Commute by bus

You rode your bike to the office, but then a freak blizzard rolls in to render road conditions hazardous for your bike. Or you get a bad case of food poisoning. Or some dirtbag stole your wheels. Or the you forgot to charge your light batteries.

Any number of mishaps can happen to greatly increase the hassle of your bike commute. If public transportation is available in your area, I recommend learning how to use it before you need it. I and many other winter bike commuters always carry enough fare for an emergency bus ride. Here are the things you should know:

  • You need to know the location of the nearest bus or train stop. Consider biking (if you can) to a slightly farther stop to minimize transfers. Most public transit agencies have schedules, stops and route information online. Search for “[Your City] public transit” if you don’t know the website. While Google Transit is now integrated into Google Maps, they only provide information for a very small number of transit agencies. You may need to hunt for it, but some transit providers and regional transportation management agencies have a trip planner somewhere on their website.
  • Read the “How to ride” information on your transit agencies website. If you can’t find it, the usual procedure is to wave the bus down at the bus stop, load the bike on the front rack (if applicable), board the bus, pay the fare by inserting cash and change into the fare box, ask for a transfer (if applicable) and take your seat. You usually pull a cord or push a button to indicate your stop.
  • You need a rough idea of the public transit schedule, along with how well connections mesh. If buses run every 10 minutes from 4 a.m. to midnight, for example, your planning is fairly easy. If buses run only once an hour or if service to your neighborhood stops at 7 p.m. and you absolutely must leave the office at 4:45 p.m. to make it there, preparation and quick thinking is somewhat more important. I keep transit schedules and maps pasted on my office door.
  • Does your transit provider allow bikes? If bikes are permitted, are the onboard bike facilities rarely used, or do they fill up quickly? If the there’s no more bike space, what’s your Plan B?
  • Some transit systems such as Denver RTD Light Rail require a “bike permit” to take a bike on board. Some may limit the times that bikes can board, or they may limit which stations that bikes can be loaded.
  • How much fare is required to get you home? Do you buy a ticket or tokens beforehand, or can you pay when you board? Most transit agencies that accept fare on board require exact change. Of those that require exact change, you can pay extra — you just won’t receive change. For example, if the fare is $1.50, the fare box will accept $2.
  • If you need to take multiple routes, does your transit agency accept transfers?

Don’t forget to check if your employer offers an “emergency ride home” service for alternate mode commuters. Some employers also participate in “EcoPass” type programs, in which they provide free or discounted transit passes to employees.

Anxiety is normal the first time you try a new mode of transportation. Study it out, bring schedules and maps with you, and try riding the bus when you have some free time. On a bus, try sitting near the front on the “passenger side” (the right side in the Americas, continental Europe and China, for example) where you can see out the front window so you can spot your stop.

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0 thoughts on “Commute by bus”

  1. Nathan says:

    I use this system of bus/bike to make my 15 mile commute doable in most situations. It’s great to learn the freedom of public transit and know if need be you could get almost anywhere, with your bike doing the rest.

  2. Noah says:

    Bus or bust! The bus is a lifesaver on bad weather days. My winter beater mountain bike can slog a few miles through anything, even 18″ deep snow or the bowels of hell itself to get to a bus stop. Thanks to the bus, I’ve only driven my car 4 times to get to work since the end of March. Most of those times, I had some appointment or off-site meeting to go to which made bicycling impossible. Even when it’s improbable or inconvenient, I usually ride my bike.

  3. Nicole says:

    Great tips! A couple of my additions:

    As a former bike/bus hybrid commuter (now all bike), I would also advise getting to the bus stop early on bad weather days to ensure a bike spot. In my experience, when the weather gets bad, I’m not the only biker taking to the bus. Given the limited bike rack space (3 on most of the buses I rode on a regular basis), showing up early can be the difference between getting parking or having to slog home (or wait for the next bus).

    Oh, and the bus driver is your friend. If you’re unfamiliar with the system, they will know which stop is most convenient for you given your destination, or they’ll know where you need to transfer and to which bus line. To avoid carrying extra cash/change, it might be worth getting a multi-pass card. My local transit has a 10-ride one that saves over paying individually, plus it’s a small, thin card that’s easy to stash about anywhere.

