Rising to the Challenge of Bringing Kids on Transit

Following up on yesterday’s post about family-friendly transit, which generated a raft of interesting comments on Streetsblog New York (and even more on our SF, DC and LA sites), we’ve got a dispatch from the front lines. Carla Saulter, who writes the always excellent Bus Chick blog out in Seattle, weighs in on how going from one kid to two has made her car-free existence significantly more challenging, although she remains characteristically undaunted:

busingwithtwo.jpgCarla Saulter has her hands full when she rides the bus these days. (Photo: Bus Chick)

The second time I rode the bus with both babies…I was parenting
solo, and, thanks to a morning errand in the neighborhood, arrived at
the 48 stop mere seconds before the bus did. I quickly removed Chicklet
from her stroller, but when I tried to fold it down, it wouldn’t budge;
a stack of papers I had tossed into the storage basket earlier that
morning was in the way.

While I squatted on the sidewalk, trying to un-jam the
stroller — with one hand on the baby (to prevent him from tipping out of
the sling-like carrier he’s riding in until he gets big enough for the real deal)
and one hand on Chicklet (to prevent her from running into the busy
street we were waiting near) — the bus pulled up, and folks started
boarding. When they finished, I was still struggling.

The driver peered out the door and asked politely, "Are y’all
coming?" but I was so embarrassed and discombobulated, I shook my head.

"I’ll just catch the next one," I said, and then watched as he closed the doors and drove away.

The three of us did, in fact, wait the 15+ minutes for the next bus… By the time we finally made it to the
park, I was stressed and tired, and we were late to meet our friends.

Carla’s experience is certainly familiar to me. I’ve been the woman squatting on the sidewalk trying to fold the stroller and finally telling the bus to move on. There’s no doubt that designing transit vehicles to accommodate strollers would make things a lot easier for parents, as several commenters noted yesterday.

Still, I think attitude has a lot to do with it as well. In my case, my own childhood experience of using transit rather than cars definitely played a factor. The first couple of years of my son’s life in Brooklyn, we actually did own a car, but we only drove it when we were leaving town (and we happily gave it up years ago). When I was growing up in New York, it was just common wisdom that driving within the city was frustrating, slow, expensive and scary. I’m not sure when that perception changed, but it seems that it has. Many of the families I know today, even in Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods where traveling by transit or foot is genuinely easy, now choose to drive.

My son’s whole life — he is now nearly eight — we have done almost all our trips by transit, foot and bike. Sometimes we catch a ride with a friend, but he often prefers to walk. Every now and then we use a car service or cab. Once or twice a year we rent a Zipcar. On plenty of occasions, we have experienced a smoother, more enjoyable trip to our destination than friends who have traveled the same route by car.

The converse is occasionally true as well. But all in all, I have to agree with Carla when she says, "There are certainly challenges, but every choice comes with challenges, and I’ll
take mine over all of the drawbacks of driving."

  • UES

    Well, really she just made a beginner’s mistake, which all of us with two kids and no car make once but hopefully not twice. It’s usually not much of an inconvenience to board a bus solo with two kids; it’s certainly better than listening to your kids howling in the backseat while you’re driving solo and can’t turn around to soothe them.

    (Her mistake? Putting stuff directly in the stroller basket. Having made that mistake once myself, I now keep a tote bag in the basket, and nothing goes in the basket without going in the tote bag. At the bus stop, just yank out the tote bag, fold the stroller, and you’re golden.)

  • Doug

    Given the size of some strollers, sometimes folding the stroller AND having the kid stand takes up more space than just leaving everything as is. These things should be at the bus driver’s discretion. If you’re only going a few stops and the bus isn’t crowded, the driver shouldn’t have a problem letting you leave the kid in the stroller!

  • Strongly recommend ditching the stroller. Strap the little kid on and make the older one walk. Sometimes this will be slow, but it pays off in the long run.

  • Perhaps Streetfilms should consider a series of “Car-free with kids” how-to videos.

  • Having people pay as they board the bus has been documented on Streetsblog before as an inefficient use of time, but it’s a special deterrent for people who (like most parents) have their hands full. In Europe you usually pay at a machine before you board a bus. In the developing world you usually have a human being come find you and get your money after you sit down. New York (like most of the US) is stuck in an annoying middle ground.

  • Digamma: it depends on which parts of Europe you’re talking about. The most efficient in terms of fare collection is the German-speaking part, where you pay on board but only if you don’t have an unlimited monthly card, in which case you’d only need to show it to a ticket inspectors at random checks. The unlimited monthly discounts in German cities are usually very large, giving people an incentive to use them instead of pay on board each time.

    The only country I know of where you can universally pay before you board is Singapore.

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