Bikes on Buses

It’s no secret. Most transit agencies nowadays (with some notable exceptions) put bike racks on their buses.

The good thing is that most people who use bike racks are regular users, so they understand the rules and what to do/not to do. However, as more transit agencies see more and more new riders use their services, problems start arising.

Just yesterday, I saw two extreme situations of what should NOT happen with bikes on buses.

In the first instance, I was on Route 120WB heading up Thayer Drive in Richland while enroute to West Richland. Near Richland High School, there was a young woman with a bike waiting to board. I don’t know what was going on, but there were enough people at the school that all the curb space was filled with parked cars. Because of that, the bus had to stop in traffic. I didn’t notice it at first, but the woman waiting to board had a bike with her, and she just waved at the bus operator like she needed help. Realizing that this woman had no idea what to do with her bike, the bus operator had to put on the parking brake and then step off the bus to assist her. Thayer Drive itself is a 2-lane local collector, so car speed isn’t necessarily an issue, but any instance where a bus operator or passenger has to put themselves into a traffic lane is never safe. It took almost two minutes, but eventually the bike was on the rack and the bus was back on it’s way. About 8 minutes further down the route, the woman disembarked and the bus operator had to help her again with getting her bike off. The situation was a bit different at this stop, which is on a 5-lane main arterial/state highway in city limits, but still unsafe.

Later on in the day, I was on board Route 120EB, waiting to leave Knight Street Transit Center, when I watched through the front window as a middle-aged man started to put his bike on the rack. When it was on the ground, all I could see was that it had a cruiser-style handlebar. But when he lifted it up onto the rack itself, I got rather interested when I saw that it had a gas tank on it. Instantly, I recognized that his bike was actually a motorized bike. (A regular bicycle with usually a 49-66cc two stroke engine attached. Most jurisdictions classify this as “pedal-assist” and will not require a motocycle and/or special license to operate one.) Having previously delved into “motorbikes” myself, I knew the obvious safety hazards that a motorbike on the bike rack would pose. While the rider went through the process of getting his motorbike on the rack, the bus operator was just a few steps away, having a quick snack. When the guy started to put the wheel bar on to secure his motorbike to the rack, the bus operator turned around and saw what was going on. Instantly, I heard her yell “NOPE!” I couldn’t quite her the entire conversation after that point, but it was rather obvious that the guy was not happy about this. He tried pleading his case on and on and on, but the bus operator wasn’t having it. Another bus operator stepped over to back up his coworker, and that just agitated the guy even more. Eventually he relented and took his bike off the rack, but I’d be willing to bet money that BFT’s customer service department got a phone call from him later on in the day.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I think that more transit agencies need to take the approach that MATBUS (Fargo, ND/Moorhead, MN) has implemented. Before anybody can bring a bike with them on the bus, they must first go to the Ground Transportation Center (the system’s main hub), where a employee will go through and do a “training course” with the rider, and then after signing a liability/consent form, the rider will be issued a bike permit that is shown to the bus operator each time your bring your bike on the bus. With this method, proper training in usage of the bike rack can help cut down on time spent loading at the bus stop, reduces liability for the agency itself, and just creates a safer rider experience overall. I’d love to know what you think. Leave a comment below, or send me a tweet on Twitter.

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