Whenever I raise the issue of buses being able to carry bikes, local bus service providers tend to shake their heads and mumble about insurance, lack of space inside the bus and, in the case of outside racks, heath & safety. They seem to regard bikes on buses as a slightly eccentric idea that’s impractical and has little demand.
I'm certainly aware of widespread annoyance from cyclists about the lack of what, on the face of it, should be a fairly standard provision. If we’re serious about what the Welsh Government calls active travel, surely extending the range of cycling through the use of public transport should be an obvious component.
Whilst they may be an alien idea to bus companies here, there’s at least one part of the world where cycle racks on buses seems to be routine. North America hasn’t got a reputation in this country for green transport but I’ve visited two different states in the last 18 months where racks are a standard part of the bus service.
Last year I travelled down the coast of California. Buses in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego all had the same type of rack bolted to the front and I watched people routinely using them to get about those cities. This year, I’ve just returned from Toronto where I had the pleasure of using a similar kind of rack on three different buses for a bike I’d hired (see photo).
The system is quite simple. When not in use the rack is folded up against the front of the vehicle. To use it you pull a lever to release the rack and bring it down. The passenger then lifts the bike onto wheel-width slots on the rack and brings a bar round to securely grip the front wheel and prevent movement. That’s it - ready to go. Takes 30 seconds.
Drivers aren’t allowed to physically help but are happy to explain what to do. Once you’ve used one for the first time you won’t need another explanation. There’s no extra fare for taking a bike.
The only buses in Wales that I know of allowing bikes (aside from foldaways) are the Llanrwst - Cwm Penmachno 64 service run by Llew Jones and the Cardiff - Brecon bike bus which runs using a trailer on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Bike buses are apparently also being trialled at Inverness, Nottingham and Portsmouth.
It seems to me that the problem in this country isn’t so much about supposed health and safety rules but about cultural custom and practice. We’re just not used to having bikes on buses here and, if we in Wales are serious about active travel, we need to wise up.
A recent meeting of the Ceredigion Local Access Forum agreed a strongly worded paper urging bus companies to get over their conceptual hang-ups about bikes on buses. With the Active Travel Act passed by the Senedd last November, it’s time our bus services got up to speed with best practice in other parts of the world.