Public Transit Sucks for Parents, So Please Give Us a Break

mom with stroller waiting for the train iStock

The bus is small. My stroller is wide. My two-year-old and I are going to a friend’s house on the city bus, and I’m painfully aware we are taking up too much space. I’m not sure what to do with my large stroller, which the toddler refuses to sit in, preferring to cling to my lap as we bounce down Wisconsin Ave.

“Can’t you fold that thing up?” someone asks, obviously annoyed, as they navigate around us and down the aisle. I could, but it wouldn’t make it any more narrow, just flatter. Plus, the 20 pounds of diapers, wipes, and snacks you have to carry around with a toddler are stowed in the bottom.

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My son is getting braver as we bounce along, and now he’s loudly singing the ‘Wheels on the Bus’—an appropriate choice. I know we are bothering people who are trying to have a quiet commute to and from work. But I don’t know what to do.

At the next stop, two people in wheelchairs get on, and I get up to let them have the space; there’s only so much room for those who need extra accommodation, and they clearly need it more than we do. But now we are blocking the aisle completely. My toddler starts wailing.

“I want to sit down,” he says, tears starting to flow down his face. I explain that we can’t, but not without noticing that nobody has offered to get up and let him sit down or tried to help me, a woman trying to balance a backpack, a stroller, and a sobbing two-year-old while standing on a moving bus.

We are getting more and more squished as people pack on. I start to panic and finally pull the cord to get off. We push our way through the crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea (if Moses had a giant stroller in tow) until we get to the back door and walk the rest of the way there.

Before I had a kid, I used public transportation all the time. It never occurred to me that these spaces, which were so easy for me to use as a single person, might be challenging for parents or caregivers of young children. But now I suddenly see how often public transport is not designed with kids—or people with disabilities—in mind.

Nothing is easy. There’s no guidance about what to do with your stroller on the bus and no real designated space to figure it out. Often, bus drivers don’t even make the bus kneel when I get on, so I have to lift the stroller over the curb and hoist it onto the vehicle.

I’ll never forget a woman I once saw trying to lug her stroller, with the baby in it, up a set of steep, dangerous stairs on the Boston T. She looked terrified that the whole thing was about to go crashing down, but the station had no elevator.

And then, of course, there are airplanes, which people seem to think should not even allow babies and children—as if they’re not people, too. I once flew next to a man who was trying to wrangle both his infant daughter and his three-year-old by himself. I chatted with the three-year-old the whole flight to try and help, but the baby wouldn’t stop crying.

Related: Dear Fellow Passenger: You Are Not Entitled to a Silent Flight

After the plane landed, a woman came up to me and whispered, “What was the deal with that dad? He couldn’t make the baby stop crying. And they smelled like pee.” Uh, yeah, sometimes kids cry, lady. Turns out, they don’t know how to regulate their emotions or what to do when their ears hurt. And they often smell a little pee-like. That’s just how it goes. And that kid still gets to fly.

Airlines don’t seem to care much about providing a decent experience for parents, either. The last time I was on a plane, they assigned my two-year-old to his own row, two rows up from his dad and me, and we were expected to fix the problem.

If only public transit could work for… the general public. Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy taking it for many reasons: back on land, it’s cheaper than gas, better for the environment, and you don’t need to worry about finding parking. But, more often than not, I find myself driving my kid in the car instead of taking advantage of the robust transit system my city offers. Luckily, I have that option. Not every parent does.

On those occasions when I do board a bus with my toddler, I just have to deal with the annoyances. He likes pulling the “stop requested” cord too much to deny him rides on vehicles that weren’t made with him in mind. While some other passengers might not agree, we’re allowed to be there just as much as anyone. I might even belt out a few verses of ‘Wheels on the Bus’ right along with him.


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