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Washington Bicycling Hub - Fall '05
Bike Racks On Buses Racking Up Success
Researchers Say Payoff Far Outweighing Public Investment
By Charles Pekow
Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington, DC journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues.
Message to local transportation agencies: get bike racks for your buses. The investment pays off many times over. And for those already doing it: keep up the good work but expand and improve the program – and find out more about who’s using it and why.
The messages come from the National Center for Transit Research (NCTR) of the University of South Florida, which issued a report called A Return on Investment Analysis of Bikes-on-Bus Programs under a contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Bikes-on-bus (BOB) programs are so successful that the biggest problem is lack of carrying capacity – most bike racks attached to the front of buses can only carry two bicycles, whereas ones that carry three are available.
NCTR surveyed 15 transit agencies and reported that they “generally view the initial investment and operational costs of BOB programs to be minimal compared to the return on the investment.” Several agencies used federal funds to buy the racks.
Some agencies allow riders to bring bikes in the bus when racks are full and the wheelchair area is vacant, at drivers’ discretion. Bikers use the wheelchair tie-downs to secure bikes. No agency that allows bikes in buses reported any problems, though Lane County, OR reported that “bike riders complain” when not allowed to board their two-wheelers.
While the center surveyed mainly transit agencies in Florida, it included four others. Lane, which includes the city of Eugene, evidently got the wheels rolling with the idea when it pioneered it in 1985. (The League of American Bicyclists named Eugene a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2004). Lane didn’t equip all buses until 1996, however.
NCTR also surveyed 200 BOB users and found that most are males who use it to get to work and are in low-income brackets (making less than $30,000/year) and disproportionately black and Hispanic. Almost half don’t own a car. Therefore, NCTR recommends that transit agencies market the program in traffic court for people who lose their licenses and provide people there with bus schedules and even bicycles or helmets to give them a “viable transportation option. Bicycles that are abandoned on racks and unclaimed could provide a good source of bicycles for such a program.”
Some agencies, however, provide cyclists with contact information about claiming forgotten bikes. Agencies vary in their attempts to contact cyclists who leave bikes. In fact, one of the problems with BOB that 10 agencies reported involved riders abandoning their bikes on the racks – so the agencies wind up collecting and donating the bikes to charity. NCTR suggests that transit agencies alert drivers to the problem of abandoned bicycles. A few riders also lose their bikes to thieves.
NCTR also suggests adding secure bike parking at transit stations so commuters wouldn’t have to take the bikes on the bus. Some riders reported they don’t plan to pedal on the other side of their bus ride but don’t want to leave the bikes.
Additionally, NCTR recommends that transit agencies learn more about their BOB services to better target them by programming fare boxes to record the number of users and surveying riders. Most of the transit authorities tracked users, either by a key on the fare box, or driver notes. They could spot trends in use and see if BOB attracts new riders or whether current riders just bring their bikes.
Most transit authorities use front-mounted racks make by Sportsworks. Originally, transit agencies retrofitted buses but now they order new buses with racks. This makes it difficult to determine installation costs. Unless they were damaged, they tend to last longer than buses, so replacement costs are low.
Costs of maintaining the racks are also minimal –- the 15 surveyed agencies reported it takes an average of one-fifth of one staffer’s time to keep them in shape.
Several of the agencies set up either outside or employee committees to oversee BOB. Others entrusted oversight to existing bicycle committees.
And most of the agencies surveyed promote BOB with a page on their websites and brochures distributed in buses and kiosks and at special events. Eight also developed a video. Some require permits to use BOB.
Transit agencies told NCTR they would like more info on incidents and insurance claims and boardings. Though by and large they didn’t report serious problems with delays and falling behind schedule because of bike boarding, they said they’d like to know more about how BOB affects bus timing. Only two agencies reported route delays, most agencies saying it takes more time to load and unload wheelchairs and strollers.
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