How to Combine Bicycles and Public Transit

Guest post by Duncan Hurd, managing editor of Momentum Mag

On a warm, summer morning my partner and I prepared to set out on our bicycles. Our destination was nearly 62 miles (100 km) away. As we unlocked our bikes, a neighbor asked where we were headed. He told us that we didn’t look like the kind of people who would ride that far. He was right. We had no intention of cycling the entire way. We’d ride the first 2 miles (3.2 km) to a commuter rail station, hop on a train with our bicycles and complete our trip with a short bike ride from a train station to our destination.

Combining bicycles with transit for trips both short and long is a growing trend in North America. Public transit systems are installing bike racks on buses and at popular transit stops and some are including secure bike storage facilities, with lockers and repair stands, at transit stations. By making it easier to combine bikes with transit, cities can help alleviate rush hour congestion and provide a stepping stone toward motivating people to use their bicycles more often.

Most public transit systems provide an excellent way to cover longer distances at a much lower cost than by personal car. However, it’s very difficult for a transit system to provide stations or bus stops close to all destinations. Since many destinations are only a few miles away from a transit station, bicycles provide a low-cost, efficient and often faster way to start and finish your trip.

Take Your Bike with You

  • On longer trips, I often look for ways that I can take my bicycle along with me. The commuter rail service that connects Toronto to cities throughout Southern Ontario offers limited access for bicycles. On weekends and outside of rush hours bicycles are permitted on most rail cars. Local and regional bus services here also have limited space for bicycles, often just a front-mounted rack that can carry at most two bikes.
  • Taking a bike with you will often mean traveling outside of peak times. If space is limited for your bike and knowing there are a lot of people intending to travel with theirs it can throw a wrench in your travel plans, so be sure to check your local transit regulations beforehand.

Lock It and Leave It

  • Many transit systems encourage commuters to leave their bicycles at transit stations. Sheltered bike racks and indoor storage facilities are sometimes available. You may be required to pay a fee or obtain a membership for some storage facilities, though outdoor racks are often provided free.
  • When leaving your bicycle at a transit station be sure to take anything with you that could be easily stolen. Make sure you use a secure lock, remove your lights and cover your saddle to protect it from the weather.

Travel By Bike Share 

  • Bike share systems are rapidly expanding and are a perfect complement to public transit. New York, Chicago, Vancouver, and Los Angeles among others are all expected to launch bike share systems in 2013. In cities where bike share systems already exist, like Montreal, Washington, DC and Boston, bike share stations are often located alongside transit stops. This makes the transition from train to bike simple. By using bike share you never have to worry about locking your bike or theft.

North Americans are embracing bicycles as their preferred transportation choice in ever-growing numbers. By allowing people to choose how they travel, and offering ways to combine walking, cycling, transit and even driving, cities can help address our diverse transportation needs.


Duncan Hurd is managing editor of Momentum Mag, an independent media company that promotes, encourages and inspires “Smart Living by Bike.” He lives in Toronto, Canada and believes that every ride is a group ride, even if those around him don’t know it yet. Subscribe to Momentum Mag’s free newsletter.

Photo: David Niddrie

6 Comments

  1. I like the article, but not sure about the public transit being cheaper than a car. Out here in Denver, light rail to get into Denver is $7 or 8 now. For 1 tank of gas (round trip) and <$5 for parking, I can take my car.

    For the main thrust of the article, I strongly agree. I would like to expand the TOD "radius" to be at least 4 times the traditional radius that people talk about around regional transit stations. The bike share stations mentioned in this article would be a great start. In Denver, downtown Denver does have these stations, but when I go to the light rail web site, the bike sharing stations is not obvious. I think that one potential for improvement is to have a "transportation" web site to help people get around and not web sites for individual companies which do not want to advertise other companies … light rail and bike sharing in this example. Another thing that I think would help is if the two companies get together so that the total trip cost is reasonable from getting the regional ticket and the secondary local bike rental.

    In the Denver region, the bike sharing needs to be extended to locations other than downtown Denver … to the burbs.

