Beginning Monday, bikes will be allowed on Metro during rush hour.
The change ends a long-standing ban the agency has had prohibiting cyclists bringing their bikes on board during peak periods, lest they exacerbate crowding on jam-packed trains during the morning and evening rushes.
The transit agency said bikes will be allowed on board trains at all hours, systemwide.
“Starting Monday, standard-size bikes will be allowed at all times, on any car of any train, provided that space is available,” the transit agency said in a news release.
Metro said the policy is especially geared toward “reverse commuters” — those who head out of the city’s core in the morning and back into the District in the evening, who use a bike to make the final leg of the trip, to home or work.
Allowing bikes on trains was one minor recommendation in Metro’s ridership rescue plan, the internal document that provides a road map to rebuilding ridership for the agency that has struggled with steep losses in recent years. Another was allowing children in open strollers on Metrobus, utilizing priority seating areas, though Metro said Wednesday it had no announcement to make regarding its stroller policy.
“Making these customer-friendly changes carry no costs to Metro and could encourage families and bike commuters to ride more,” the plan said.
Under the changes set to go into effect Monday, Metro says riders with bicycles can board trains regardless of the rail car or time of day, “provided that space is available.” The agency said it instituted the new rules after reviewing its bike policy at the urging of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and cycling advocates. Because most rush-hour trains are eight cars long — with the newest-generation 7000-series rail cars making up half the fleet — Metro said it could end the rush-hour bike prohibition without significantly disrupting the morning and evening commutes.
In addition, ridership is down more than 10 percent since the beginning in 2016 — resulting in less crowding, though service has also been reduced (the numbers have stabilized over the past year). Metro believes most bike commuters will actually ride the train in the opposite direction of crowding, taking advantage of emptier rail cars heading out of the downtown core.
“We believe that most people who will bring a bike aboard in the rush hour are reverse commuters who’ll be bringing their bike aboard relatively empty trains, not crowded ones,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. The transit agency said in its news release the change “supports ridership growth” by giving riders another commuting option.
Metro’s previous policy allowed bikes on trains at all times except rush-hour periods, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., in an effort to limit overcrowding.
“We’ve followed the experience of other transit systems that have similarly relaxed their bike policies without negative effect, and we’ve decided to do the same,” Stessel said.
As under the previous guidelines, the agency advised riders with bicycles to board trains using the doors at the ends of rail cars, rather than center doors where the aisles could be blocked and the effect on crowding could be more pronounced. The agency added that it could restrict bicycles on trains during special events such as the Fourth of July festivities and Inauguration Day, which typically draw large crowds.
Greg Billing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, welcomed the development, adding that his group was “pleasantly surprised” by Metro’s quickness and willingness to accommodate its request.
“Bicycling extends the reach of Metrorail for customers at the beginning and end of their trip. Members of the community have long wanted the option to bring a bicycle along with them on their rush hour trips, especially reverse commuters,” he said. “We are grateful to leadership at Metro for this policy change to permit bicycles during all hours of Metrorail operations.”
In the internal plan, Metro planners cited policies on the New York subway and the San Francisco and Atlanta transit systems allowing bicycles at all times, provided cyclists use common sense in choosing not to cram their bikes onto crowded trains. The New York and Atlanta systems urge bike-toting cyclists to avoid boarding full rail cars, while the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in the San Francisco area goes further, specifying:
Bikes are never allowed on crowded cars (there must be enough room to comfortably accommodate you and your bicycle)
Bikes are never allowed on the first car of any train
Bikes are not allowed in the first three cars during commute hours (7:00 to 9:00 AM and 4:30 to 6:30 PM)
While allowing bikes is a relatively minor, low-cost way to appeal to riders — it merely requires signage changes — Metro faces an uphill climb in its larger effort to restore ridership. In his latest budget, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld seeks to expand Metro’s rush-hour windows, boost Yellow Line service and implement a $2 flat weekend fare to drive ridership. Virginia and Maryland officials, however, have signaled they are unwilling to support any service increase that would exceed a three-percent cap in the growth of the operating subsidies they provide Metro, as outlined in the landmark dedicated funding law.
As for whether the policy covers electric scooters, the dockless devices that have become increasingly popular in the District over the past year, Stessel said: “The policy is silent on scooters, but there is nothing that would preclude someone with a scooter from safely carrying it aboard.”