Transport Time Machine: TriMet Bike Permit

1998 TriMet cycling license. (Photo: Shonn Preston)

Anyone who does long multi-modal commutes knows the routine: before you leave home, make sure you have your keys, wallet, and TriMet bike license. Right?

Well, the latter is no longer needed. But some commenters on our recent throwback article on what bike defense looked like at the turn of the millennium reminded us that it was once a crucial part of your cycling gear.

Here’s the story: When TriMet first took off in the Portland area, they didn’t allow bikes on the bus or the MAX at all. It took a lot of advocacy to convince TriMet to give bikes a boost – in fact, it was one of the main issues for the fledgling Bike Transportation Alliance (now known as the street confidence) — and from the looks of old Oregon articles on the situation, it’s clear there were heated emotions on all sides.

Here is what I discovered…

Disability advocates understandably did not want people on bicycles to limit the mobility of people in wheelchairs, and others worried that bicycles would make the bus riding experience miserable. Here is an excerpt from the 1991 op-ed by former Oregonian associate editor Larry Hilderbrand, titled, Tri-Met: people in, bikes out:

“No bus driver wants a pedal in their shin, a handlebar in their shoulder or a grease stain on their shoe. In rainy weather, rubbing shoulders with a dripping fellow rider might be okay, but rubbing against a wet bike This is no way to operate a bus system.

Despite opinions like this, in 1992 TriMet conceded to lawyers. At first they agreed to a bike pilot program which was later made permanent. This was to the delight of cyclists in the region. It’s interesting how people discussed it back then – an article from the Oregonian archives highlights how bike racks were a game-changer for people who wanted to get on rural recreational bike paths.

(Photo: The Street Trust)

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

BikePortland reviewers recounting the old days mentioned that when you collect your license you had to take a short course to learn how to put your bike on the bus because the old Yakima front racks were so hard for people to understand .

TriMet dropped the permit requirement in 2002, allowing people to put their bikes on bus racks and ride them on MAX trains for free. It’s good that they’ve ended that program, but I wouldn’t mind taking a tutorial course myself to use the bike racks at the front of the bus. Fortunately, The Street Trust sometimes offers these courses (in fact, there’s one tomorrow morning!) TriMet and the Portland Transportation Bureau also have tutorials you can check out – the internet has made it much easier.

Commentator Shonn Preston shared a photo of their old license, and they have an endearing quality – especially because of the cheeky list of “reasons to bring a bike on Tri-Met”:

  1. Two apartments and one spare.
  2. hail hurts
  3. It’s a long way to Estacada.
  4. Take a list on the western hills.
  5. You prefer your bike to lunch
  6. TOO MUCH CARS !
  7. Your headlights off – you are now invisible.
  8. A piece of curb approached and bit you.
  9. It’s time for bike repairs.
  10. Take a one-way trip to Springwater.
  11. Expand your cycling horizons.

So the next time you find yourself struggling to secure your bike to the front of a TriMet bus—if you’re lucky enough to ride the new Division FX line, ride it with pleasure—think on the safe side. At least you don’t have to worry about showing your license to the fare inspector.

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