Recent blog posts about bikers on the Hoan Bridge and a cut in state money for bike and pedestrian projects generated several comments questioning the use of bike racks on Milwaukee County Transit System buses.
To a number of readers, the racks installed in 2009 remain a boondoggle: seldom-used and a waste of the $405,000 it cost to install them on more than 460 buses.
One reader asserted that “virtually no one” uses the racks.
I promised to produce figures to address that point, and here they are.
According to the Milwaukee County Transit System, bus drivers recorded 47,995 instances where bus passengers used the racks in 2010.
That fell short of the 100,000 projected by the transit system, and the 200,000 estimated by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, during the debate that preceded the purchase of the racks.
Use has increased significantly so far in 2011.
Through the first four months of the year, MCTS drivers counted 12,695 bikes on buses.
That’s double the number – 6,184 - in the first four months of 2010. The monthly average so far in 2011 is 3,173, compared to 1,546 through April 2010.
In month-to-month comparisons, the usage this year has been roughly double the 2010 figures, a trend that could put the total for 2011 close to the 100,000 figure estimated by MCTS.
Last year, the usage peaked in August and September.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Mark Borkowski, a steadfast critic of the bike racks, remains skeptical.
“My cursory view of eyeballing buses throughout the days and every now and then I see a bike on a rack.” Borkowski said. “I guess I'm not driving in the right places. Maybe it's time for your paper to do a PolitiFact.”'
Jacqueline Janz, spokeswoman for MCTS, sent this statement:
"We have received a lot of positive feedback from customers who appreciate this program so it is not surprising to see the bike rack usage numbers doubling. This program extends MCTS's reach to additional customers at a time when gas prices are soaring, giving the community an economical alternative."
Janz also pointed out that the usage projection of 100,000 was based on annual bus ridership of 51 million. Ridership on MCTS routes dropped to about 37.5 million in 2010.
Janz also noted that the county used federal grants totaling $384,750 for the racks and MCTS contributed $20,250.
Here are the usage numbers from MCTS: