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Walk, Roll, and Ride: Guide to Using Public Transportation

juliana locking upMany students will return to biking and walking for transportation when they start college. One form of active transportation that may be new to students, though, is using the local public transportation system to get around. For students and non-students alike, using a city bus or train for the first time can be an intimidating hurdle. Our communications staffer Susan Wilcox, who rides both a bike and a bus for transportation, wrote a guide a few years ago for people who are new to riding buses. This article is an updated version of that guide.

Skip to:

1. Do Your Research

2. Bring a Bike

3. Pay Your Fare

4. Onboard Etiquette

5. Signal Your Stop

6. Heading Home


1. Do Your Research

When you start using a new-to-you transit system, planning is a must. Check out your local transit system's website for routes, maps, and schedules--many systems also have built-in trip planners on their websites. It's often a good idea to have a Plan B just in case things go wrong with your first plan. Make sure to find out how much your fare will be while you're checking the schedule!

google maps using transit Most transit systems in the U.S. have shared their data with Google. If that is the case in your area, go to, put in your starting point and destination, and choose the transit button (see the picture at the right). Google will give you a few options to get where you're going, based on local transit data. 

For students, you often will get free or discounted transit rates with your student ID. Check with your college or university's transportation department to find out if your ID is your pass or if you need to get a different one, what services your ID covers, and so on.

At least two systems in Texas-- DART in Dallas and CapMetro in Austin-- have downloadable apps for all your devices to make planning your trip easier.

Once you arrive at the stop, be sure to look for the bus number above the front windshield before you board-- nothing ruins a transit trip faster than getting on the wrong bus.


first capmetro bike rack austin texas 2. Bring a Bike

Yes, you can combine a bus (or train) and bike trip! We're proud that all train systems in Texas have on-board bicycle accommodation, and most buses have bike racks on the front capable of carrying two or three bikes.

Photo: from our archives, Austin's-- and Texas's!-- first bike rack on a bus, sometime in the mid-'90s.

How to use the bike rack: 

  • First, be sure the driver sees that you are about to load a bike on the bike rack.
  • If the rack is already open, just load your bike in a open spot. Be sure to put the front wheel in the slot designated for the front wheel. If the rack is folded against the the bus, squeeze the handle to release the rack and lower it down. Put your bike in the slot nearest the bus.
  • Many racks have an arm with a hook on the end. Pull this arm out and over the front wheel. Instead of the arm, your bus may have a U-shaped loop for the front tire-- rotate this around until the sides of the loop are around your tire and the top of the loop is resting against it.
  • loading a bike on a busIf you have anything loose on your bike, like a water bottle or your helmet over the handlebar, remove those and carry them on board with you.
  • If you have panniers on your bike, the driver may ask you to remove them and bring them on board if they obscure the driver's line of sight. For buses with 3-place bike racks, you should remove the panniers before loading, because the slots are too close together to allow space for panniers. Be sure you can quickly remove your panniers, if needed, before you head to the bus stop.
  • Board the bus! When it's time to get off, tell the driver you're getting your bike, exit through the front door, and reverse the process. If your bike is the last one off the rack, squeeze the handle again and fold the rack up against the front of the bus.
  • Having a hard time visualizing these steps? Not to worry, CapMetro in Austin put together a handy video for their MetroRapid buses that will show you everything you need to know.

What if the bike rack is full? Sorry, you'll have to wait for the next bus. This scenario is one reason you should always have a backup plan or an alternate route in mind so you don't get stuck, especially if you're taking a popular route.

On a train:

Look for the bicycle accommodation space and load your bike there. If the space is full or you're not comfortable using it, you'll have to stand holding your bike. Use good sense and common courtesy when boarding a full train or traveling during peak hours-- there may not be room for your bicycle on board.


3. Pay Your Fare

Finding out the fare for your journey should be part of your planning stage, but if you forget, the driver will tell you. You will need exact change on the bus (or you can pay with an app in Dallas or Austin). Basically, it's like a vending machine: bills and coins go in the appropriate slots. If you have a pass, you should swipe it on the farebox before taking your seat. Buying a pass onboard? Don't forget to take it with you when you take your seat.

Please note that most transit systems have rules that prohibit the driver from handling fares, so he or she will not be able to take your money or swipe your card for you. However, they will be able to answer questions if you're having trouble.


4. Onboard Etiquette

Seats near the front of bus or train car are reserved for the elderly, people with disabilities, or people with small children (many transit systems require that children under 6 be seated instead of standing). If you do not fall into one of those categories but choose to sit in one of these priority areas, please be prepared to vacate the seat if someone should need it.

