#50 – Bike and Bus Program

Santa Barbara, California

Lynnette Coverly, Marketing Manager, Passenger Relations


The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) has promoted bike and bus programs for over 30 years. The goal has always been the same: to help cyclists extend their travel via buses. Over the years, MTD has sought to achieve this through the use of trailers towed behind buses, bicycle lockers, bicycle parking at bus stops, and bicycle racks mounted directly on the bus.

In 1975, MTD acquired a 4.3 m (14 ft) bicycle-capacity trailer from San Diego State University. Towing it behind a 6.1 m (20 ft) bus, MTD targeted the cycling behavior of college students and placed the bus on an eight-mile express service between downtown Santa Barbara and the University of California at Santa Barbara. The regular, one-way bus fare in 1975 was 25 cents, and cyclists paid an additional 15 cents to transport their bicycles. Initially, six percent of all passengers on the route brought their bicycles. This quickly improved to 30 percent.

Within a few months, daily use had fatigued the trailer’s springs, causing the axle to bend and the wooden frame to break. The program was temporarily suspended until 1977 when MTD enhanced the trailer design to include a sturdier metal frame, supports that gripped the bicycles’ tires, and individual bike ramps for easier loading. The bus and trailer were placed back in service on the express route, the 15-cent bike fare was dropped and the project began to attract national attention.

1970s bicycle trailer.

1980s rear-mounted rack.

In 1978, MTD was awarded a $182,000 Urban Mass Transit Administration grant, which provided for six newly designed, heavy-duty steel trailers, 150 bicycle racks and 12 bicycle lockers.

In September 1979, all six bicycle trailers operated on various routes throughout the community. The routes were chosen for their distance between destination points and service to local colleges. MTD carried an average of 105 bicycles on weekdays, 44 on Saturdays and 28 on Sundays on these routes. The service continued to be free.

With the continued growth of the bicycle trailer program and the opening of MTD’s new Park & Ride Facility in Goleta, which included new bicycle lockers, MTD embarked upon a large multi-media campaign centered on familiarizing the public with the bike and ride program. The campaign, “Signs of the Times,” included print, radio and bus advertising and bus stop signs promoting the Bike ‘n Ride and Bus ‘n Bike programs.

In 1982, MTD replaced its 6.1 m (20 ft) mini-buses with 12.2 m (40 ft) buses to handle the increasing passenger loads. Consequently, the trailers could not legally be towed behind the new vehicles and the bicycle trailer program was discontinued.

In 1984, MTD mounted bike racks on the rear of its buses. Each rack was capable of holding two bicycles and the buses were available on five routes, including service to local colleges, far-reaching neighborhoods and an outlying community to the south. The bike-bus service continued to be free.

Promotional materials supporting bike and bus program.

By June 1985, the rear-mounted racks were posing significant problems in the areas of risk management (rear mounting resulted in accidents and theft) and maintenance (the racks had to be removed before each wash because of damage experienced in the bus washer). In 1987 the bike-bus program was terminated.


Almost 10 years later in 1995, MTD partnered with the local Air Pollution Control District (APCD) to purchase 20 front-mounted racks capable of holding two bicycles each. The APCD funded the capital cost of the racks up to $30,000 and MTD installed, maintained and marketed the program. Front-mounted racks were chosen partly because of the driver’s ability to easily observe bicycle installation and removal, thus minimizing safety and security issues.

For the next six years, a successful demonstration program ensued. MTD placed the rack-equipped buses on three routes, two serving outlying communities and the other serving the local university. The routes were chosen for their distance between origin and destination points and for the high percentage of college students, many of whom use bicycles to extend their travel once on campus. The buses operating on these three routes carried over 87,000 bicycles from 1995 to 2001 at no additional charge to the passengers. The program was marketed via a brochure distributed to all local bicycle shops as well as exterior advertisements on the vehicles and display advertising in the university newspaper.

In 2000, MTD and the APCD again cooperated to expand the Bike & Bus Program to MTD’s entire fleet of 12.2 m (40 ft) buses (53 vehicles). The purchase of 35 racks (33 plus 2 spares) at a cost of $571 per rack (including all brackets, adapters, etc.) came to $20,000. The APCD again supported the capital expense of purchasing the additional racks — up to $15,000. MTD paid the difference plus the cost of installation. Additionally, MTD continues to maintain the racks.

