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MTA Drops Bike-Permit Requirement for Suburban Railroads

1:24 PM EDT on August 12, 2021

Long Island Rail Road President Phil Eng announces total bike anarchy (well, not quite) begins on Sept. 7. Photo: YouTube

The MTA is trying to get its bike policy on track.

The presidents of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North announced on Thursday that, starting in September, cyclists would no longer need to carry arcane and outdated bike permits in order to bring their rides on commuter trains — ending the great tradition of having to keep a flimsy piece of paper safe in your wallet at all costs.

"For years now we've heard from our customers who've been asking us to make it easier for them to travel with their bikes," said Metro-North President Cathy Rinaldi. "As the popularity of cycling has really taken off, both for commuting and for recreation purposes. I want you to know that we all hear you and we're making a change both railroads are making a change. As of Sept. 7, cyclists will no longer be required to obtain a special permit to bring their bikes on board the commuter railroads."

The permit rules are ending on the day after Labor Day, seen by many as a time that will make or break transit ridership's recovery in New York City and its suburbs, as companies begin to bring employees back from their work-from-home situations. Anyone who wants to bring a bike on the LIRR or Metro-North on a peak train remains out of luck, however: The railroads still are prohibiting bikes on trains during the morning and evening rush hours.

The announcement heralded the end of a process that the blog Long Island Rail Road Today correctly described as "onerous": It requires filling out a form and either bringing it to a ticket station or physically mailing it to the MTA and then waiting for the agency to mail back the permit. The permit also costs $5. Eliminating the bike permit may seem like a small step toward integrating bikes into commuter rail, but it represents a concession from an agency that long has considered cyclists invisible at best and nuisances at worst.

LIRR President Phil Eng acknowledged during the announcement that bikes had a large supporting role in public-transportation networks. "We want to make sure it's easier for our customers to use their bikes as they traverse our region," he said.

In advance of the upcoming policy change next month, the commuter rail presidents added that they would waive the permit requirement on August 22, in order to make it easier for riders to bring their bikes to the city for the Five Borough Bike Tour.

The announcement still leaves lots of work for bike advocates. They hope that either outgoing Gov. Cuomo or incoming Gov. Hochul will sign a bill that would add cyclist voices to the MTA's advisory councils. Suburban train stations still lack secure bike parking, and train halls, such as Moynihan Station, still are being built without bike parking. Cycling, meanwhile, remains prohibited on MTA bridges, and the commuter railroads still limit the number of bikes per train to either four on weekdays or eight on weekends. As such, advocates welcomed the announcement as a first step, but said they'd still work on pedaling the MTA into the 21st century.

"Ending permit rules for non-peak commuter trains is a great step, and we appreciate the statements about bike-transit synergy offered by MTA leadership," said Bike New York Director of Communications and Advocacy Jon Orcutt. "We look forward to an MTA-wide strategic bike plan that also addresses MTA bridge access and the huge potential of bike parking at transit stations."

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