Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Bicycles on Transit – Contributor to New Mobility

with 6 comments

Jack Becker via the Trans-Action list

This week again provided the pleasure to listen to Gil Peñalosa. (  He is a dynamic speaker on walking and cycling for life providing good insights on the need to move to the new mobility.

During the evening lecture, Gil touched on the point of bicycles on public transit such as buses and rapid transit.  He argued that we should not be wasting our time advocating for taking our bikes on public transit.  He argued for bikes on both ends of transit trips, such as is so evident in Europe.  Whenever I go there, seeing the thousands of bicycles around transportation centres is such an inspiring sight.  It also reminds one of how far behind in sustainable cycling we are in North America, pathetically behind.

He argued that bicycle carrying capacity of buses and rapid transit systems, like SkyTrain here in Vancouver, will not do much to increase cycling mode share, an indicator of cycling traffic volumes.

His argument was focused on people travelling to their place of work using SkyTrain, in our metropolitan area.

So, all those people who want to take their bikes on Caltrain in the San Francisco area should be have two bikes and lockers at both end of their rapid transit trip instead of taking bicycles onboard.  Caltrans is having a demand on train for bikes, which exceeds capacity even with some of their trains accommodating 64 bikes.

As it happened during the week around his lecture, the local Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition was getting media attention, including newspaper, radio and TV, advocating for more bicycle space on SkyTrain and the Canada line, a new underground line being opened next year.  This is in addition to the VACC’s advocacy for secured bike storage spaces at SkyTrain and Canada Line stations.

Two Different Directions

Peñalosa’s lecture was an opportunity to reflect on two different strategies aimed at increasing the use of cycling for transportation in combination with transit.

Bicycles on transit vehicles should be looked at from the concept of the fit to new mobility and the needs of our cities for the next few decades.  Bicycles on transit vehicles should be viewed from the perspective of needs of people for alternate methods of travel to using a car, not just those who travel consistently to fixed place of work with rapid transit along the route.

The full needs of people were not addressed in his argument, just those who had a rapid transit system along their commuting route.  Rapid transit systems tend to be downtown-oriented, at least in Vancouver, while commuting to work and other travel patterns are moving away to more cross-metro trips.

His argument did not include the greater context of the fit of bikes on transit vehicles for people whose travel patterns to work changes regularly, whose travel pattern includes buses instead of rapid transit, who want exercise as part of going to work, of shopping, of commuting for other reasons, including meeting attendance, of local, regional, and extended touring, of recreational cycling, and of the effect of weather and of darkness and generally options to cycling both ways to their destinations.  The argument did not reflect on the enabling factors which a back-up transportation system provides to potential cyclists should a mechanical or personal body breakdown happen on route.

In Vancouver, cyclists are complaining that TransLink is not moving to three-bike racks for buses.  For some select bus routes such as the ones to the ferry docks, they are calling for much more capacity than that.  For a period when there was a ban on bikes being carried by the newly-arrived New Flyer buses after darkness fell due to the supplier not supplying buses which met the contract, cyclists’ complained as their commutes safety was compromised.  Lack of safe cycling facilities, bridges with inadequate cycling infrastructure, women cycling alone late at night from work were some of the complaints.  Headlights were improperly located on these buses and did not meet the provincial standard.  Darkness tends to set in Vancouver before homebound commutes during the winter months.

Are bikes on transit the only direction to increase cycling mode share?  Of course not but it does provide a linearity with sporadic trip decision options to cycling not available when a person is tied to some form of bike parking arrangements at two transit stations with two bikes, from unsecure bike racks to bike lockers to bike stations.  Bike share does provide a similarity in trip linearity, providing a bicycle is available and in working order without a three or more block walk to the next bike share station.  Bike on transit is just another flexibility along with bike share and secure, guaranteed bike parking at transit stations.  Each providing its contribution in increasing cycling traffic and in growth of the cycling mode share statistic.  Each will appeal to different people and make a contribution in enticing some of those who were identified in the Cycling in Cities study to move from their cars to cycling combined with transit instead.