  4. Quinn says:

    I use the bus as little as possible, I think I have ridden 4x in the past year, not because I am Totally anti-fossil fuel, but because of the other riders, including the the 400 lb-er that can’t fit down the isle, the hooker and her john, the Ice dealers, and the ppl that bathe 1x a week that make up 75% of the riders.

    I think that the idea of public transport is a great idea, my local system just sucks.

    Oh and I forgot the single mom with the 3 screaming kids.

  5. Fritz says:

    I personally think encountering new and interesting people is part of the fun of riding public transportation. I talk with the huge, the homeless and the “hygienically challenged” and the moms with the screaming kids on the bus. Our car culture has turned us all into a nation of sociopaths who can’t handle people who are “different” from us.

  6. Noah says:

    But the huge, homeless, unkept moms with 3 screaming kids on a ghetto-rigged trail-a-bike train are much more entertaining to talk to. You don’t find THOSE on the bus.

  7. Quinn says:

    Noah is right, the Truely interesting people don’t ride the bus.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a direct care social worker 60 hr/wk, my point is that the typical rider here isn’t the eco-friendly, intellictual, budget minded person, they are the “bottom-rung”, don’t give a heap that they didn’t graduate hs, and now living in a rat infested hole-in-the-wall, spending the little money they get from their minimum wage job, on crystal meth, kinda people.

    and I done feel comfortable around ppl that don’t want to help themselves better their own life.

  8. Noah says:

    For what it’s worth, I was joking. Usually, the pedestrians I encounter on my bike are the (dare I use your term?) “bottom rung”. BUT, I live in the most affluent part of the greater KC area, and when I take the bus, I’m usually among affluent people that show up in their lexuses (lexii?) and Benzes. In fact, some of THOSE people think I’m the bottom rung type. I show up on a mountain bike in street clothes most of the time I choose the bus. I don’t show up on a Madone 5.9 wearing a wannabe-racer outfit.

    I sat down and whipped out my MacBook to start blogging on my way to work one morning, and a lady quite literally say “You’d never expect to see a laptop in there…” Because someone who rides a mountain bike to the bus could surely never afford such luxuries as… a laptop! Surely the money needs to go somewhere else, like getting my car back from the repo man, or paying off the fines for all those DUI’s I must have racked up. It just doesn’t make sense!

    So, as people are presumptuous about me, I try not to pass the same judgment. I have coffee with a homeless entrepreneur almost every morning. He lives on the street (with his bike) by day, and crashes at a shelter at night. He tinkers with and fixes people’s bikes in trade for goods or money to get by, but he can still afford coffee. A lot of those people who you never took the time to get to know? They’re great people. You can be a great person with a meth habit. You can be a great person with 3 kids. Or you can be a great person with the weight of 3 average adult human beings hanging off of your bones. There’s really nothing to lose in an encounter with these people. It won’t make you a dope fiend. It won’t make you fat, and it won’t make your wife pregnant with obdurate triplets.

  9. Beeks says:

    Great tips! I was going on the assumption, since the skies are nice and blue and the days still warm, that I could just pop by the bus stop to ride to work when I need to. But I just tried to find info on our local (infrequent) bus services and it was next to impossible. No wonder hardly anyone rides the bus around here. Anyway, I’m tracking it down because soon it will snow. Thanks!!

  10. Fritz says:

    Sorry about passing judgement, Quinn. I shouldn’t have done that.

    I’m spoiled — in the SF Bay Area, a significant percentage of transit users are laptop toting middle class office workers and technology engineers. A couple of my friends have told me, nonetheless, that I need to start a blog on the weirdos I encounter on public transportation. It’s usually amusing and harmless entertainment.

