Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bikes and Buses, Part 1: Bike Racks

If you travel by bike and bus, you know what it means to “get bumped.” That’s what happens when you’re waiting at the bus stop with everybody else, the bus arrives with a full bike rack, and everybody gets on board but you. You are left standing there with your bike waiting for the next bus or wishing you’d just ridden home to begin with.

This doesn’t happen to me as much as it used to, thanks to Community Transit’s policy to allow bikes inside the bus if it is not too crowded. In the past week I have had my bike both inside and outside of buses. It is not as care-free to hold your bike inside a bus as to have it in a rack, but it is far better than wondering if you’re going to get to work in the morning.

If you’d like to see how easy it is to use a bike rack, the fun way, see this bike rack rap.  Most of Community Transit’s racks work just like this (without the dancing).

Community Transit has had bike racks on all of our buses since 1996, and people have grown to rely upon them. Passengers with bikes make up about 1.3 percent of our boardings overall, but some routes have much higher usage.
  • We had six bikes on a Swift bus recently out of 34 passengers.
  • Routes 201/202 and Route 275 had 4.5 percent of customers board with bikes in April.
  • My former Route 207 had 9 percent of boardings with bikes that month.
Starting in 2005, Community Transit put 3-bike racks (the Trilogy model) on 24 new articulated commuter buses. Prepared to outfit our entire fleet, we purchased our first 12 VeloPorter 3 racks in 2008.
But each bike rack has its difficulties. Trilogy 3 racks are very similar to the 2-racks, except that we need to wire our turn signals to the front of the racks so they are visible. That is time-consuming and creates potential maintenance issues. The V-3 racks are hard to use, in not only my opinion, and loading the middle bike without stepping into traffic can be challenging, especially if your bike is heavy or you are small (that’s why the Community Transit V-3 racks now have the middle spot removed).

Luckily, in the Puget Sound area we have the country’s leading manufacturer of transit bike racks. Both King County Metro Transit and Community Transit have worked with Sportworks in the past few years to come up with a 3-bike rack that maintains a safe turning radius, allows bikes to be loaded independently, meets Washington State Patrol guidelines for lighting and how far in front the rack can extend, and can be quickly and easily used by any bicyclist.

Increasing bike carrying capacity by 50 percent is a big deal, and I certainly will be very happy when Community Transit gets more 3-bike racks on our buses. Nevertheless, I supported Community Transit’s decision to hold off on additional purchases until there is a better design. Sportworks showed us a promising prototype this spring.

Meanwhile, I’ll rely on friendly Community Transit drivers, fellow bicyclists and other bus passengers to support the growing demand for bike-bus travel.

If you’d like to read more about bikes-on-buses around the country, see this report.

Next up: Bikes and Buses, Part II: Bike Parking


  1. It would be great if Community Transit could share this policy with the commuter service coach operators. This policy is inconsistent. On a bus with 10 passengers, is the "policy" that a bike should be allowed on the bus? I was bumped and not allowed on the bus by a coach operator with a lousy attitude. The bus was obviously not full, but the driver said he doesn't let bikes on his bus. I let him know that I needed to catch this trip to arrive at work on time and I would appreciate it if he let me on the bus. He said the policy left it up to the operator, and his decision was final. This is pretty vague. Please clear this up in WRITING with your coach operators so I'm not driving my single occupancy vehicle to Seattle because someone is bummed about layoffs. Please!

  2. The policy applies on both Community Transit local and commuter routes. It is part of the coach operators' written "standard operating procedures" and has also been noted in the driver newsletter. The poicy does NOT apply on Sound Transit buses, even though they are operated by Community Transit.
    If you feel a coach operator has not complied with this or any other Community Transit policy or customer service expectation, please call us and provide information such as bus #, route, time and date.
    You can also call to thank an operator, which I am about to do for the driver who regularly has four bikes on his morning trip without raising an eyebrow.