Will There Be Space on Board Transit For You?  Or Drive Instead – The Choice

So, when you are not sure that there will be a space for your bike on the bus, on SkyTrain, or at a bike racks at the stations, what are you going to do?  Driving instead seems to be a logical solution.  Data from “Cycling in Cities” study of 2005 and 2006 ( ) seems to indicate that there are about 400,000 people in Metro Vancouver who would consider cycling for transportation, if only the facilities were to their liking, which includes transit.  Now, would it not be nice to attract at least 100,000 of these to using their bicycles or cycling and transit.  To put this in perspective, according to Census Canada 2006, there are about 1 million people living in Metro Vancouver who work.  Enticing these 100,000 people to cycling and transit would increase the cycling mode share by 10%.  Not bad, considering that Metro Vancouver’s cycling mode share is currently at 1.7% and has not changed in ten years, except for that blip to 1.9% in 2001 during a four-month transit strike, an indicator of cycling elasticity curve if a transportation condition is changed.

The Capacity Argument

Gil Peñalosa argument was that there was not sufficient capacity for bicycles on buses and SkyTrain to really change the cycling mode share.  With bike capacity fully utilized for buses and SkyTrain and with the VACC proposal for bike cars implemented, Metro Vancouver’s cycling mode share for transportation to work could increase up from the 2006 level of 1.65% to 11%.  If three bike racks on buses were implemented, then this statistic could increase to 13%.  Now, how do you get to this level, have people feel that there would be capacity there for their bicycle, and understand trip alternatives should in the infrequent cases the capacity be used up?  Realistically, it would be a significant move forward to get 50% usage of the potential carrying capacity.

In Vancouver, there are about 1,300 buses operating on the average 11 hours per day in 2006 and increasing.  2008 will see another 90 units added.  The fleet is 100% bike rack equipped except for a few West Coast Express buses.  The bus fleet has capacity to carry about 50,000 bicycles per day.  TransLink does not keep statistics on actual bike rack on buses usage.  Although the racks are not fully utilized, cyclists do experience bus bypass with the racks being full, especially on some routes.  The racks are used under any weather condition and time of day or night, from sunshine, warm days to miserable rainy ones or days with ice on the road.  If the bike rack spaces were fully utilized on each bus for the 11 hour of average daily bus service hour, the cycling mode share for bus riders would be about 9%.

On a radio TV interview last week, Drew Snyder of TransLink, Metro Vancouver and region transit and transportation authority, stated that cyclists with bikes on SkyTrain represent 0.5% of the SkyTrain ridership.  He did not mention that the traffic volume of cyclists using the SkyTrain was being restricted by TransLink, not by the demand of cyclists for that service.  He failed to mention that bicycle parking at many SkyTrain stations can be as little as 4 to 8 bicycles to maybe 130 bike lockers and a couple of bike racks at King George station.  He failed to mention that SkyTrain stations had signs warning that bicycles locked to the fence and to railing would be removed.  So, where is a cyclist to place a bike when the racks are full?  No other option but to take it on the train.  Then the SkyTrain system is constrained to anywhere from four to eight bicycles per train depending on configuration and restricted hours.  Now, there is only one SkyTrain station left where bicycles cannot be taken on.

Any solution of bicycles on SkyTrain requires more cars as the system is under capacity at rush hours.  Then, there are 49 cars due within the next two years to address the current demand shortfall allowing for more people to convert to using SkyTrain.

Theoretically, the SkyTrain system has capacity for about 10,000 bicycles per day on board the trains based on the average operating hours of SkyTrain cars, two bikes per car, and a turnover of twice per hour.  If each car were fully utilized for each hour of operation, then the cycling mode share with bikes on board for SkyTrain ridership would be about 5%.  According to TransLink, the current bikes on board represent 0.5% of the SkyTrain ridership.  This statistic is sometimes reported as part of Station Access Mode Share.  There is certainly room for growth.  Rush hour constraints take out four hours of peak demand per day in the rush hour direction.  This represents a cycling mode share opportunity loss of 0.5%.

