“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Damn it!”
The Bike Shuttle is a great service, but reliable it is not. With a very limited run time and room for only 14 riders, if you don’t show up 20 minutes early, there is no guarantee that you’ll get a spot. And even if you do, there’s still no guarantee.
“Why put yourself through this?” you might ask.
Reason #1: At $1 each way, it’s by far the cheapest way to get into/out of the City with your bike. Compare that to a $3.30 BART trip or a $6.25 ferry ticket and the choice is clear (and it’s not really much of a choice for the notoriously frugal cyclist).
Reason #2: I live about two blocks from the Shuttle pick-up/drop-off point at the MacArthur BART station. So not only is the Shuttle cheap, it’s incredibly convenient for me. In the mornings, the shuttle is generally on-time and it offers the fastest way into San Francisco via the Bay Bridge – roughly 20 to 25 minutes.
Reason #3: Instead of crossing under the Bay through a dark, loud tunnel, a la BART, the Shuttle takes you over the Bay Bridge allowing the rider to enjoy the sights of one of the most beautiful places in the world. I have been taking the shuttle for roughly two years now and I never get tired of the view. It’s amazing how many different ways you can see the same thing. I imagine this is the way commuters sixty years ago must have felt riding across the bridge on the KEY System trains.
Reason #4: The people. My people. Bike people. I’ve met and mingled with all kinds of folks while riding the Shuttle. Being crammed into a van with 13 other cyclists at 8:30 in the morning offers a much more intimate commuting experience than say a BART ride where I often feel unwanted trying to cram my bike onto a crowded train car. On the Shuttle, there is a common understanding shared by the passengers that feels quite refreshing. It’s not all peaches and cream, however. Some Shuttle patrons are dicks, but such is life.
Here are some things that SUCK about taking the Bike Shuttle:
- As I mentioned at the top of the post, the Bike Shuttle is not reliable. With only 14 seats, you can show up 20 minutes early and it’s still not a guarantee that you will get a spot. Getting bumped from the shuttle is something that all riders experience sooner or later and it can be a huge drag. (Conversely, when you are that 14th person to arrive, you are hit with a wave of euphoria and an undeniable sense of relief/accomplishment. “I made it!”)
- It only runs during peak commute hours and has limited pick up/drop off times. If you miss one, you have to wait 45 minutes for the next one (if there is a next one) or find another way to get across the Bay. For me, this often means sneaking on to a crowded BART train during rush hour with my bike. Ugh.
- The Bike Shuttle is still a car and as such is beholden to all the inconveniences of rush hour i.e. traffic. Generally, this hasn’t been as big an issue as you would think. However, there have been a few times where I have been stuck in traffic for 45 minutes to an hour. Or, I’ve been stuck waiting for the shuttle that never showed because it was stuck on the bridge in horrible traffic. You never know.
- It’s obvious that the Shuttle is of little to no importance to those who operate it: CalTrans. There has been no attempt by the agency to address any of the glaring issues noted above, or make the service more convenient, comfortable or efficient for it’s patrons. I’m totally not surprised, by the way. I’m sure the shuttle was CalTrans’s attempt to silence those pesky bike advocates that had no way to commute across the bay. Still, can’t we get some benches or maybe a little shelter, please? How about some lighting? After a long day of riding in the rain, the last thing I want to do is stand at the corner of 1st and Fremont in the pouring rain, in the dark, freezing my ass off while I wait for a shuttle that may or may not show up.
Ultimately, most of the bad things about the bike shuttle say more about the lack of transit options for cyclists in the Bay than about the bike shuttle itself. The bike shuttle is cool. It’s cheap. It’s quick. Knowing about it is like being part of a secret club.
And that’s how I get to work every day. Well, as long as I’m not number 15.