A History of the Bikes on the T Campaign

by Doug Mink dmink@massbike.org
originally written for the Internet bikecommute mailing list 27 August 1991
updated in the fall of 1998 to name names and bring the history to the present

We have a bikes on trains program with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA or T for short) in Boston. A history of the establishment of this program demonstrates the patience required, at least in Boston, in getting something going, and the importance of small steps. As you will see, we didn't get a commuter rail program started for several years after we got bikes on rapid transit. As I have only been involved in the last 16 years of the effort, I cannot give a complete history, but it goes something like this:

1977: Trial allowing bikes on two trains a day on weekends to and from Boston to Cape Ann (Manchester, Gloucester, and Rockport on the North Shore)

1982: Cape Ann Transportation Authority (which runs buses) calls Boston Area Bicycle Coalition (Doug Mink) inquiring about getting bikes on trains on a more permanent basis. They are responding to a request by the local tourism people. The MBTA is unresponsive. Doug Mink resigns as president of the BABC in favor of Sarah Heartt, who plans to fight hard for a "Bikes on the T" program. He takes over the organization's newsletter.

1983: New BABC members (Charles Hyde--Wright and ...) decide that getting bikes on the T is important and start working on the MBTA again. After a Bike to Work rally on Boston Common, several people, led by Max Strahan of the environmental organization Greenworld, try to take their bikes on a Red Line train at Park Street and get to the platform before being ejected. The Boston Globe gets a picture before their photographer is asked to leave (No flashes in the tunnel) and it appears in the paper the following day. Forced by a state law to study the issue, the MBTA meets with cyclists, at their High St. offices, but they already have decided that bicycles are unsafe on trains, and refuse access.

1984: An ad hoc group of four cyclists (Doug Mink, Charles Hyde-Wright, and Jeff Axelbank from the BABC and Jon Dobrowski from the Broadway Bicycle School) starts an organization called "Bikes on the T", prints T-shirts, talks to the MBTA, and has a rally at Columbus Park on the Boston waterfront called the "Boston T Party", where commuters toss their MBTA passes into the harbor (we retrieve them with a canoe so as not to litter). A race across the harbor followed. Canoes with folding bikes, paddled by Doug Mink, his brother Steve Mink (who had just arrived in Boston after bicycling across the country), Mark Spain, and Martha Morrison, crossed the harbor to the East Boston Piers. They beat a group of rapid transit riders who carried folding bikes and bicycle-shaped pieces of wood left over from Bike Day 1980 (which were legal and showed the absurdity of the regulations) who beat the bicyclists who had to go around the inner harbor through Charlestown, Everett, and Chelsea. While no more than fifty people attend the rally, the press was there and we got pictures in suburban "Tab" weeklies and a pro-bike editorial in the Quincy Patriot-Ledger. "Bikes on the T" puts out a newsletter with pictures of the event and a new song, "Sally on the MBTA", about the travails of a bicyclist who can't get her bike on the T.

1985: We get a on one-year trial for bikes on rapid transit lines on Sundays only. This is due as much to the presence of a new, sympathetic person at the MBTA, Ellen Reisner, who is assigned to deal with us, as to our efforts, but we were ready with a program for her to implement.

1986: The Sunday bike program is extended for two more years in a ceremony at Charles Station (one of the least bicycle accessible stations in the system). The Boston Globe covers it with a page 2 story. The T is still not responding to our need for expansion of the program.

1987: The BABC draws up a list of over 20 ways to extend the "Bikes on the T" program--the MBTA took over our campaign name for their program with our permission. This included expanding the program to commuter rail. At a meeting with the T's internal bicycle committee, Doug Mink had to convince them that these were not "demands" but "possibilities". We get one minor concession-- access to rapid transit on Saturday mornings before 8:30 am so that cyclists could get to the Braintree end of the Red Line to catch the train to Cape Cod. The MBTA also commits to including bike parking in all new stations.

1988: Commuter rail on Sundays.

1990: Commuter rail off-peak and Saturdays. Rapid transit nights and part of Saturday morning. This is almost all we asked for in our list of "possibilities". There are still a few problems such as the fact that our MBTA contact got transferred and her replacement didn't return our calls, but our main worries were the difficulty of getting passes (one location open only during business hours, but closed for lunch) and the wording of the disclaimer we have to sign which apparently forfeits our right to sue if we are hit by an MBTA bus while walking or cycling.

1990s: The Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts, successor to the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition helped the MBTA put out a pamphlet describing the "Bikes on the T" program, which both organizations distributed.

1996: As part of Bike Week in Boston, announcements were made of several expansions of cyclists' access to transit. Permits, which had been available at only one station during somewhat restricted hours, will soon be available at more stations. Rapid transit and commuter rail access now includes daytime non-rush hours (10-2 on rapid transit) as well as all day on weekends. There is no limit on the number of bikes per commuter rail train (except conductor's discretion), but there are evening bans when there are major events at specific downtown venues and on St. Patrick's Day, Patriot's Day (the day of the Boston Marathon), and July 4. There are other rules, but cyclists' needs are gradually being met.

2000: On September 5, MassBike took over the MBTA pass program, distributing them for free. On September 6, the MBTA announced that they would be putting bike racks on all 22 of the buses on the Crosstown routes which follow portions of the Urban Ring. As of October 1, the pass system will be abolished.