Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bikes on Trains & Waiting for the Metra

As I mentioned before, I had to take Metra trains on Sunday night. Getting bikes to be allowed on Metra was a huge, huge fight for CBF. This is the first summer that it was really permitted, and the program operates under several limitations.

First of all, there are black-out dates for huge festivals in Chicago. The conductors also have the discretion to not allow bikes on trains if the bike is too dirty or the train is too crowded. The bikes share the handicap spaces, so if there is an ADA convention the wheelchairs take priority over the bikes and the bikes get booted off. Plus, bikes aren’t allowed during rush hours in the direction of the ‘rush’.

These limitations make the Bikes on Metra program less reliable than bikers prefer. Every other time I used this program over the summer worked fine, but Sunday night was different. Celtic Festival was going on in downtown Chicago, and the conductor made me take my bike off of train. The train was crowded, but there was room for my bike. I also noticed that in one of the bike spots there was a couple and their mounds of luggage. Their luggage was taking up more space than my bike would have.

As the train rolled out of city it picked up more passengers. Several people were wandering from train to train, apparently looking for seats. On the one hand, this justified the conductor’s refusal of my bicycle. On the other hand, there were several men on the train who were hogging two seats for themselves. Some of these men were friends, because they were yelling back and forth to each other. They had their legs draped across the spare seats and never attempted to move when people looking for seats passed by. Bastards.

I didn’t pay for this ride because the conductors/ticket-takers didn’t even attempt to check for tickets. The train was almost exclusively filled with white people, presumably from the suburbs.
While I waited for the return train (which I was forced to take because my bicycle was still in Chicago) I met another woman waiting for the train. She was there waiting when I arrived at the station. She lives in Chicago and works at the Staples store in the suburb. She waits at least an hour, usually more, for the train to take her home every day. The woman is married and has an eighteen month old baby. She said that sometimes she rides her bike to work, because the trips to and from work by bike are definitely quicker than the train ride plus waiting time. She doesn’t know what she will do in winter. I suggested that she keep riding her bike, but she was scared of the cold. I told her that me and my friends ride year round, and it is isn’t usually too cold because of the heat we generate. I also reminded her that it would certainly be warmer than waiting on the platform for the train. What a miserable situation.

Besides having to spend all of this time waiting and in transit, the woman wasn’t doing anything. She didn’t have anything to read at all, but instead just sat there waiting. What a waste. I joked that she could study Spanish or something else productive during this time. She sighed and said that with the time she has spent on this platform, she could have learned a lot of things. As dreary as she sounded, it seemed like she had never thought to do anything productive during her long waits. Hopefully she will consider and act on this idea. Her daily life sounded dreadful and I hope that she improves it or even better, gets a new job that doesn’t require so much wasted time.

Once again on the return trip I wasn’t asked to show a ticket, so again I didn’t pay for my passage. Weird. The train was relatively full of mostly white people.

When I got off in Chicago I walked down a long tunnel under the tracks. It completely reeked of urine. There were homeless-looking people lying on or near the platform. Some were snoozing and some stared at me as I went to unlock my bike. I didn’t linger longer than necessary, and attached my lights a few blocks away.

I should have just biked the whole way there. It probably would have been quicker – and certainly less boring and frustrating.

Tuesday: another day, another train.

I had to interview a witness up in Evanston this morning, so again I took the Metra train. Since it was a reverse commute, I brought my bike along (if I missed the 11:00 train returning to the city, I was planning on riding back to Chicago). Another bike got on and I unhooked mine so that his was the inside bike, since I got off before he did. The train was full of people. Because I am the least intimidating-looking person, the seat next to me was the first one filled when the passengers had to ‘double up’ their seats.

My interview finished at a perfect time and I easily made it to the station to catch the 11:00 back to Chicago. A man at the station asked if I needed help with my bike. My first instinct was to be offended, but then realized that this was the same man who helped an elderly woman from the train, and apparently was just a nice guy. Then I realized that in my business skirt/heels combo, I probably didn’t look very tough. Maybe he just wanted to lay his hands on the always cute Julep.