If you stand, be sure you have something to hold on to so you don't fall over on top of your neighbor if the bus should suddenly slow down.

Generally speaking, food and drink are not permitted on board most transit vehicles. Save your sandwich for when you arrive and don't try to bring a fast food cup with you-- the driver will ask you to throw it away before boarding. No one likes a crumby, sticky bus.

Finally, remember that your backpack or grocery bags don't really need a seat, but other humans do-- be courteous with your things.


5. Signal Your Stop

When you first start riding with a new transit system, be sure to take a few moments once you're on board to look around and find out what the signaler is. It will usually be a cord or a button. A couple of blocks ahead of your stop, pull the cord (or press the button) to signal your stop. Exit through the door nearest you (unless you're getting your bike off the rack-- in that case, use the front door). Be sure to look around as you're getting ready to exit the vehicle to make sure you have all your belongings with you. And thank the driver as you exit-- it makes you feel good and may just brighten their day.


6. Heading Home

Gather info about the return trip as part of your research-- find out when the bus is expected, where you should catch it, and so on. Repeat all the previous steps again, and then congratulate yourself on a successful transit trip!


Happy riding!


TAP Comments: It's a Waiting Game

texas capitolMany of you responded to our call for comments to TxDOT regarding the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funds that are intended for bicycling and walking projects. TxDOT's proposed rules for TAP would have allowed them to transfer funds away from bike/ped projects and use them for other purposes. BikeTexas members took up the call and sent many amazing stories to TxDOT asking them to keep TAP funds for TAP purposes.

Now, we wait. This sort of public process takes a long time, and we don't expect to hear the outcome any time soon.

Read what some of your fellow Texans shared with TxDOT:


Michael in Austin: "I have worked professionally in economic development in Texas throughput my professional life. I am also a cyclist who has commuted to work on my bike, ridden recreationally and enjoyed seeing the resurgence of cycling, hike and bike trails, riverside restorations and other outdoor recreation activities that enhance the quality of life in both urban and rural Texas. TAP funding is important to me because it is a vital funding source for Safe Rides to School and local projects that expand bike and pedestrian alternatives to driving. These are very helpful in supporting a more active lifestyle for our youth and family recreation."
Robert in Heath: "TAP funding is important to me as I ride the bike about 4 or 5 times a week, mainly for exercise, but also for running errands when possible. I participate in many groups rides with the Greater Dallas Bicyclist Club. I am concerned about riding alone as it very dangerous. If I want to run an errand in town, there are no safe bike routes and I have to ride on the road. A cyclist on a road with cars can often lead to angry drivers passing too closely and too fast. I have lived in Texas for over 61 years (all my life) and feel that TxDOT should be doing all it can to create safer biking in our state."
Paul in Dallas: "The plan to use funds (meager in terms of road/highway work) from the already passed bill for funding bike/hike/roller­blade trails that are protected from motor vehicles is extremely short­sighted, and frankly ridiculous. I strongly urge that the plan to use those funds for other purposes be abandoned immediately."
Rosalie in RGV: "Too many cyclists have died, please retain all funds appropriated for bike lanes and paths and safe sidewalks and walking paths for these projects."

You can read BikeTexas' full TAP comments to TxDOT here. Thank you for participating in this process and making Texas a great place to bike and walk!


Representative Naishtat Recovering after NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride Spill

Naishtat NCSL-001Texas Representative Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) is recovering following hospitalization due to a fall during the 10th Annual NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride, produced by BikeTexas, BikeMN, and NCSL.

Rep. Naishtat had a spill on his bike after bumping a railing on a bicycle bridge while drinking water from his bottle. He got right back on his bike and finished the route with no apparent problem. He did not get any road rash and did not require assistance from the EMT that was on the ride. There was no automobile or other bicyclist involved in the accident.

A delayed reaction to the spill a few hours later showed swelling to his leg. BikeTexas Executive Director Robin Stallings said, “Rep. Naishtat noticed bruising and swelling on his leg a few hours after the bike ride. Minnesota legislative colleagues urged him to get immediate treatment. A medical tech at the Minneapolis Convention Center confirmed a trip to the hospital was in order and called an ambulance.”

Stallings spent a few hours with Rep. Naishtat on Friday and Saturday until he was moved from ICU to a regular hospital room. Elliott remained very alert and engaged with the doctors and nurses the entire time Stallings was there.

