Many cyclists share the same story: You’re on your way home from work one day when all of the sudden your tire goes flat, and of course it’s the one time you’ve forgotten to bring your pump and patch kit. Or you’re halfway into your ride when it starts pouring rain. Or maybe you’ve put off biking somewhere because it’s too terrifying to cross the four-lane, high-speed bridge that separates you from your destination. What’s a cyclist to do? Fortunately, there is a very simple solution: hail the next bus and load up your bike.
Currently, half of New Jersey Transit (NJT) buses are “bike-friendly;” they are either equipped with pull down bike-carrying racks or allotted space in the undercarriage. There are also no time restrictions regarding when bikes-on-bus (BOB) users may use the racks or undercarriage. A number of institutions and private companies throughout New Jersey have buses equipped to accommodate bicycles.
Bikes began appearing on busses sporadically and at a more localized level in the 1970s and 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that larger transit agencies began more routinely installing bicycle accommodation. Their appearance may be explained in part by improvements in bicycle rack mechanics and the general phasing out of old buses with new, rack-equipped buses. Best practice guides like the Transit Cooperative Research Program Synthesis of Transit Practice 4: Integration of Bicycles and Transit, published in 1994, were also pivotal in helping transit agencies understand how to better implement bike-friendly transportation systems.
Another large impetus for bike racks may be explained by the increased availability of funds for transportation enhancements during the 1990s. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program have all been important contributors in the process of making buses bike-accessible. 
Transit agencies throughout the nation vary in the extent to which they serve BOB users. Several agencies like Metro Transit in Minneapolis make it a point to install racks that accommodate BOB users at all times and on all routes. Other bus agencies that may not have racks or undercarriage allow bikes in the passenger area but only at certain times. Still others require that BOB users follow the rather outdated approach of having to purchase a special permit to bring their bikes on board; even though, permits and other restrictive measures tend to not result in heightened BOB use. In fact, the Transportation Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) found instead that“[…] installing bike racks on all buses and removing peak period and permit restrictions can help a transit agency serve the most potential bicycle customers.”
Bike racks are beneficial on many levels and for many parties. A number of transit agencies have found that bike racks on buses lessen traffic congestion, improve public image of transit, strengthen ties with the bicycling community and even reduce air pollution by decreasing the number of motor vehicle trips.
The largest benefit, however, may be that the availability of a bike rack tends to increase ridership levels by expanding the service area to more potential customers. Bus networks tend to be more localized and destination-focused than rail since their routes are more flexible and smaller-scale. Therefore, equipping buses with bike racks can make an already expansive service be even more accommodating and alluring for would-be, local commuters.
In a survey conducted by the National Center for Transit Research (NCTR) and administered to three different transit agencies in south Florida, one in four BOB users reported themselves as being new transit riders. Furthermore, 80% of that group of new riders claimed that the option of reaching transit via bike was the reason for their mode conversion. The remaining three in four established customers reported using BOB services more frequently after the racks were installed.
Apart from expanding the market, bike racks also attract transit users that utilize the bus on a consistent basis, this creates a dependable and sustainable commuter base for the operating agency. Sixty-five percent of BOB survey participants from the previously mentioned NCTR survey reported using transit four or more days a week.
Another way to capture more BOB users is to increase the bicycle facilities around transit centers and along bus routes. The NCTR found that 61% of BOB users travel more than one mile to the transit location, whereas 20% travel less than 1 mile after arriving at their bus destination.
Given that the commute between home and the bus stop is typically longer than the commute from the bus stop to work, it would make sense for transit agencies to provide secure storage facilities around transit nodes. Having this option gives the cyclist the ability to forgo carting around his/her bike and instead walk or take alternative transit for the last leg of their journey. On-site storage facilities also provide a quick and easy back-up plan if the bus’s rack or undercarriage is full. This issue becomes even more important as the “headway”- the waiting period for the next bus on the route – increases. The longer the headway, the more important it is that cyclists are provided alternative accommodations so they can leave their bike in a safe place and pursue other transportation options.
The next time you get that unexpected flat or want to explore intermodal commuting options, try loading your bike onto a bus. For more information, check out the link below:
Just like when you were learning how to ride a bike all those years ago, it might be a little intimidating the first time you try loading your bike, but with a little practice, you’ll find that it’s easy. Just follow these five steps, and be sure to watch the video below!
Hagelin, Christopher “A Return on Investment Analysis of Bikes-on-Bus Programs.” Center for Urban Transportation Research, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, June 2005. Online. Accessed July 25, 2012. <http://www.nctr.usf.edu/pdf/576-05.pdf>
Schneider, Robert , et al. “Integration of Bicycles and Transit.” Transportation Cooperative Research Program Synthesis 62, Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C., 2005. Online. Accessed Jly 25, 2012. < http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcrp/tcrp_syn_62.pdf>
“Bike & Ride”, Rider Tools, New Jersey Transit, 2012. Accessed July 25, 2012. <http://www.njtransit.com>
 Schneider, Robert , et al. “Integration of Bicycles and Transit.” Transportation Cooperative Research Program Synthesis 62, Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C., 2005. Online. Accessed Jly 25, 2012. < http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcrp/tcrp_syn_62.pdf>
 Hagelin, Christopher “A Return on Investment Analysis of Bikes-on-Bus Programs.” Center for Urban Transportation Research, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, June 2005. Online. Accessed July 25, 2012. <http://www.nctr.usf.edu/pdf/576-05.pdf>