    And I’ve met some truly interesting people on the bus — lots of hippies traveling to the California coast, all with interesting stories; the amazing fantastic looking woman with leathers & dredlocks I met last night whose motorcycle broke down; a physicist on his way to present his theories at an astronomy conference; an old timer who told me the history of rail travel across the Santa Cruz mountains; the college student who’s also attending the city fire academy. Frequent riders include Jason, who always has “alternative media” magazines that tout the latest conspiracy theories; Donna the lawyer whose children are going into college; Lisa the program manager who ran her first marathon this year; Ashley who’s student teaching at a middle school; Mike the city worker who tells his co-workers that drive 3 miles to work and can’t find parking that they’re insane when they get FREE BUS PASSES from the city.

    I’ve also used transit in areas where most of the bus riders are from the “bottom rung.” Like Noah relates, though, they’re mostly harmless even if we see them as different and even somewhat objectionable.

  11. Quinn says:


    Its all good, If there were interesting people, like those that you describe, here, hell yeah I’d ride the bus!

    My mission in life has been to show people that a different way in life is not only possible, but maybe better, and yes I have had the good things in life( doing things My way and staying fit & healthy) I have also had to deal with the bad things(nah sayers, pneumonia and the semi-cocky attitude)

    That all comes from doctors that said I would never walk, yet I’ve had a life time of sports (soccer, swimming, mtb, & rock climbing), surviving a childhood in The South, dispite a dead beat dad and a mom that worked 20 hrs a day. and yet finding a way to become happy in life.

  12. bltt says:

    i recently aquired a 29er and am wondering if the bike racks on the chicago buses will accommodate the wheel size, in the event i need to hop on the bus. obviously, there’s no way to know for sure without taking a stab at it, but i’m wondering if anyone has given it a shot on the buses in their own towns?

  13. Quinn says:


    It depends on your bike and the rack, Personally, I have and XXIX, I had to but 700x38s on it to fit, and I had to put in the spot closest to the bus ( got a MEAN bend in the rack once, putting it out farther)

  14. Quinn says:


    PS 38s are not good, I shreded one in a month.

  15. Fritz says:

    Blutt, 29ers fit in bus bike racks. You might need to push a little and the fit might not look perfect, but they’re secure.

    What was wrong with your 38s, Quinn?

  16. Quinn says:


    I Rolled off a curb at a quick pace Not bombing (fast enough to deal with traffic), I was off the saddle, the rear hit the asphalt and blew out the side wall.

  17. Greg Raisman says:

    Believe it or not, getting bikes on buses is one place where we’re ahead of Europe on the bike front. Turns out the EU thinks that bike racks on buses are dangerous for pedestrians. It’s crazy talk. We’ve had racks on the front of 100% of our buses here in Portland (8,000 bus stops in the region) for a decade. During that time, the number of annual ped fatalities went from 17 to 6.

    The really cool bike, transit connection we recently added is an aerial tram. It takes you from the river that runs through the middle of the city to the top of a tall, steep hill with a research hospital on top. You can bring your bike on the tram. So, a lot of people seem to be starting to commute dowhill. then ride the tram up. Here’s a picture:

    Do people in your city use folding bikes at all? Bromptons are starting to get sold around here. The Bike Friday Tikit also looks like a really nice bike for bike-bus trips. You can just fold it up and bring it on with you….

  18. Anonymous says:

    noah, your Oct. 10 1:48 post killed me

  19. Noah says:

    Glad you enjoyed it. I’m hoping you figuratively meant you died laughing and that you aren’t dead at a keyboard somewhere. When I get going on a rant, look out! Sorry to derail.

  20. […] beyond your level of comfort or riding expertise, have another route to work or home ready such as public transportation or a shared ride. Some employers offer an “Emergency Ride Home” service for bike […]

  21. […] Combine your long commute with a bike and transit and keep the schedule handy on your cell phone or PDA. […]

  22. Carin says:

    Back in the days before I had my bike, and actually while my car was broken I learned how to ride Public Transportation, and I learned that it is AWESOME! Yes, taking a train or bus during non-peak hours can be quite an experience, but riding during rush hours on the bus I ride, it is 95% business people trying to save money on parking who take the bus.In cleveland 100% of our busses have bike racks now, and because of that they allow bikes on our trains during all hours. It is so convenient, on days when I am not up to the full commute I either bus-bike or bike-train-bike, depending on the time of day. Busses are our friends!

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