Buses and bikes ought to be a match made in heaven, particularly with long distance buses that travel between cities. Those bigger buses have plenty of room in their cargo holds for bikes – especially folding bikes – and cyclists looking to easily extend their routes make great paying customers for bus lines. Why, then, is the experience of bringing a bike on a bus sometimes a baffling ordeal, or not even possible at all?
Some bus operators get it right. We've had wonderful, straight-forward experiences on Bolt, Go Bus, and RTD Denver buses to name a few. In all of those cases, it was very clear what we could and couldn't do before we arrived, so that we could safely make our plans. With other bus operators, including Megabus, it is left up to the discretion of the driver. Think about that, for a moment...
- You plan a nice weekend getaway in a city that's 2 hours away by bus
- You buy your bus tickets online
- You book a cute place to stay on AirBnB
- You load up your luggage onto your bikes and ride to the local bus terminal
- The driver that day doesn't feel like allowing bikes on the bus. There's plenty of room in the cargo hold, he just doesn't feel like it. And that's his right. He doesn't have to make sense, and the only arbitration process you have is to call their 1-800 number and ask for a supervisor.
You did everything right. You're trying to go experience a new city, to spend your hard-earned money stimulating the economy, to have a relaxing weekend exploring new places with someone special... but a poorly thought-out company policy and a bus driver who's having a "power trip" kind of Friday can literally stop your plans cold. And I believe it is that uncertainty that keeps many would-be bike/bus tourists from trying this combination out. Companies like Bolt and Go Bus, who have taken steps to remove this uncertainty by stating that they will always allow bikes as long as there's room, are pleasant to travel on with a bike. In our experience so far, there has always been plenty of room for bikes under the bus.
But there's so much room for improvement, and nothing but upside for the bus companies and the biking customers. Here's what we'd make happen, in this order, if we had a magic wand:
1. All long distance bus companies accept folding bikes as long as they fit luggage size requirements, period. Doesn't matter that once unfolded it becomes an awesome transportation device. As far as you folks are concerned, it's luggage.
2. When I book in advance, allow me to book a spot down below for a full-sized bike, and charge me $10 for it. For $10, I will sleep like a baby knowing I have a spot for my bike, and you will get ten more bucks than you would've otherwise. That's a great deal for both of us.
3. Last minute ticket people can still put a full-sized bike down there if there's room, for free, in exchange for them running the risk of there NOT being room. And hey, if there was room, why would you care anyway? You just delighted a customer without doing a derned thing. Yahtzee!
4. Allow bike trailers as long as the wheels are removed and the trailer is folded down to its smallest size. Charge $10 for it in advance / allow it free last-minute if there's room, same as full-sized bikes.
5. If the Bus's A/C breaks down in August, the driver has to pull over and buy everyone ice cream.
Clear, logical, fair policies like this mean that customers know what they can expect, and drivers don't have to make any judgement calls. BOTH of those things will make BOTH of those people happier. Happier is better. All of it could be implemented next week. And it would only serve to increase business for the bus companies, which one must assume would be a good thing.
Post Script... Seriously. Ice Cream.