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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bicycle Racks on the TTC

CANADA - Five years ago the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) started a program of outfitting buses with bicycle racks on the front, spending a little over $2 million on the project (plus added fuel costs for the additional weight of the apparatus).

Today its now a question of whether it was worth it or just a waste in an effort for the TTC in its goal of becoming more bicycle friendly. Toronto has over 2.5 millions bicycles after all and approx. 5% of Torontonians commute to work and college/university, to say nothing of the % that just enjoy a long ride out to the Scarborough Bluffs or the Humber Bay Arch Bridge. In theory it was a wise investment.

However the percentage of riders who actually use the bike racks is apparently nil. Most cyclists prefer to cycle back home rather than rely on the TTC buses... or if they do take the TTC, I usually see them taking the subway or street cars.

I must admit I don't even know how to USE the bike rack on the front of a TTC bus. I've never used it and therefore have never tried.

The TTC claims rack usage is growing, but admits the numbers are still pretty small.

When the pilot program was first started in 2005 4 customers per 10,000 customers used the bicycle racks. That is 0.04%. Not even close to 1%.

Since then usage has apparently gone up says the TTC, but exact numbers are unknown despite installing the racks on 1,660 buses.

I admit I rarely see the bike racks being used, but I HAVE seen them in use even though I wasn't paying attention and deliberately looking for them. It was completely by accident whenever I did notice. Its difficult for me to estimate just how popular their usage is.

According to the TTC usage of the bike racks during the Summer 2009 have gone up 305% since Summer 2006. Slightly more than tripled. So instead of 4 riders per 10,000 its about 12. That is still only 0.12% of users.

Mind you not all buses even have a bike rack. These statistics are skewed by the fact all of the TTC's old GM buses still don't have bicycle racks on them.

There's another factor too... if only 5% of Torontonians regularly commute by bicycle then that means the 0.12% of TTC customers who use bike racks during the summer... then the approx. number of cyclists who use the bike racks during the summer is about 2.4%. That sounds about right.

Which means it probably is a complete waste of money, considering that the other 9 months the statistics will be pretty damn low and even during summer months the statistics remain reasonably low because so few cyclists bother to take the TTC on the way to and fro.

TTC operators are also keen to point its not bicycles that slow down buses... its a combination of bus delays, vehicle bunching, overcrowding, traffic and the dreaded baby strollers. Bicycles INSIDE the bus instead of on the bike rack aren't really a problem for drivers.

“The stroller issue has really become a problem,” says TTC operator Paul Flynn. “There are definitely things that delay us for longer than bicycle racks.”

Many people still don’t know the racks are there or how to use them, says Flynn (and he's right, I have yet to use one). Stopping a bus, coming out and showing riders how to place their bike on the rack doesn’t cause much of a delay, he added.

But those damn baby strollers on the other hand...

(I'd like to take a moment and point out that a lot of parents are putting their kids in baby strollers even by ages of 4 to 7. I know because I've seen it. That's overdoing it quite a bit. Sure, its easier to control the kid so they're not getting into trouble... but I'd argue these parents would be better off disciplining their children with either an ear tug or the occasional light spanking. Pampering your kids and refusing to spank them causes more problems in the long run. As a 5 year old I remember living in fear of my father's spankings and the rule of thumb from my experience was to spank the child until they wept. No blood, no serious bruising, no permanent damage. Just a sore bum and some tears to remember why you shouldn't play with matches. Parents could exercise a bit more common sense when their children are old enough to walk themselves to kindergarden.)

“The original pilot was only on a limited set of buses and their use has grown dramatically over the last few years,” says TTC chair Adam Giambrone. "Alternative forms of transportation like cycling, walking and transit are well served when they are integrated."

“It depends on the time of day, the point is they are there,” says Toronto Cyclists Union executive director Yvonne Bambrick who believes the racks are important. “They help people get around; they help people use their bike as part of their daily commute.”

And the racks are there in the event of an emergency, like a broken bicycle that needs to be dragged back home or to the repair shop.

It also gives cyclists another option since bicycles aren't allowed on the subway during rush hours... and the ability to visit distant places around the GTA, bring your bicycle along and then either bicycle home or carry it home on a bike rack.

Like bicycle lanes, the racks are an important step in incorporating bikes into the transportation network, says Bambrick.

My opinion however can be best summed in the following questions: Is it such a pain to just lift and carry your bicycle on to the bus? Or is it not the cyclists the TTC was really worried about... was the bike racks there to keep the other riders happy? Because if its a matter of keeping the other TTC users happy by not having a bicycle on the bus and taking up important space then I'd say the rack is well worth it.

One last note: If the TTC wants to be more user friendly the first thing they should do is have bathrooms in every subway station and make sure they are CLEAN. Nothing is more than disgusting than a TTC bathroom. I also think storage lockers, water fountains, more restaurant/food options and even stores would be a welcome change inside TTC stations and bring in additional revenue.


  1. I tried the ttc bus rack once when I'd had a few too many and didn't think I should be riding home. The driver had to step out and help me load the bike, b/c it really wasn't clear to me how to fix the bike to the rack. Having seen it done once, I think it is pretty easy to use. But short bus rides are generally too short to consider bothering with, and long ones are generally in neighbourhoods where cycling is miserable - like along most parts of eglinton. Despite the cost and lack of use, I think the bus racks may make sense over the long term, but the neighbourhoods without subways will need to become more bike friendly.

  2. I'm a regular user of the bike racks, and the major problem with them is that quite often during rush hours the drivers wont take the bicyle into the stations so you can transfer from one bus to another. (as explicitly permitted under their own bylaw). I've been threatened by drivers when I've refused to remove my bike when they demand I leave the bus part way through the journey. I've even had their Control Centre supervisors yelling over their tannoy at me for daring to use the bicycle rack system as its supposed to be used.



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