Buses and bikes go great together. Perhaps your commute requires a bus transfer and you’d rather get 15 minutes of exercise twice a day. Maybe you reverse commute to the suburbs and a bus brings you within a mile or two of your destination. These are real scenarios and I’m sure we can put our heads together to come up with more. Here’s how it works:
I live in the general Uptown area of Minneapolis and commute to downtown St Paul for work each day. This means riding the 94 Express bus (a better alternative to the Green Line for those making trips involving both downtowns). Believe it or not, for folks who grew up in this cold state there are about 8 months a year where weather is more than tolerable to spend 15 to 20 minutes riding a bike (or playing hockey, or cross country skiing, or sledding, or…). That’s why I’m a bit frustrated by this Metro Transit’s policy on bringing bikes onto buses:
If a bike rack is full, ask the driver to bring your bike on board. Note, however, that it is your driver’s decision. The driver knows the route and may refuse your request – even if the bus is not full at the time you are boarding – to avoid crowded conditions farther along the route.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve witnessed drivers turn away folks with bikes because the front two racks are full. One unfortunate gal had already been turned away by the previous bus driver, but that didn’t sway the driver. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m sure it will on the day I have an early meeting I simply can’t be late for.
Ignoring the unexplained (and therefore frustrating) inconsistency in why some drivers allow it but others won’t, Metro Transit should make one small change to accommodate (even encourage) transit riders to bike to the bus: replace the two seats at the articulation point with a vertical bike rack.
Let’s face it: these seats suck anyway. The post design causes rocking due to loose bolts, the articulation during turns can be nauseating, and the seats are too close to the aisle so your knees get bumped when folks pass by. While express routes do fill up, they’re not so full that the loss of two seats would be a deal breaker. As for if it can be done, I’m confident if a pair of seats can be squeezed in and meet safety standards, a brilliant engineer at the Met Council can design a suitable bike rack that can be retrofitted here.
A couple extra bikes on buses won’t solve many problems with our transit system. And I agree with Jarrett Walker that there’s an opportunity cost of bringing bikes on trains & buses, especially on crushloaded 40 foot buses. Eventually we’ll need more secure, weather-protected bike parking at key bus transfer points (which should ideally work for cyclists not getting on the bus as well). But let’s not stop us from thinking outside the box and making it easier today where we can.