If the VACC proposal for adding a half car to each train were implemented, then the capacity for each train would increase by about 20 bicycles.  This would translate into an opportunity for cycling mode share growth of 9% as a percentage of ridership, a significant number.

Maybe the way to satisfy peoples’ needs for flexibility and choice in combining cycling and transit is to provide all three options – secure bike parking at stations, increased bicycle carrying capacity on transit vehicles, and bike share.

Hans-Jurgen (Jack) E.H. Becker

Director, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition

3303-1033 Marinaside Cr.

Vancouver, B.C., V6Z 3A3


Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 7:43 am

Posted in bicycles, transit

6 Responses

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  1. “Maybe the way to satisfy peoples’ needs for flexibility and choice in combining cycling and transit is to provide all three options – secure bike parking at stations, increased bicycle carrying capacity on transit vehicles, and bike share.”


    plus dedicated bicycle lanes!

    Roland Tanglao

    August 25, 2008 at 8:25 am

  2. Though there is a push on to get bicycles on transit, it may just force other customers off. Bicycle grease on ones good clothes is a good incentive not to take transit.

    In far more bicycle friendly Europe, the debate rages on. Many French cities operating LRT have the stanchions inside the tram profiled to accept a bike, with some cars having the ability to take 4 bikes at one time.

    Stuttgart’s RAC LRT line to the university (its on a mountaintop, sounds familiar?) has small 4 wheel “bobbers”, small flat-cars that are designed hold 20 or so bikes for the trip to the top.

    Several German cities also offer bike friendly buses (I saw one when I stayed in Heilbronn in 1990) where the back end of the bus was cut away in order to handle several bikes at one time and used on hilly routes.

    Many of the Swiss light railways have special vans to take bicycles to and fro and what I have seen, are heavily used during holiday periods.

    Now the bad news, many transit authorities are trying to limit taking bikes on public transit and my first sentence certainly shows the reason why. If you want people to take transit, having bicycles interfere with one’s trip is a disincentive not to take transit.

    The bicycle issue is one of the transit authority trying to please everyone, yet pleasing no one.

    One solution – when the new SkyTrain ART cars enter revenue service, TransLink should take 4 or 6 sets of the now elderly Mk.1’s and gut them of seats and design and operate them as bicycle cars only. Timetable them to operate at set schedules throughout the day on the Expo Line, so the cyclists know when to catch them and this should ease the problem of bicycles on SkyTrain.

    The question is: Is TransLink up to it?

    P.S. – If the VALTAC & Valley Rail types are successful in getting the Vancouver to Chilliwack rail service reinstated, maybe the Stuttgart solution is in order. Build small 4 wheel flatcars and design it for bicycles and couple it on some of the services. I think this would be hugely successful in the summer (sunny?) months!

    Malcolm J.

    August 25, 2008 at 9:49 am

  3. I suspect that the Canada Line cars (which have large open areas near the middle for bikes, wheelcharis and luggage) will be used as a model to see whether or not opening up areas within a car works well.

    Ron C.

    August 25, 2008 at 11:36 am

  4. I don’t think the solution is to transport bikes from one place to the other, it would be more efficient to have the bike where you need them.
    Ride your own bike to the station, take a bus/skytrain, when you get off you are able to take a bike from a bike share to close to your destination and then the return is just the reversal.
    Hopefully the COV’s bike share program will go ahead quickly, although I imagine we won’t see any movement until after this falls election.

    Joe Just Joe

    August 25, 2008 at 8:08 pm

  5. Joe Just Joe that is the norm in Japan (I have never seen a bicycle on a train or bus there, and I doubt it is allowed) but due to the large number of manned bike “parkades” at almost every station with decent levels of ridership, most people either leave their bike or have one at either end.

    I prefer this, as I don’t like the idea of bikes on trains. Not a very efficient use of space, imo.


    August 26, 2008 at 4:06 pm

  6. Portland MAX has a neat solution that saves space

    Stephen Rees

    August 26, 2008 at 8:27 pm

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