Transportation Time Machine: TriMet bike permits

1998 TriMet bike permit. (Photo: Shonn Preston)

Everyone who takes long multimodal trips knows the routine: before leaving the house, double-check to make sure you have your keys, wallet, and TriMet bike permit. Right?

Well, that last one isn’t necessary anymore. But some commenters on our recent throwback article about what bike advocacy looked like at the beginning of the millennium reminded us that it used to be a crucial part of your cycling kit.

Here’s the story: when TriMet first took off in the Portland area, they didn’t allow bikes on the bus or MAX at all. It took a lot of advocacy to convince TriMet to give bikes a lift – in fact, this was one of the primary issues for the burgeoning Bike Transportation Alliance (now known as The Street Trust) – and from the looks of old Oregonian articles about the situation, it’s clear there were heated emotions on all sides.

Here’s what I found out…

Disability advocates understandably didn’t want people with bikes to limit mobility for people in wheelchairs, and others were concerned about bicycles making the bus riding experience miserable. Here’s a snip from former The Oregonian Associate Editor Larry Hilderbrand’s 1991 editorial titled, Tri-Met: People Inside, Bikes Outside:

“No bus rider wants a pedal in the shin, a handlebar in the shoulder or a grease spot on a shoe. In rainy weather, rubbing shoulders with a dripping fellow traveler may be accepted, but rubbing up against a wet bicycle? That’s no way to run a bus system.”

Despite views like this, in 1992 TriMet conceded to the advocates. At first they agreed to a bike pilot program that was later made permanent. This was much to the delight of area bike riders. It’s interesting to see how people discussed this at the time – one article from The Oregonian archives points out how the bike racks changed the game for people who wanted to go out to rural recreational bike paths.

(Photo: The Street Trust)

But it did come at a cost – $5 to be exact. TriMet listed how and where you could buy them on their website. They’re sure to mention that “TriMet supervisors, fare inspectors and police officers may inspect bike permits at any time,” so you had better watch out. (And remember, you couldn’t just take a picture of it and keep it on your phone!)

BikePortland commenters recounting the old days mentioned that when you picked up your permit you were required to take a short class to learn how to put your bike on the bus because the old Yakima front racks were so difficult for people to figure out.

TriMet dropped the permit requirement in 2002, allowing people to put their bikes on the bus racks and take them into the MAX trains for free. It’s good they ended this program, but I wouldn’t mind taking a tutorial class for using front-of-bus bike racks myself. Luckily, The Street Trust sometimes offers these classes (in fact, there’s one tomorrow morning!) TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation also have tutorials you can check out – the internet has made things a lot easier.

Commenter Shonn Preston shared a photo of their old permit, and they do have an endearing quality – particularly because of the cheeky list of “Reasons to Bring a Bike on Tri-Met”:

  1. Two flats and one spare.
  2. Hail hurts
  3. It’s a long way to Estacada.
  4. Take a list over the west hills.
  5. You prefer your bike at lunch
  6. TOO MANY CARS!
  7. Your headlights out — you are now invisible.
  8. A patch of pavement reached out and bit you.
  9. It’s time for bike repairs.
  10. Take a one-way trip out the Springwater.
  11. Expand your cycling horizons.

So next time you struggle to secure your bike on the front of a TriMet bus – if you’re lucky enough to be riding the new Division FX line, happily roll it right on – think on the bright side. At least you don’t have to worry about showing your permit to the fare inspector.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

25 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
3 months ago

Thanks Taylor! (I wish I had a digital photo of those horrible Yakima racks…perhaps its on a Superslide somewhere in a dusty box.) 😉

And other area transit systems (C-TRAN) used to make the operator hand a yellow card when ever you placed a bike in a bus rack and you had to surrender it to get your bike back!

Yeah, transit operators were very strict in the old days (pre1992)…plus I could not even carry a bike wheel on a bus to take it to a repair shop, I was sent off the bus in Honolulu!

Karstan
Karstan
3 months ago

Dang! Blast from the past. I was new-ish to cycling and just looking into getting my permit when they discontinued the requirement.

In those days, the floors in MAX trains weren’t street level (you had to mount 2-3 stairs just inside the doors, many of those were still in service through the aughts I believe). Similar with the buses, a couple of stairs inside the door (I think the kneeling buses were introduces just a couple years later).

Thanks for the article, Taylor! It’s sometimes good to remember how far we’ve come, even if it isn’t as far as we should have gone by now.

As an aside, if any Trimet movers and shakers are seeing this: Bring back the old sector signs! I know the system works differently now, but they were awesome. Surely there must be a way to incorporate them.

Jason McHuff
3 months ago
Reply to  Karstan

They are in the process of replacing the high floor cars now, but since 1997, they should always be paired with a low floor car.

Serenity
Serenity
3 months ago
Reply to  Jason McHuff

I will believe it when I see it.

Doug Klotz
Doug Klotz
3 months ago
Reply to  Karstan

Trimet is still running the high-floor max cars (always in a train with a low-floor car). Saw one on Interstate just 3 days ago!

Serenity
Serenity
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug Klotz

No matter what they say, I doubt that Trimet will ever entirely retire the high floor cars until they turn break down completely.I have missed so many trains because they were half high floor cars! Trying to run to the middle of the train platform with a walker is a dangerous thing to do.

Karstan
Karstan
3 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

I clearly missed it the first time, but that wikipedia article I posted above says they’re in the middle of replacing the last of the high-floor cars now! 🙂 Should be done by the end of next year it seems.

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

The type 6 cars are already in service and Type 1 are slated to be gone at some point next year.

https://www.urban-transport-magazine.com/en/siemens-mobility-awarded-order-for-26-light-rail-vehicles-by-portlands-trimet/

Eric NoPo
Eric NoPo
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I can guarantee that the Type 6 cars are not in service yet. That’s an old article and the delivery was delayed by the pandemic. The first Type 6 should be arriving by the end of the month but won’t be in service until spring next year. They will be replacing Type 1’s as they go into service.

