further Muni rules on bicycle carriage can be found on their website as well.

Bikes on VTA Light Rail

VTA Light Rail
     "VTA Light Rail Santa Clara Station" , CC BY 3.0 by Wikimedia Commons

Interior bike racks are available in all light rail vehicles. As per the official website “The maximum number of bicycles allowed inside a light rail vehicle is six. Up to four bicycles can be accommodated in the racks provided, with two additional bicycles allowed to stand on the floor in the center section (turntable area) of the vehicle.”

When boarding, all bicycles must be entered through the center doors and stationed at the designated turntable area in the center of the car. Please visit the VTA website for more details.

Bikes on BART

Bikes are allowed on BART at all times. However, they are not allowed in the first car or on the escalators. Cyclists must hold their bikes while on the train at all times; folding bikes are always allowed. Further details on BART bike rules can be found on their website.

Bikes on Caltrain

Bike Car
     "Bike Car " , CC BY-SA-3.0 : by Wikimedia Commons

Caltrain is quite accommodating when it comes to bike-carrying capacity. Each bike car can carry a maximum of 16-32 bicycles. A helpful hint is that the bike car is on the northernmost end of the train noted by a yellow decal on the outside, and boarding is on a first-come first-served basis. A second bike car is provided whenever there is a need. Bicycles must be stowed in the designated bike storage space, and there is an established etiquette on how bikes should be arranged using destination tags. This helps other bike-carrying passengers know where bikes will be getting off.

Folding bikes are welcome in any train car. For more information, please visit the Caltrain website.

Capital Corridor Amtrak

If you want to explore the East Bay and Northern California without using your car, use the Capitol Corridor. All the trains, which start in San Jose and serve the entire east bay up to Sacramento, are bike-friendly. They are equipped with a limited number of bicycle racks, however, bikes can be carried as unboxed, carry-on baggage. Please visit the official website for detailed bike-carrying instructions.

Trip Planning Tools

Bike riding has been made easier through a of a number of websites, route planning apps and tools. One comprehensive resource that provides a lot of information for commuting on bikes is the bicycling section of Another great resource is the Google maps’ bike route tool.

Some useful apps are already at our fingertips to make our bike commutes more efficient. Some of these are: Map My Ride, Strava, Ride with GPS, Bikeley. You can find more info on riding apps here

Bike Lockers

VTA provides 500 bike lockers at light rail and Caltrain stations, Park & Ride lots and transit centers. Although there is no charge for a bike locker rental, there is a $25 charge toward a refundable security deposit.

VTA is constantly monitoring the bike parking demand. It is currently implementing a new e-locker system in select VTA Park & Ride lots, which works through pre-purchased BikeLink Smart Cards. These cards serve as cash and key to e-lockers at these select lots. The new system aims to address the high demand for bike lockers that currently exceeds the existing supply.
Please read this article for details of how it works.

Bike racks, lockers and shared-access parking facilities are available at most Caltrain stations. More information can be found here.

On BART property, bikes must be parked in racks and lockers. Bikes parked against poles, fences or railings will be removed. Go here to read more rules for taking bikes on BART.

Remember that there are other sustainable commuting options in the Bay area besides bicycles. Stay tuned for next week's article, where we will explore carpooling and high occupancy vehicles.

Helpful resources:

Bicycle Coalition’s Bikes & Transit
Bikes on BART Guide
Bike Parking on VTA
Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC)


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