1998 TriMet bike permit. (Photo: Shonn Preston)

Everyone who takes long multimodal trips knows the routine: before leaving the house, double-check to make sure you have your keys, wallet, and TriMet bike permit. Right?

Well, that last one isn’t necessary anymore. But some commenters on our recent throwback article about what bike advocacy looked like at the beginning of the millennium reminded us that it used to be a crucial part of your cycling kit.

Here’s the story: when TriMet first took off in the Portland area, they didn’t allow bikes on the bus or MAX at all. It took a lot of advocacy to convince TriMet to give bikes a lift – in fact, this was one of the primary issues for the burgeoning Bike Transportation Alliance (now known as The Street Trust) – and from the looks of old Oregonian articles about the situation, it’s clear there were heated emotions on all sides.

Here’s what I found out…

Disability advocates understandably didn’t want people with bikes to limit mobility for people in wheelchairs, and others were concerned about bicycles making the bus riding experience miserable. Here’s a snip from former The Oregonian Associate Editor Larry Hilderbrand’s 1991 editorial titled, Tri-Met: People Inside, Bikes Outside:

“No bus rider wants a pedal in the shin, a handlebar in the shoulder or a grease spot on a shoe. In rainy weather, rubbing shoulders with a dripping fellow traveler may be accepted, but rubbing up against a wet bicycle? That’s no way to run a bus system.”

Despite views like this, in 1992 TriMet conceded to the advocates. At first they agreed to a bike pilot program that was later made permanent. This was much to the delight of area bike riders. It’s interesting to see how people discussed this at the time – one article from The Oregonian archives points out how the bike racks changed the game for people who wanted to go out to rural recreational bike paths.

(Photo: The Street Trust)

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

BikePortland commenters recounting the old days mentioned that when you picked up your permit you were required to take a short class to learn how to put your bike on the bus because the old Yakima front racks were so difficult for people to figure out.

TriMet dropped the permit requirement in 2002, allowing people to put their bikes on the bus racks and take them into the MAX trains for free. It’s good they ended this program, but I wouldn’t mind taking a tutorial class for using front-of-bus bike racks myself. Luckily, The Street Trust sometimes offers these classes (in fact, there’s one tomorrow morning!) TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation also have tutorials you can check out – the internet has made things a lot easier.

Commenter Shonn Preston shared a photo of their old permit, and they do have an endearing quality – particularly because of the cheeky list of “Reasons to Bring a Bike on Tri-Met”:

  1. Two flats and one spare.
  2. Hail hurts
  3. It’s a long way to Estacada.
  4. Take a list over the west hills.
  5. You prefer your bike at lunch
  7. Your headlights out — you are now invisible.
  8. A patch of pavement reached out and bit you.
  9. It’s time for bike repairs.
  10. Take a one-way trip out the Springwater.
  11. Expand your cycling horizons.

So next time you struggle to secure your bike on the front of a TriMet bus – if you’re lucky enough to be riding the new Division FX line, happily roll it right on – think on the bright side. At least you don’t have to worry about showing your permit to the fare inspector.

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