June 26, 2008

Dealing with the Newbies

Some of you may have missed the nationwide memo, but gas is expensive.

Which means more people are trying alternative forms of transit. I LOVE that (in theory). Better for the environment, better for health, better for the roads. However...there's a downside.

Caltrain uses two styles of trains: Plastic and Metal. The Plastic bullet trains make about four stops between San Francisco and San Jose, thereby making the trip in 45 minutes. They only fit 16 bikes per train. Then there are huge metal double-decker trains, I call them Warehouse Trains. These make most local stops, it takes them an hour and a half to go the same distance. A warehouse train comfortably fits 40 bikes, but can manage 50 in a pinch. Three weeks ago, gas prices hit 4.65/gallon here. Right around then, instead of Warehouse Trains, we got mostly Plastic Trains. After one time waiting 40 minutes for the next train, I stopped being nice and made sure to be in the front of the line.

I've chatted with a few conductors about the situation. Apparently, 14 of the Warehouse Train's have cracked axles. They have to find a place that can handle welding them back together. Of course, the company that made the trains has gone out of business. It could take the whole summer before they get the missing trains back on line.

Let's make it a math formula (cause I LOVE math): More bikers + Less space = Total chaos.

At this point, I know most of the bike regulars. We nod, chat a bit if the bike is late. Lately, our eyes have been meeting through a sea of new bikers. We shrug and wait for them to figure out how to manage the steps up into the train. Wait while they discuss where they are getting off. Wait while they slowly and carefully fasten their bike in.

Last night, I stood next to my bike, not bothering to fasten it in while three guys did a newbie bike dance in front of me. "Oh, Belmont, well, I'm going to Milbrae, could I put mine behind yours?" Dude, there are yellow plastic tabs you get from the conductor. Put them on your bike and it will tell people where you're going. No one has time for all this chit chat. In four minutes, we would be at my stop. A guy came down from the second level seats. He unfastened the bike ahead of me to the right, then obviously needed to still get his bike which was next in the pile. I kindly held the seat of the first bike so he could have both hands free. One hand on my bike, one on the other. He got his bike and then just moved ahead toward the exit, leaving me helpless. The newbies had finished assembling their bike pile. I asked one of them to fasten the extra bike in for me. He was happy to do so. The guy who'd stranded me looked back and obviously felt bad. Again, I get it. I get the learning curve, I went through it myself. It's just way too much demand on the system right now.

I guess this is what growth pains look like, right? For any organization. If you grow too quickly, you move past the capability of the old-timers to assimilate the newbies properly. Of course, I'd have nothing to whine about if I just sucked it up and biked 8 miles each way, instead of using the train to save me 6 miles . . .


Rachel said...

That sounds annoying. I loved the public transit in the Bay Area, but sometimes it was just a little too much of my fellow human beings.

Anonymous said...

wow, sounds like a complicated system! =) glad you're still biking though.

jp said...

as i read this post, my thought was exactly what you said in the very last line. now i have nothing to say. :)

Neurotic Grad Student said...

It makes me so happy to see new bikers out there. Even if they do make the occassional mistake.

Yay for biking!