Serenity
Serenity
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I believe you’ve posted this before. As I said before, I lL believe it when I see it. Go ahead and trust Trimet’s “slated to be gone at some point next year” if you want.

Serenity
Serenity
3 months ago
Reply to  Karstan

The floors in the max still aren’t.street level. They’re just what Trimet calls low floor cars, as opposed to the Series one cars with steps. They’re still a good 4 inches above the platform. They still require a ramp in order to be useful for wheelchairs, you can still fall off of them if the ramp isn’t out, non-disabled people can still break the doors by pushing the door open request button too many times. For actual street level cars check out https://kcstreetcar.org/#

Karstan
Karstan
3 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

Thanks for the correction! I’ve lived in a part of town not served by MAX for awhile now and it’s been a long time since I’ve ridden. I completely forgot about those inches and the ramp. I now recall even fully able-bodied people (myself included) tripping over that lip. I wish I could say I was surprised by this poor design, but sadly I am not.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith
3 months ago

I had one of those permits, back in the day!

Seth
Seth
3 months ago

I don’t have my pass any longer. As I recall; the “class” I had to take to get the permit was watching a 5 minute video at the trimet office in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

bArbaroo
bArbaroo
3 months ago

Remember it well…I was working at a bike shop at the time and knew all the rules well since we were one of the places issuing the cards. I also remember a particular bus driver who made up his own rules about when bikes could use the racks and refused to let me on with my bike one morning. Eventually, I convinced him he needed to let me put my bike on the rack but it was a bit of a stand off for a couple of minutes. So glad it’s these are not a thing anymore!

J_R
J_R
3 months ago

I think I still have mine. I’ll dig it out and post it on Ebay. Maybe I’ll get enough for it to buy a new bike!

Patrick
Patrick
3 months ago

I collected signatures through the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now Street Trust). It was a informal petition that was asking Trimet to put racks on the busses. I would leave a clipboard in Coffee People on NW 21st St and pick up 3-5 completed sheets a day. I got more signatures than anyone else but worked the least. Initially Trimet put racks on 3 or 4 bus lines to see how it would work out, now you can travel to most cities and see the same racks on their busses too. Just this small addition to our cycling infrastructure has had an outsized impact in our ability to get about on bike.

Shonn Preston
Shonn Preston
3 months ago
Reply to  Patrick

Right? I got mine as a rookie messenger while commuting in from Vancouver – before I got my 8 hour legs and just started riding in. Then a year after I moved into the city, I had a need while going to Milo McIver for weekend camping trips. I was actually able to come back on Monday mornings and still make the 8 AM radio check time at my courier job because of the bus. Had to pack out at 5, but still – another night is another night.
Thanks, Tri-Met!

Serenity
Serenity
3 months ago

Great article,Taylor! Now I am. wondering how many times Trimet has been sued.

john thoren
john thoren
3 months ago

Thank you for reminding us all of what it was like. Trimet has done a great job over the years with their support of bikes on transit!

dw
dw
3 months ago

Wow, this is definitely from way before my time! Glad they don’t do it anymore. I was so anxious the first time I tried loading my bike on the bus. Turns out the racks are pretty idiot proof. I had been biking and taking the bus to avoid using the car but being able to take my bike on the bus feels like using a cheat code.

Jakob Bernardson
Jakob Bernardson
3 months ago

Taylor:

I once considered offering classes for putting bikes on bus racks:

Step 1 One needs a modicum of upper body strength; if one does not have it, hit the gym for several months.

Step 2 Position of the bike is critical: in front of the bus place the bike to the rider’s right with the rear wheel to the driver’s left and support the top tube with the right hand.

Step 3 Grasp the handle of the rack with the left hand, pull up, swing it down.

Step 4 Grasp the saddle or seat post with the left hand.

Step 5 Drivers prefer to have a bike in the outer slot, for it makes it visually easier to maneuver.

Step 6 Pick up the bike with both hands, pivot to the left, place the rear wheel in the outer slot to the driver’s right, the front wheel in the outer slot to the driver’s left.

Step 7 With the right hand pull up the spring-loaded bar and place the hook over the front wheel.

There is a quicker more elegant method that involves resting the top tube on the right shoulder, pivoting left and dropping rear and front wheels into the slots at once.

Learn the other one first.

John
John
3 months ago

For being 61 sometimes it gets to the point where something doesn’t feel right so therefore I have no choice to hop on the max to get the best way home I have a hard pass I use the racks on the max and when no one sitting and disabled area I’d sit there with my bike someone comes on wheelchair and Walker anything like that I get up and move sometimes I feel like to stay in there but I’m a man and that’s what men do to get her spot up for those in need and guys will just deal with it and it wasn’t instant that I was waiting for a Max and he said they came out a certain time and never came waiting for the next one 30 minutes later and never came lucky I have my bike luckily it was mostly downhill so bad because I had a hernia problem going on it’s just like happened and my stomach wasn’t doing good Cheryl home never did see the max I live off the max you’re reborn set of time and go to next stop it says they’ll be there in 5 minutes it’s been reading that they’ve been there for 5 minutes for months that’s overlook station 5 minutes the reader board says so I’m grateful that I can put my bike on the max thank you and have a good day

PdxPhoenix
PdxPhoenix
3 months ago

yes, & I still want my 5$ back.

Casey
Casey
3 months ago

I’m a driver for Trimet, and if someone tells me they’ve never used the bike rack before, I will absolutely park the bus, get out, and give a quick demo. This isn’t standard policy, but most drivers are itching for a good excuse to hop out and stretch their legs.