This train was nearly full, too. A man about my age and an older businessman were seated in the spot for my bike. Before I could say anything, the younger man hopped up to make room. I thanked him, and he good-naturedly said it wasn’t a problem. The older businessman refused to make eye contact or respond to my ‘excuse me, sir’ that was getting louder each time I said it. He finally responded when the conductor came and stood next to me. Then he obnoxiously said, "Well, excuuuuuse me!" as if he was a snotty teenage girl, and left without making eye contact. I chirped a sacharin-sweet ‘Thanks!’ as he huffily departed.

I hope he would have been kinder had I been in a wheelchair. When you sit in those seats, you know that you might have to give them up to someone in a wheelchair or on crutches – or recently for bicycles. It is also nice to reserve them for people with children, strollers or luggage. That is just the way it works.

His whole aura was of the "I’m better than you, My time is valuable" type. Grrrrrrr...... He was white-haired, rotund and wearing a nice suit. Everything about him seemed polished and expensive. Were this an earlier era, he would have worn a three-piece suit and pocket watch, with his vest stretched tightly across his ample belly and an omnipresent cigar. Maybe even a fluffy white cat to stroke while he plotted to thieve from unsuspecting workers or customers. So hells yeah – making him move his fat ass for the Julep was damn fun! If he hadn’t moved, it would have been fun to park the Julep’s wheel on his lap while her streamers tickled his face. Tehehe.

When I stood to unhook my bike, there was an older couple sitting on their luggage in front of her. The man asked whether it didn’t have a rear brake or if it was a coaster brake. I explained that it was a fixed gear, and he seemed to understand. They were visiting from Washington state and he said that the hills were too steep to go down without perfect brakes. They were pretty cool and showed my bike to their son when he came back to our car. Good Stuff.

I barely rode Metra trains before they allowed bikes on them. It seems like Metra should run their trains more frequently. Both the trains I took today were the last train to leave for about two hours. Certainly some of the people on the train arrive to their destination earlier than they would otherwise. Plus, there are probably several people who don’t ride the Metra simply because the timing isn’t right. My guess is that extending the frequent morning train schedule another hour would bring more customers to Metra. I wonder at what capacity the trains need to run in order to be profitable.

How many people do the limited schedules and full trains deter from using Metra? Seriously. Two hour gaps in service are not very convenient for most people. Knock it down to an hour....and it becomes much more feasible. Knock it down to trains every half hour – and damn – these trains can easily be the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to travel.

I wish we had the political will to really fund and increase public transportation. With high gas prices, people might flock to the CTA and Metra. High gas prices are such a good opportunity for this type of expansion campaign -- however I haven't heard nary a peep from the politicians about this type of campaign. Instead they only blather on about repealing the gas tax (WTF??? -- with our huge state deficits!!!) and increasing the price of public transportation. Dumbfucks.


At 3:42 PM, Blogger Frick said...

WTF is up with these people talking of raising the price of public transportation? Are they really that clueless, or do they simply not care?

It's funny I hear lots of people talk of using mass transit or getting bikes now that gas is $$. Yet, there they are, still driving everyday still. I think it has less to do with laziness than it does with having no drive for change. I bet that if all these people had been raised walking, riding, or mass-transiting, it would be really hard to convice them that they "needed" to spend $20k on a car just to get around a little easier.

We'll see if anything happens once light rail goes to Folsom in another month.

At 11:57 PM, Blogger equipoise said...

Is it the limited schedules or full trains that deter people from using Metra? -OR- maybe it's the derailments?

At 2:10 PM, Blogger jojo said...


Atta boy Frick! Make sure to clue us in on the light rail.

Boo Big Brother. The derailments are quite rare. I think four people were killed in car accidents over the weekend in the city of Chicago. Plus those in the 'burbs. This happens every weekend. Metra accidents are rare.

Most deaths by Metra are either suicide by train or people who try to beat the train across the tracks.

Maybe if every death by car made national news, then people would start to think about the danger of cars, too.

Plus -- I was on these trains just a day or three after the deraillment. Maybe the trains are normally even more full.

(Yes, I know your comment was tongue-in-cheek).


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