Thursday, August 30, 2007

Amtrak vs. My Bike

Following, an email I just sent to Amtrak's customer feedback:

Ahhh, another weekend, another trip between Milwaukee and Chicago.... which I won't be making on Amtrak.

Why? Simple: I can't take my bike.

Sure, I could put it in a box. I could also saw off my arm and put that in a box, too. It'd be only slightly less practical, and not nearly as painful.

I tried the bike-in-a-box thing once recently. A friend and I struggled for nearly 45 minutes to disassemble the bike and awkwardly cram it into the bike box, then jam it with some difficulty into the car (it didn't really fit).

Essentially, we took this incredibly efficient, sleek, compact, lightweight form of personal transporation, and turned it into an unweildy, awkward, enormous piece of oversized and immovable luggage.

We finally got to the station only to find they wouldn't let me on the train with it; I had to check it in as luggage. Luggage!! They wouldn't even let me just walk onto the (half-empty) train with it. It was maddening!! I nearly screamed in frustration, and almost missed my train as a result -- my friend had to come back to the station and take the box away before I could board.

You guys NEED TO CHANGE THIS POLICY. It's a bad policy. It's dumb. It costs you business. It discourages people like me -- those who rely on a bicycle for transportation -- from riding your trains.

There's no excuse for it. You've got the room. Spend a few bucks, take out a couple of seats on each train, or make them fold-aways, and poof -- room for 3-4 bikes. Have the rider carry the bike up themselves, require them to bungee cord them down. Make them wait till most passengers have boarded if need be; don't allow them on rush hour trains if you have to. Very simple. This works for New Jersey Transit. It works for Philadelphia's regional rail. It works for Chicago's Metra system. You're telling me it can't work for Amtrak? All those little dinky local rail systems can manage something that Amtrak can't?

When is this going to change, huh?

With that incentive, I'd gladly shell out the $21 for a ride to Chicago on a weekly basis. Without it, my money goes to Megabus, and Amtrak gets nothing but my ire.

For the uninitiated, Amtrak will only allow bikes on their Milwaukee-Chicago trains if the bike has been put in a taped-shut box and checked in as luggage. They might as well just tell us to take our bikes and stick 'em. It's a measure that's utterly impractical.

I'd love to have my bike down in Chicago on the weekends, and I hate having to lock it up at the train station, but thanks to Amtrak's absurd policy, there's not much other choice.


Jennifer said...

Same sentiment, other city. Think I'll send Amtrak a letter myself; if they're going to push the Hiawatha as a glorified commuter train then they should darn well treat it like one!

Roy said...

Robert did you ever hear back from Amtrak on this? I just found your posting after contacting Amtrak and getting the same "its gotta be boxed" BS response. I was so appalled that I went searching for information about this and found your post. I live in Chicago and was thinking of doing the opposite for the weekend, coming up to MKE and biking around. I cannot believe you can't (simply) bring a bike on the Hiawatha. Grrrr.

Robert Powers said...

The ultimate response I got was, and I quote, "I am sorry that I cannot give you a more favorable reply." The end!

It's utterly absurd.

Apparently, people have had good luck getting Megabus to take their bikes to/from Chicago, storing them under the bus in the luggage compartment. It's worth a shot.

Anonymous said...

I was meant to leave today from NYC to Vermont. Not only did I get the same response, "no open bikes on trains," but it turns out, there are no trains in the northeast that have baggage check-in, which means, "No bikes out of NYC is you're heading north." What a disgrace!

Anonymous said...

I called Amtrak and asked them to give me a list of all the trains that will take bikes and then I could plan my trip around that.
Basically it's a few west coast trains, the train that runs along the Katy Trail and once each year there is a bike train to St. Catherine, Ontario.
When I asked why, I was told that these things are governed by state laws and that each state has different rules. Does anyone know if this is true?

kadavy said...

Wow, this is insane! I was appalled to find out that the South Shore Line in Northern Indiana wouldn't allow bikes, but I had assumed that Amtrak would do better. Having lived in the bay area for awhile previously, I guess I had taken the right to take my bike on a train for granted.