    To complement the bike sharing/rental option, I would also like to see electric low speed vehicle (LSVs) sharing/rental at the TOD stations. To overly simplify, LSVs are street legal golf carts with some extra features such as head lights and brake lights. In most states LSVs are legal on roads up to 35 mph. Some LSVs are enclosed, which would help for inclement weather. "Personal" LSVs can have 2 to 6 passengers and larger shuttle bus LSVs are also available.

    One additional concern with public transit cost, is when you have a family. I think that having family friendly pricing would be helpful. As it stands now, for me to take my entire family to downtown Denver by light rail would be too expensive.

  2. Laurie Baldwin

    Scott from Denver: don’t forget to factor in your daily car insurance and maintenance costs, not just gas, when you are comparing public transit with the same trip by car.
    Here in Lower Mainiacland (Metro Vancouver, BC) average insurance cost for a 4 door family car is probably between $1200 to $1600 per year /365 = $3.50 to $4.50 per day.
    Maintenance costs, even if all you do are oil changes 2 or 3 times a year @ 25.00 each time, still have a daily impact.
    Therefore, a transit trip (with bicycle) for me into the city (50 km / 30 mi) one way = $5.50 / return $11.00
    By car = (@22 mpg- 1.3 gal @ $4.50) $5.85 + $3.50 toll charge over the bridge + 3.50 daily vehicle insurance totals $12.85 / return $23.20. I’m assuming free parking. Otherwise $6 – 10)
    I don’t go into the city very often, but if I did commute daily, there are fare-saver passes available that would make it even less expensive.
    The only time it makes sense for us to take a vehicle into the city is if there are 3 or more people travelling together.

  3. Scott Ranville

    Laurie – Yes, I am familiar with your arguments, but to me they are not valid unless I can survive without a car. If I have to own a car, I am going to have insurance and maintenance costs if I drive to meetings in Denver or not.

    For our family we do have to own a car. Our walkscore value = 43, and nearest grocery store is 1.11 miles. I do ride my bike as often as possible for local transportation, but I cannot buy a week’s worth of groceries and get everything to fit on my bike to get the food home. We are a somewhat typical suburb family and have to own a car.

    I am a math guy, so I do like your math and trying to be analytically. As you pointed out, the math works out for you. For us, not so much.

  4. Dave

    Parking for 5$ or less in downtown denver is pretty rare and specific to some distance areas. Most around the central core tend to be around 15$. Meters also vary but 2$ for 2hr is what is near my office. Also your fees for lightrail aren’t accurate. A regional ticket is 5$ for the greatest distance. From my place downtown it’s 2.25$

    Lauri, for very few people can public transit actually eliminate the need for vehicle ownership. When I was single and living in Capitol Hill I didn’t own one for about 8 years. Now, living 5miles from downtown(work) and having a daughter that needs to get to daycare not owning a vehicle would be very difficult. Winter time isn’t very safe to be dragging a kid in a bike trailer.

    My current operation is to drive 1/2 mile, drop off my daughter and bike the rest into downtown. Public transit would add 30 min to that trip not including wait times for the bus or the long walk to get to a stop

  5. Scott Ranville

    Dave,

    I was quoting round trip rates. It is $4 one way or $8 round trip from Littleton (3 zones). My meetings are typically at DRCOG, near DAM (Denver Art Museum). There is a b-cycle share station there, so taking light rail ($8) and then getting a day pass ($8) for the bike would be $16 for the total travel costs.

    Parking by DAM is 50 cents per hour (maybe half hour) and there is a $5/day lot there.

    For some meetings my wife joins me, so for a public transit option that is $32. For about $3 in gas and <= $5 for parking, we can have the convenience and reduced travel time.

    To me, Denver area public transit is way too expensive when only needing to use it on rare occasion. I have not checked out the yearly pass cost and if that price would be worth while.

  6. washington to new york bus

    If distances you need to travel are too great, combining cycling with public transport can get you there. Combining different forms of transportation saves you more money and makes your commute easier…

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