What About My Bike? (or, The Indignity of Taking a Bicycle Aboard a Bus)
On our recent bus trip to Bend, we learned that we were supposed to have the Bromptons packed in some sort of box or bag. It’s a halfway reasonable request, but one which we knew nothing about until we were actually boarding the bus. The very limited website said nothing about bicycles. The person on the other end of the phone number I found to call for questions said, rather nonchalantly, that they just bring all bicycles on board. The station agent, when we purchased the tickets and then checked in the next day, said nothing about the bag/box requirement. Which led me to once again grumble internally and grit my teeth through a forced smile, as I tried to talk my way on to the driver’s good side by copping the ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know’ defense.
As it turns out, we were also supposed to have paid a $15 bicycle fee. This we don’t learn until a week later, when we had purchased our return tickets, leaving Bend. I asked about folding bikes, thinking that, surely, common sense would kick in and the Bromptons would be exempt from the fee. Nope, she tells me, those are $15 too. Which leads me to wonder why. By their very own luggage policy, a passenger is allowed to check one bag, provided that it is under 50 pounds and isn’t oversize. So, if our Bromptons fit in a bag that is within the size and weight restrictions, why is there an the extra fee?
In the US, there seems to be an ingrained prejudice against bicycles, especially when it comes to taking them aboard some sort of transit system, and even more especially when it comes to long-distance bus systems. To be fair, a regular-size bike can be bulky and unwieldy and require a large amount of space. But so can a baby stroller. And those suitcases that are four feet tall. The reasons why a bicycle, specifically, should be subject to extra fees are nonsensical and illogical. And they’re even more absurd when the bicycle-in-question fits inside a rather standard-size duffel.
Contrast this with our experiences taking The Wave bus between Portland and Tillamook, OR. The Wave is the same small size/style vehicle as the bus to Bend, yet our bikes were cheerfully welcomed each of the three times we traveled on The Wave. With racks on the front and a large luggage compartment, it’s so easy and enjoyable to take a bicycle with you on The Wave that we’ve seen upwards of seven cyclists onboard at one time. No muss, no fuss, no fee… just an example of a long-distance bus system that gets it.
Which also leads me to wonder why there’s such variance in bike policies? Why is it such a guessing game to figure out how to take along a bicycle? And why do you inevitably feel like you’re doing something wrong?
I think it comes down to one very simple answer: Long-distance bus systems have not yet become aware of the fact that bicycles are now a part of the everyday equation.
Yes, people, it’s time to recognize that, whatever your personal feelings, your patrons might want to take a bicycle with them. They want it to be a simple, straight-forward process. They want reasonable policies that are laid out in advance and easy to find. They want the bus driver and the customer service agent and the woman behind the counter to all understand said policies in exactly the same way. And here’s the clincher: They want to feel like their bicycle is welcome, because then they will use your bus again and again and tell their friends to do so also.
Which isn’t to say that bicycle-toting patrons are unreasonable. Set a limit to the number of bicycles your bus can carry. Require patrons to reserve a bike space (and make sure to tell them how). These are policies that are already in place in a lot of train systems. And I’d hazard a guess that cyclists would be perfectly fine with these limits, because it’s obvious that you’re open and willing and trying to accommodate your customers.
Right now, there is a lot of unnecessary indignity that faces someone trying to take a bicycle aboard a long-distance bus. We have all flubbed the truth and slipped through the grey areas, heart pumping way too fast, in order to get past the pointless red flag that pops up at the mere mention of the word ‘bicycle.’ Most of us would be happily willing to be law-abiding bus-riding citizens, if we didn’t feel like common sense had completely broken down and we were being unreasonably targeted.
So, we hereby issue a challenge to all long-distance bus systems… Sit down and craft a reasonable, non-discriminatory policy that allows your patrons to take bicycles aboard. Then let us know.
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