The newest Mark III SkyTrain cars feature a few nice improvements:
- all four cars are joined together through an articulated “accordion” section, meaning you are free to move between all cars on the train. This also means there is more room overall for passengers
- larger windows provide a better view and the lower frames work better as pseudo arm rests
- better fittings all around mean the trains are quieter
- roomier design all around, so there is less of a sardine can feeling, even when the train is full
But in among these improvements is another that doesn’t really work, and it’s not the fault of the designers. It’s more of a people problem.
The first and last car on each train has one of the middle sections of seats removed and in its place a single bar that runs underneath the window. This is a designated bike area. Making trains bike-friendly is definitely a nice move, as more people are commuting by bike.
However, there is a problem with the execution: it doesn’t take into account normal human behavior and the general likelihood of bikes being on the train at any given time. This leads to the following:
- as the train fills, people move first into the seats
- they next stand in the areas that are most open (not between seats), such as the doorways
- conveniently the bike space is wide open, so it often fills up with standees before the rest of the train
- a cyclist boarding the train at this point will find it impossible to park their bike in the already-occupied space. Even if people wanted to let them, it’s unlikely there is room for the people in the bike space to stand elsewhere; the cyclist typically props their bike in the doorway area, same as they would without a bike space on the train
Given that cyclists are still uncommon on the SkyTrain and that they have no better chance of boarding before anyone else, there is only a small chance they will actually get to use the designated space for their bikes. There’s also no way to keep other people out of the space (nor should there be).
Conclusion: the dedicated bike area is a well-intentioned idea that ultimately doesn’t work. It’s really just a standing room section that would be better serviced by putting the seats back in.
However, there is a better solution that, while still subject to the whims of the crowd on the train, at least doesn’t remove a bunch of seats. Some rail systems have hooks in the ceiling that bikes can be hung on. This works well for a couple of reasons:
- the hooks aren’t likely to be used for something else, so they will almost always be free for cyclists to use
- the bikes stand vertically as a result, taking up a lot less space on the train
- the hook provides a solid anchor for the bike, reducing the chance of it hitting someone or getting away from its rider
I hold out hope that Translink will ultimately switch from the dedicated space to a hook system and am doing my part by suggesting it to them, not just here, but directly via email as well.
Until then, the bike space on the Mark III trains is likely to remain standees-only.