Hennepin County Medical Center RN Sheryl Karvonen told Rep. Naishtat and Stallings, “It is fortunate that Rep. Naishtat rides a bike and walks regularly. His good physical condition will speed up his recovery.”

According to Stallings, Rep. Naishtat is up and walking and doctors have said that he is likely to be released Sunday afternoon or Monday. He will need to keep his leg elevated as much as possible until the swelling goes away. Rep. Naishtat says he may stay with friends in Minneapolis for a couple of days before returning home.

BikeTexas is the lead organizer and producer of the NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride that takes place at the NCSL Annual Legislative Summit in a different U.S. city each year. The 10.4-mile route for 2014 was primarily on multi-use trails. On the street portion of the route, police provided traffic control so that participants were not exposed to automobile traffic during the event.

BikeTexas provides the bicycles and helmets for the 150 ride participants, who are mostly State Senators, State Representatives and legislative staffers from all over North America. The tenth annual NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride in Minneapolis included escorts of four police officers on bicycles and about 15 expert-level bicyclists from this year’s local co-producer, BikeMN, as ride marshals and safety monitors. An EMT followed up the rear of the slow paced ride on an electric bicycle with an EMT kit in a bike trailer, with additional ambulance support available within 4 minutes. Hosts of the ride this year included Texas Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Texas Representative Linda Harper Brown (R-Irving), as well as President of the Minnesota Senate Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), Minnesota Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), Minnesota Senator Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center), and Minnesota Senator David Senjem (R-Rochester).

Texas Speaker Joe Straus put out a statement on Rep. Naishtat’s condition at 9:21 PM, Saturday, August 23. Read that statement here. 

See more coverage of the NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride from Streets.MN here. 


Friday Reading: Links You May Have Missed (Aug 22)

Friday, 22 August 2014 00:00

In case you missed it: Here's a roundup of links we thought were worth sharing this week. Happy reading!


For Back to School:


Old Texas 20

From Around Texas:


From Elsewhere:


Senior Citizens Day: Five Reasons for Older Texans to Ride

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 13:52

brenda and sister on a bike 1963August 21 is Senior Citizens Day, and we join with others across the nation in honoring older Americans. We also celebrate that so many older people are choosing to ride a bike! Why ride once you're over 60? Here are five great reasons:

We’re delighted that on the day after Senior Citizens Day, an 83-year-old from Utah will be joining BikeTexas, BikeMN, and NCSL on the 10th Annual NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride in Minneapolis. We’ve heard that his age is no barrier-- he still loves to ride a bike!

durwood allene riding austin

BikeTexas strongly supports the infrastructure that gives our older Texans the confidence to take to a bicycle for the first time in a long time. Our streets should be designed for everyone to use, from age 8 to 80 and beyond! Learn more at

Happy Senior Citizens Day! Let the older people in your life know you appreciate them today-- maybe by inviting them for a bike ride!

Photos, top to bottom: BikeTexas staff member Brenda Chuleewah and her sister trying out Brenda’s new bike in 1963; Two happy attendees of the 2013 NCSL Bipartisan Bike Ride in Atlanta; BikeTexas staff members Durwood and Allene Mayfield rolling through Austin.


Navigating MAP-21: Two Successful Workshops in Texas

navmap21 attendees austin biketexasBack in February, BikeTexas started talking to MPOs and advocates near Brownsville and in Austin, asking one crucial question: Would it be helpful to you to have a workshop focused on MAP-21 funding (the current national transportation bill) available for biking and walking?

The response was overwhelming. TxDOT and CAMPO immediately jumped on board in Austin, and in the Rio Grande Valley, three local MPOs—Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito, and Hidalgo County—joined in, making it a truly regional event. Advocates and city staff in both areas were excited to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more.

The Advocacy Advance crew (made up of representatives of the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking and Walking) visited Texas for one long weekend to present two Navigating MAP-21 workshops and wowed us with their expertise. If you couldn’t make it to the workshop, we missed you! You can access the presentations here and look through Advocacy Advance’s incredible library of resources here.

About 60 people from around the region attended the Brownsville workshop. Keynote speaker and Brownsville City Commissioner Dr. Rose Gowen impressed and inspired the crowd with her vision for a healthy Brownsville.

The Austin workshop drew a crowd of 89. Keynote speaker and City Council Member Chris Riley spoke about making Austin safe for all non-drivers, whether they are walking, biking, or using transit.

Finally, many attendees took to social media to share their takeaways from the day. See the BikeTexas Storify of both workshops (and follow these great folks on Twitter!) here.


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