Friday, September 26, 2008

More Info About Caltrain Biker Arrest

On Thursday, September 25th 2008, Scott Wildy boarded southbound Caltrain #226 at the Burlingame station. One cyclist had just disembarked, and Scott found an empty spot on one of the bike racks in the train car. A conflict immediately ensued when the Caltrain conductor, claiming that the bike car was full, demanded that Scott leave the train.

Scott's argument was that the rack on which he placed his bike only had three out of four spots occupied. The conductor's argument was that another rack at the other end of the train had five bikes on it, which is one over capacity. The conductor argued that this constituted a full train, based on the total capacity.

When the cyclist refused to leave the train, the conductor arranged for police to meet the train, and the cyclist was arrested at the San Carlos station. I happened to be disembarking with my bike at the same stop, and filmed the whole incident with my phone's camera.

Here is the video. Note that it's about 7 minutes long. I did not edit it down, because I didn't want to leave any gaps that would allow for speculation.

Some frequently asked questions about the video:

Who are you, and why were you videotaping?
I'm a software engineer who lives in SF and works in the South Bay. I've been taking my bike on Caltrain for three years now. During this time, bike car capacity issues have gotten worse and worse. I started recording as soon as I saw police approaching the train because I wanted to share with others the level to which this issue has escalated.

Why did Scott get arrested?
In the video, Scott asks the same question as he is being handcuffed. The response from the police is that he was being arrested "for delaying the train; that's a misdemeanor."  Of course, it was not Scott's decision to have the train stopped for ten minutes while he was interrogated on the platform.

What happened to Scott after the arrest?
He was cited, and given court date for "delaying the train". Upon discovering my video online, he sent me an email, with a detailed account of what happened. You can read the letter in the posting below this one.

Why were the police giving you a hard time?
They didn't like being videotaped, apparently. Early on in the video, one officer can be seen quietly alerting the other that "someone is taping us". Later on, one officer steps in front of me for awhile to block my view. I repeatedly asked if I was breaking any laws by videotaping in a public place. Their responses ranged from "you're in my way" to "you're interfering with the investigation". A third officer later told me, "you can keep videotaping, just stand aside" which I appreciated.

What is being done about this?
I shared the video footage with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, and they contacted me by phone yesterday evening. They were all upset by the situation, but explained to me that the law is on the side of Caltrain, since it is up to the conductor to decide when the bike car is at capacity. However, the Coalition has been working extremely hard to get Caltrain to increase bike car capacity.

How can I get involved? / I'm so angry!!! / Where can I complain?!?
Instead of just bashing Caltrain and the police, the best thing to do is get involved with the San Francisco Bike Coalition's "Bikes on Board" project. This project proposes some real solutions for the ongoing bike capacity issues that Caltrain has not worked hard enough to resolve.

What we need are massive amounts of Caltrain bike commuters to come together in a constructive and organized way. Let's use this ridiculously overdramatic incident as a reason to get involved.

Please check out the project, and sign up to get involved at this site:

Thanks for your support. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments at:
cops . on . a . train ( a t ) g m a i l [dotcom].

Letter from Scott Wildy, the arrested cyclist

The following is an email from Scott Wildy, the cyclist who was arrested in the video. He emailed me after finding the video online, and asked that I forward this on.

Thursday September 25th 2008.

Caltrain conductors arbitrarily deny boarding for scores of cyclists each day stating that the train is at its capacity for bicycles. These people who are simply trying to make their way to and from work or school, are victims of a system that is poorly designed with rules that are heavy handedly enforced. The reality is: sometimes the train is over its bike capacity and sometimes it's under; sometimes Caltrain runs a train with only 16 bicycle capacity and sometimes they run a train with capacity for 32 or 64 bikes on the exact same schedule. Caltrain conductors appear to refuse cyclists based more on their mood at the time, rather than any judgment call on safety or concern for other passengers.

On this day, Caltrain Conductor number 684 became emboldened with his sense of power and authority and ordered the arrest of a cyclist whose crime was to board the train and place his bike in the available space of a bike rack.

It was a regular morning trip to Palo Alto, on route to the office. The southbound train pulls into Burlingame station. One cyclist steps off the train with his bicycle and I immediately step into the bike car with mine. I can clearly see the empty position on the bike rack left by the disembarking cyclist and start towards the rack. Conductor 684 appears at the door and has other plans for me. Having already decided that the train is full, he orders me off the train. I protest: there is clearly a space available in the rack directly in front of me! Conductor 684 argues: the train is full b/c there is an extra bike on another rack at the other end of the car. He waves his hands saying: look at the signs - 16 bikes max. I look around the train and the only signs are the ones on the racks that say "4 bikes per rack". Further, I notice that the extra bike at the other end of the car is neatly strapped to the rack (which has 5 bungee straps anyway) and can see that he was not making any effort to have the extra bike moved up to this rack. I continue my protest: the sign on the rack says "capacity 4 bikes" and there are only 3 bikes here. The argument continued, until finally I placed my bike on the rack and took a seat.

The train continued its journey south. At San Carlos station, the police met the train and asked me to step off the train. I complied. They asked what was going on and I explained the situation. There is a palpable sense of disbelief that this is happening - that riding a train with a valid ticket, with bicycle properly strapped to the bike rack, trying to get to work requires the intervention of San Carlos Police and the San Mateo County Sheriff. A fellow cyclist passenger films the spectacle with his iphone. At this point, my commute is not looking good - my bike and bag are pulled off the train. Then my disbelief turns to shock - the sheriff grabs my wrists and clamps handcuffs on me. I'm under arrest for delaying a train. According to the sheriff, Caltrain Conductor 684 not only wanted me off the train, he requested a citizen's arrest.

The "kind" sheriff allows me to avoid the county jail and releases me with a citation, and orders to stay off the train for 24 hours. I guess I wont make it to work today. And I'll have to request another absence from work to appear in San Mateo criminal court in October. Staying off the train wont be a problem, though - after this harrowing experience I'm getting back in my gas guzzling car.