In August 2002, Metro launched a program to outfit its 1,450 buses with front-mounted bike racks. It was a nod to that small fraction of riders, many of them based in the suburbs, who could shorten their commute times by biking to and from their bus stops.
The convenience has had an unanticipated side effect, however. The cache of cell phones, keys, and glasses at the Metro lost-and-found depot has been joined by a new, bulkier stockpile: bikes.
The phenomenon induces head-scratching among Metro officials, who are hard-pressed to explain how anyone could leave behind something so valuable. “[Metro riders] know about the service we provide,” says Metro spokesperson Steven Taubenkibel. “They know the bike racks are there. They get on the bus, and for some reason, some customers get off the bus without their bikes. It’s happening.”
On the morning of Sept. 26, the Metro lost and found, located next to the Metro station in Silver Spring, shipped off a dozen bikes to the agency’s surplus center in Landover, Md.where they’ll sit for several weeks, until any remaining unclaimed are auctioned off by a private contractor. Kimberly Taylor, a customer-service agent who’s worked at the lost and found for three years, says it was a pretty nice crop of bikes. About half were in bad shape, she says, “but a lot of them were decent mountain bikes.”
According to Taylor, a dozen bikes make for a typical monthly haul at the lost and found. But only a small portion of forgotten bikes ever make it that far: Before going to the central facility, an abandoned bike spends 30 days at its local bus garage. Most riders who leave bikes behind retrieve them there. The lost-and-found collection, then, is just the tip of the absent-mindedness iceberg, Taylor says.
John Whittington, manager at City Bikes in Adams Morgan, says he has a hard time imagining a helmeted bus rider bounding down the steps and making off without her wheels. “I haven’t heard that one before,” he says. “I’d think if they put the bike on there, they’d be thinking about it when they got off.”
That’s what 15-year veteran Metro driver Troy Glover thought, too, until he watched three riders take off without their bikes in less than a year. “I don’t know why, but they always go to the back of the bus,” Glover says. “You’d think they’d sit up front near the bike.” Glover once watched in his rearview mirror as a cyclist quietly strolled down the rear steps, helmet in hand, and crossed 14th Street NW sans bicycle. Glover got off his bus and raced after the passenger. “I was yelling, ‘Hey, sir! Hey, sir!’” Glover says. They came back to the bus together and unmounted the bike.
Even more baffling, says Taylor, are the occasional Metro customers who manage to leave bicycles on Metro trains, even though passengers actually bring the bikes with them inside the cars. (Taylor can tell where any lost-and-found item comes from by its tag.) “You get lots of strange things on the subway,” she says.
Lest they feel embarrassed, District bikers can find comfort knowing that the same problem has recently cropped up in San Francisco, where Municipal Railway (MUNI) employees say that trolley-bus passengers regularly leave bicycles behind. “One month, we had about 20 or 30 bikes come in,” says one worker at the MUNI lost and found. “People leave them on the rack, and then the bus takes off.” His superior, however, calls that figure a gross exaggeration. “That statement was not correct,” she says, taking over the phone. “It doesn’t happen real often.” CP