Evaluation and Results

Bike trailer and rack usage is recorded by the bus driver. In the early years of the bike trailer manual tallies were kept, which was made easier by an express route that had just two stops. In the 1980s, with the rear-mounted racks, data collection became more difficult as drivers frequently were unable to see a passenger loading or unloading their bicycle. Passengers’ current use of the front-mounted racks is tallied via the farebox, which has a code that the driver can easily input for bikes carried per trip. Since the inception of the front-mounted bike rack program, including both the demonstration and expansion, MTD has carried about 153,000 bicycles.

The chart below lists years and corresponding numbers of bicycles carried. Note that between 1984 and 1987 bicycle ridership was much lower than previous years, partly because of the difference in what the racks were capable of carrying — two bikes on the racks compared to 14 bikes on the trailers. Additionally, when the front-mounted racks initially were installed in the latter half of the 1990s, MTD ridership was much greater, reflecting a sharp rise in bike rack use. The fully implemented Bike & Bus Program beginning in February 2001 resulted in a sharp increase between fiscal years 2000–2001 and 2001–2002.


The 12.2 m (40 ft) buses are allocated to the routes carrying the largest percentage of passengers and are equipped with bike racks. Thus 14 of MTD’s most populated routes are also guaranteed to provide bike-bus service. The four routes most utilized by cyclists (accounting for 75 percent of bike rack usage) are popular because they travel long distances that may be unattainable by bicycle alone and have destinations that prove useful for bicycles, such as the local university (Lines 6, 11, 12, and 20).

MTD does not have plans to remove the bike racks from buses on lesser performing routes for operational reasons. As stated, 12.2 m (40 ft) buses are allocated to a specific group of routes depending on passenger volume and freeway travel. On any given day, a 12.2 m (40 ft) bus could be assigned to any of the 14 routes. The program is more easily marketed to passengers by ensuring that all 12.2 m (40 ft) buses have racks. Therefore, all routes served by 12.2 m (40 ft) buses are guaranteed the service. The routes are marketed as bike-bus routes via an icon in the bus book, at the bus stop and on the Web site.

Table 1 depicts the percentage of bicycles carried as compared to total ridership of the most utilized bicycle routes: 12, 11, 20, and 6. While the bike-bus program is successful, it does represent a very small percentage of bus passengers overall. MTD gives this serious consideration when reviewing any potential expansion of the bike-bus program.

The following two tables, based on the fully implemented bike-bus program, depict the monthly average of bicycles carried compared to monthly bus ridership, service hours and service miles. Although Lines 11 and 12 carry the most bicycles on average per month (see table 1), Line 13, while not carrying as many bicycles, is the most productive in terms of bicycles carried per hour (see table 2). Line 13 performs well in the bicycles per 100-mile category as well. In fact, 6.6 percent of its ridership is composed of bicycling passengers. It is important to note that both the 13 and the 26 are commuter services with just one morning trip and one afternoon trip daily, thus explaining the low number of bicycles carried overall.

Table 1. Comparison of Bicycles Carried to Ridership on an Average Month
Route Avg Monthly Bicycles Carried Avg Monthly Bus Ridership Avg Monthly Bicycles Carried per 100 Passengers % of Cycling Passengers to Non Cycling Passengers
12 1,112 57,908 1.9 1.92%
11 1,088 80,636 1.3 1.35%
20 601 38,049 1.6 1.58%
6 555 46,138 1.2 1.20%
1 365 112,380 0.3 0.32%
23 250 29,813 0.8 0.84%
8 224 18,358 1.2 1.22%
15 177 12,678 1.4 1.40%
21 176 10,518 1.7 1.67%
13 22 334 6.6 6.59%
18 16 3,181 0.5 0.50%
26 2 408 0.5 0.50%
Total 4,588 410,401 11 1.12%


Table 2. Comparison of Bicycles Carried to Service Hours/Miles on an Average Month
Route Avg Monthly Passengers Carried per Hour Avg Monthly Service Hours Avg Monthly Bicycles Carried per Hour Avg Monthly Service Miles Avg Monthly Bicycles Carried per 100 Miles
13x 21.5 20 1.10 592 3.72
12x 53.8 1,203 0.92 27,958 3.98
11 46.8 1,877 0.58 26,014 4.18
6 47.0 1,066 0.52 12,811 4.33
20 37.1 1,192 0.50 20,152 2.98
15x 43.1 382 0.46 10,863 1.63
21x 24.2 433 0.41 8,465 2.08
8 24.1 640 0.35 13,600 1.65
23 42.0 873 0.29 11,291 2.21
1 63.2 1,868 0.20 15,792 2.31
18 27.6 110 0.15 1,890 0.85
26x 25.3 20 0.10 20,152 0.01
Total 42.38 9,684 0.47 169,580 2.71

