Ways Metro Transit Can Improve Its Multimodal/Bike Friendliness

Recently I was riding my regular commute on the 53, and the driver turned down two passengers with bikes. He simply said “you can’t bring it on the bus.” One passenger he turned down was waiting at the very last stop before the bus went downtown and started dropping everyone off, even though there were still empty seats. The previous week, I was on a 53 with a different driver and more passengers, and the bus safely brought four bikes into downtown.

I know and understand Metro Transit’s policy, that bikes-on-the-bus are at the driver’s discretion. Nevertheless, Metro Transit should do more to accommodate people commuting with bikes in order to facilitate multimodal transportation. The current policy winds up being arbitrary—someone considering a multimodal trip doesn’t know whether the driver is going to prevent them from boarding, making it impossible to reliably plan such a trip. This discourages ridership, and probably beyond just the one planned trip. It can make a regular, reliable, multimodal commuting plan impossible.

Here are some suggestions:

(1) Require drivers to track how many passengers with bikes they turned down, and whether the bus was standing room only when they did it. Unless Metro Transit collects information about this problem it can never be properly recognized or addressed. With this information, Metro Transit can begin to understand which routes have insufficient bike capacity, and act to mitigate the problem, rather than continue to ignore it.

(2) Better train drivers how and under what circumstances passengers can safely carry a bike onto a bus. My bus today was not full and, if any bus is capable of doing so, could have safely carried those passengers and their bikes. The criteria for when a bike should be permitted need to be better defined. It’s not clear to me what criteria would prevent a bike from being safely carried on when the bus is not standing-room-only.

(3) Put drivers comfortable with bikes on routes with bikers. Judging by how my driver reacted to people seeking to carry their bikes on, it was a de facto “no bikes on the bus, ever” policy. He probably shouldn’t be driving a route that has insufficient bike capacity.

Accepting that the driver is the first and last word on whether someone can carry their bike on the bus, Metro Transit should make at least some effort to match drivers comfortable with carrying bikes safely to the routes where people are apt to bring more bikes than can fit on the front rack. Metro Transit is in a position to know which drivers will be accommodating and which drivers will not, whether that is a function of training or driver mindset, and using that as a factor in their route assignments. The poor riders who show up at a bus stop hoping to take a bus ride don’t know whether or not they’re going to win the lottery until the bus shows up.

(4) Equip buses to carry more bikes, run more buses, or otherwise make the possibility of riding with a bike more easy to predict and plan for. These solutions vary in expense and practicality, but they are other ways to solve this problem—and more buses obviously solves other problems as well.

I just ask that something be done, because the status quo is maddening.


Christa M

About Christa M

Attorney. I do law stuff, ride bikes, and paint murals. Member of Hourcar & Nice Ride, and customer of Freewheel Bike and The Hub Bike Co-op.

12 thoughts on “Ways Metro Transit Can Improve Its Multimodal/Bike Friendliness

  1. John Maddening

    I had this problem last summer. It was a ridiculously sunny and hot day, and my wife and I were going to take the A-Line part of the way home, from Highland to Como) and bike the rest of the way.

    We bought our passes only to see that the next bus already had one bike on the rack. When it pulled up, there were maybe ten people on the bus. My wife asked the driver if one of us could bring our bike on, and he just grunted “No” without even looking at us. I told her to just throw her bike on the rack and take this bus and I would wait for the next one.

    Of course, the next one had two bikes on its rack, so I asked the driver if I could bring it on the bus, and that one also turned me down (albeit more nicely). Again, there were a dozen people on the bus, so plenty of space for me and my bike.

    Finally, the third bus had an empty rack, so I was able to get it on and get home.

    Annoying as hell.

  2. Bill Dooley

    Metro Transit should allow bicyclists to use the motorized wheelchair area in front of the bus with the understanding that if a disabled person needed that area at a subsequent stop that the bicyclist would then have to abandon the bus.

  3. hokan

    A few years ago a driver gave me permission to bring my bike on an almost-empty bus. Turned out to be a mistake. The bus filled up as it approached downtown and my bike was in the way for almost everyone.

    Perhaps better than getting more bikes on buses, we need more and better parking near transit stops. If we have secure parking, maybe we will have less need to bring our bikes on buses.

  4. Gabe Ormsby

    This problem is compounded with limited service routes. I’m a regular on route 113, which serves the University of Minnesota from South/Southwest Minneapolis. It runs only a couple times an hour between 7am and around 6pm when classes are in session, so the “next bus” may be too late for making it to class or work on time.

    Add to that that service levels drop off precipitously when classes aren’t in session, with the ironic effect that buses are *more crowded* when overall ridership is less (Who knew U staff work all year?) Thus, the buses are particularly crowded during the seasons when more riders are likely to be riding part way (spring and summer).

    I’ve seem more potential passengers slink away frustrated with their bikes in tow than I can count, with cases evenly split between legitimate space limitations/full racks and inappropriate driver fiat.

  5. Keith Morris

    There are bus bike racks that hold 3 bikes on the front. I suppose Metro Transit might be locked in a contract with the current two-bike model til who knows when. If not, there’s no reason to replace existing ones for those with greater capacity, especially in a city where bikes are heavily utilized.

  6. H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏Henry Pan

    FYI, Gillig won’t install 3-position bike racks on their buses because they obstruct the headlights. That might be one of the reasons why Metro Transit doesn’t have 3-position racks.

    1. Alex anderson

      I have to wonder if they could they just add auxiliary head/turn lights to the three bike racks when they are in the deployed position.

      1. Bill Dooley

        You are still talking a significant number of buses that would have to be retrofitted or changed over and with Metro Transit running a deficit due to legislative funding shortages, this may be hard to do.

  7. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Also better train MT bus drivers to watch for bicyclists and not encroach on their space. IT’s a testy thing but I have seen a thing or two, and there was that one bad crash…

  8. Eric Ecklund

    My experiences with this:

    Southwest Transit’s coach buses have three bike slots. I’ve never seen them all being used at once, but better to have it than not have it and turn down a rider.

    Once on the 18 from Bloomington and once on the 539 I saw people get turned down because there were already two bikes (one of them being mine, so of course I felt a little guilt). The next bus would be half an hour for the 18 and one hour for the 539. Another time on the 539 the driver did let a rider bring his bike on and attached it to the wheelchair harnesses.

    Also getting on the 465 in South Bloomington one morning I had my bike, but there were already two bikes. I asked the driver if I could bring it on and he said no, but thankfully he waited for me to lock it on the rack at the park & ride.

    When Southwest Transit was experimenting with double decker buses they weren’t equipped with bike racks. I asked the driver what happens if someone has their bike, and he said they would have to put it in the storage bin below (where normally you have luggage for intercity bus service).

    In Oslo, Norway none of the buses had bike racks, and the trains didn’t have any designated bike area. I think only once I saw someone brave enough to bring their bike on the bus. That’s one area where the Twin Cities transit has Oslo’s beat!

    Metro Transit and the suburban opt outs definitely need to retrofit the buses for three bike slots, but also determine where most people are getting on/off with their bikes and implement better bike storage. Also if a rider gets turned down they should have drivers offer a free day pass as compensation for the inconvenience.

  9. Steve

    In response to #3, MT drivers pick their routes based on seniority. It’s part of their union bargaining agreement.

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