In September 2020, SEPTA’s bike policy was amended to allow bikes on trains during peak hours because of low ridership during the pandemic. This policy allowed residents to create a multimodal network of transportation that wasn’t available in pre-COVID times. In December 2021, that amendment was rescinded, and bicycle access has since been limited to non-peak hours on Regional Rail, subways and the High Speed Line.
With ridership still not above 50%, we ask SEPTA to reinstate the pandemic policy and allow bicycles to be brought onto SEPTA trains and cars during peak hours. SEPTA updated their bike policy in December 2021 with ridership less than 50% compared to the pre-COVID baseline in April 2019. SEPTA’s current policy of turning away riders who need multiple modes of transportation doesn’t make sense given continued low ridership.
Though the Regional Rail, Broad Street Line (BSL) and Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) ridership is below 50%, the Market-Frankford Line (MFL) has higher ridership during peak hours. We believe that maintaining the current limited access bike policy only on MFL trains would be the safest and most convenient option for users.
Two goals outlined in SEPTA Forward, the authority’s strategic plan, support this request: provide an intuitive experience (goal 2) and deliver a seamless transit network (goal 3). Having users guess when and on which lines a bicycle can be paired with public transportation hardly squares with the aspiration to provide predictable service and a seamless door-to-door experience.
We believe that the peak-hour rule of thumb is outdated. SEPTA already recognizes that the way they think about service should change post-pandemic — the five-days-a-week peak-hour commuter may never return completely — so designing service around this cohort does not make sense in the same way it used to (according to the Advocacy Forum Meeting held on 5/25/22 with Liz Smith).
The bike policy should reflect this thinking, too. Customers at all times of day should be able to integrate sustainable modes of transportation in a predictable — and respectful — way. For example, it has always been the case that, if a person with a disability needs to use the space taken up by a bicycle, then the bicyclist is expected to move or exit the train, and that policy should remain in place. Bikes can and should continue to be incorporated into rail travel as long as there continues to be room to accommodate them, and so far ridership data shows that there is ample room.
In summary, we ask that SEPTA update their bike policy to allow bikes during all hours on all regional rail trains, BSL trains and NHSL trains. When ridership returns to pre-pandemic levels, we recommend that SEPTA conduct a broad public comment process to solicit feedback on whether and how the policy should change. We note that the Metropolitan Transit Authority permits bikes on its system at all times and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority also allows bikes at all times unless a conductor decides that a coach is too crowded. In short, SEPTA’s bike access policy should be more flexible, be updated to reflect post-pandemic commuting patterns and facilitate 24/7 multimodal travel.