Conclusions and Recommendations

With 30 years of experience, it seems that MTD has found a bike-bus pairing that works for passengers, MTD and the community. There are challenges that MTD continues to review, but for the moment, the program is successfully doing its part to help with multimodalism in the greater Santa Barbara community.

MTD’s current Bike & Bus program continues to be a popular service with a regular ridership. The trend analysis confirms an increasingly steady usage of the racks among University of California at Santa Barbara routes as well as with the heavy working trunk and connector routes.

The expansion of the program to include all vehicles has provided for a much more marketable, more reliable program. Passengers are guaranteed bicycle racks on all routes with 12.2 m (40 ft) buses allocated to them, currently 14 lines. Passengers easily know which routes these are simply by looking for the Bike & Bus icon within printed materials and on MTD’s Web site.

Bike & Bus is a successful program based on passenger benefit and administrative and safety standpoints. But the popularity of the program also is its drawback. Because each rack can only hold two bicycles, passengers sometimes wait to load their bike at a stop, only to find the approaching bus with a full rack. Proposed solutions include bringing back the trailers, installing rear-mounted racks in addition to the front-mounted racks, providing bicycle racks or lockers at bus stops and allowing bicycles on the bus. All of these solutions have drawbacks. Trailers are outdated now that large 12.2 m (40 ft) buses must maneuver increasingly busy and narrow streets. Rear-mounted racks have proven difficult to maintain with increased liabilities. Bike racks and lockers provide a new set of security issues, and with the high cost of bicycles, passengers are less inclined to leave their bikes at an unattended location such as a bus stop, where the risk of theft is great. Finally, allowing bicycles on board the bus seems unfair and unsafe for the 98 to 99 percent of bus passengers that do not use this service and who must maneuver around a bicycle in the aisle.

A recent technological innovation holds some promise. A popular bike rack manufacturer has developed a prototype of a rack that is capable of holding three bicycles. Concerns over the fully deployed rack extending further than the legal vehicle-length limit appear to be addressed. The manufacturer claims that this new rack does not extend any farther than the two-bicycle rack counterpart that MTD uses. While it may be too early to call, the prototype rack is being tested at a few transit properties in the western United States and has been successful thus far. It seems that another potential solution to carry at least one additional bike per bus is in the works.

It does not appear that all of the answers are available at this time on how best to administer and grow a successful bike-bus program that is beneficial to everyone. The Santa Barbara MTD has, however, shown that with perseverance, support and continued research, bicycles and buses can help extend people’s travels while leaving their motor vehicles at home.

Costs and Funding

The capital costs of the front-mounted bike racks, as mentioned earlier, were covered by a grant from the local APCD. The rest of the program costs are covered by MTD. Initially there were marketing costs to advertise the new program, however all costs now are associated with the maintenance of the racks.

Breakdown of annual maintenance costs associated with the Bike & Bus Program

  1. Annual parts replacement costs

  2. Annual preventative maintenance costs (safety inspections)

  3. Annual bike rack repairs (straighten damaged bike racks)

  4. Annual rack replacement costs

    There were 9 racks that were in need of replacement due to accidents.

  5. Road calls

    In the event of a vehicle requiring towing (about 24 times per year) the front section of the rack must be removed to facilitate maneuverability, adding about five minutes per road call.

  6. Annual increased bus washing costs

    Bus washing time is increased by 30 seconds per bus or 30 minutes per night because of the necessity of deploying each rack, soaping the front of the bus and stowing the rack before driving through the bus wash. This time is down from two minutes during the pilot program.

Total annual operational costs:

* Note that due to the large front window on Nova buses, the bicycle racks were obstructing the driver’s view. MTD’s maintenance department came up with a way to lower the racks. Therefore, when MTD procured the racks originally, a retrofitting took place to lower the racks at a cost of $456 per rack ($176 in parts and $280 in labor).


Marketing Manager, Passenger Relations
Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District
550 Olive Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 963-3364