- Bicycle Culture by Design: Better Intermodal Integration to Beat the Car

One of the best initatives in Copenhagen’s mass transit system for years has been to let people bring their bike on the S-train - Copenhagen’s exisiting, mostly above ground metro system (not the mini version under construction) - for free! Being able to use your bike to and from the station serves to increase your range on a bike from the average for most people of 7.5 km to upwards of 30 km.

This initiative has also been one of the most successful ways to drive passenger growth to the S-trains for decades. The S-train system is the backbone of the non-car transport system in the greater Copenhagen area. Danish State Railways have also done well to advertise their bicycle-friendly style.

The other part of the public transit system is the ailing bus-system, buses are, like in most larger cities, at the bottom of the transport system food chain. They are the least appealing public transport form - from an anthropological point of view - as the jerk back and forth when braking and accerlating, they are forced to drive along the curb, which is sloped and riddled with uneven sewer grates, etc.. Most people resent buses so what is more natural than trying to exploit the S-train success and allow people to take their bike on board? Not dangling from bike racks on the front of the bus like in North American cities - causing other passengers to wait while bikes are loaded and unloaded - but on board the bus in the area also reserved for baby carriages and wheelchairs. Well, the bus companies have tried but got a few things wrong, I learned this last week when I had a flat tire. After waiting for 20 minutes for the 150S bus, the driver told me I needed a ticket for the bike. Unlike the S-train, it isn't free. (It is free for baby carriages and wheelchairs). Fine... I said that I would buy a ticket. Oh, wait.... the driver said that they didn't sell bike tickets. He informed me that I had to leave the bus and find a ticket machine. Except they are not found at busstops, only at train stations.

I asked if I could buy a ticket via text message, like regular passenger tickets. (in Copenhagen you buy a million things via text message - transit tickets, parking tickets, stamps, soft drinks, you name it.) No, I couldn't. They didn't sell bike tickets via text message. I had to leave the bus, find a ticket machine and wait 20 minutes for the next (empty) bus.

I hope they get better at this. It's a really nice idea that bikes and the transit system are fully integrated. To provide ONE great service for commuters to use in the way that fits their individual transport needs. Many car-owners are virtually mono-modal, except for an occasional airfare. The rest of us usually rely on a combination of bikes, buses, trains/metro and planes for trips longer than 7,5 km. More and more people are using a car-share service or the occasional taxi and this is the last piece of the puzzle that makes not owning a car a profitable and healthy solution.

All these non-car transport alternatives need to work together, ideally with one simple integrated payment and reservation system. Then we will enjoy the freedom of not owning a car even more.

by Lars Barfred

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