Little Niece in pram in bus in Copenhagen (Storebukkebruse via Flickr)

Yesterday, Alyse Nelson over at Sightline had a great post about how public transit systems in the US and abroad accommodate (or don’t) parents with strollers. While I have about zero experience with parenting, I have actually though about this a fair deal since one of my best friends while living in Stockholm was preparing to have a kid and stroller shopping, which are also called “prams” especially the old and large styles, became a running joke of ours. The sight of parents pushing huge prams around European cities, especially northern European cities is so utterly normal you don’t even think twice about it. In some ways the social norm of using large, unfoldable strollers in addition to good accommodations of transit, especially buses, make transit use easier than driving for parents with strollers, a dynamic which is reversed here.

An excerpt of Alyse’s piece below the jump:

I recall vividly how embarrassed I felt the first time I waited for the bus with my baby boy—he bundled up in his stroller and me expecting the bus driver to welcome me aboard, lowering the wheelchair lift so we could roll on in style. In the stores and sidewalks of my neighborhood, people smiled as we ran errands. They made way for us—slowing so we could pass on a congested sidewalk or holding doors open while we rolled into a shop. Then the bus arrived. Instead of lowering the lift, the driver told me to fold Orion’s stroller. My cheeks burned red as I hastily unpacked—diaper bag, toys, blanket, and groceries—while holding onto my squirming bundle of joy. Then, with one hand, I attempted to fold the stroller and carry the load aboard, knowing that everyone was watching me, passengers cursing under their breaths and the driver reviewing his timetable.

My bus-riding fiascos led to an obsession with strollers: I was known to buy and sell them on Craigslist several times a month. My goal was to find that perfect stroller that I could really fold with one hand. I had a closet full of strollers, some undergoing testing and others, having failed, pending Craigslist pickup. It took seven strollers, but I found one that worked—the Britax Preview(pictured above).

It wasn’t until my young family spent six months in Copenhagen, however, that I thought much about King County Metro’s stroller-folding rules.

Copenhageners cart babies in enormous strollers (pictured above and below), rolling cribs that dwarf our umbrella stroller and do not fold at all.

And guess what? They are welcome aboard Copenhagen’s public transit, unfolded and unemptied.

82 Replies to “Sightline: Your Wheels, on the Bus”

  1. Metro doesn’t allow children in strollers on its buses? I saw one Monday evening on a 106. Mom had the stroller pushed over into a wheelchair spot and everything was fine.

    Driver didn’t deploy the ramp but did lower the front door when mom and stroller with babe alighted. It worked just fine, even on a very full PM rush-hour bus

    What’s the beef with babies, Metro?

    1. The issue is that it is unsafe for a child to be placed in a stroller in the case of a high speed accident (the 106 takes the freeway for some time, so this is especially true for this route). Additionally, bulky strollers can block the aisles.

      1. Unsafe for a child to be place in a stroller compared to what? The reason wheelchair users are fastened down is to protect riders from the weight of the wheelchair, not protect the wheelchair user. The safety of buses comes from the operator and the huge weight of the bus.

      2. So allow the parents to board with their stroller/diaper bags/blankets/groceries/sanity intact, then take the baby out to sit on their laps and fold the stroller if spatial constraints dictate.

        Yeesh. It’s like everyone in Seattle was made with a defective logic chip.

      3. “defective logic chip” FTW

        I cannot see how a child in a stroller would be less safe than, say, a child in the arms of someone standing.

      4. …or someone sitting, in a serious crash!

        Really, just don’t let your kid out of the house until it’s 18.

      5. Or even a person standing. There is no way holding that strap is going to save you from flying around the inside of the coach like an unguided missile killing/maiming everyone you hit until you stop.

        When we ride the bus without a restraint it’s safety is predicated on how infrequent bus accidents are. Although I’ve been in the back of the 101 while it rocketed down I-5 with the back swinging nearly 1/2 way into each adjoining lane…

      6. Non-collapsable strollers aren’t allowed on KC Metro buses. Get on with 5 dogs and 3 weeks worth of luggage? No problem. But if your stroller doesn’t collapse you’re expected to walk home.

      7. Seriously, Seattle. Enough with the giant non-helper dogs that you absolutely must take with you everywhere!

      8. It’s Seattle, dogs out number kids. Don’t like it then advocate for more SF housing with back yards and a garage for the SUV to haul the kids around to soccer practice. Oh wait, those soccer fields are empty green space that should be replaced with 12 story cubical dwelling units. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.

      9. Kyle, my two favorite authors are Jonathan swift and Samuel Clemens. Masters of satire false dichotomy. I apologize for being such a weak imitation.

      10. “a garage for the SUV to haul the kids around to soccer practice.”

        Or here’s a crazy idea, we could make it possible for parents to get kid’s around WITHOUT having to have an SUV.

        In fact I bet if you looked, you could find one such suggestion IN THIS VERY THREAD.

        Then, having raised a kid knowing how to use public transit they can get their own damn selves to soccer practice.

      11. Seriously: One reason Seattle has so many dogs is the huge number of dogs, large amount of green space, and all of the SUVs – um I mean Subaru Outbacks.

        When childless couples only have houses to buy/rent instead of condos, they decide to get dogs. I got my first dog when I was looking to buy my first house.

      12. Oops. Change “huge number of dogs” to “huge number of single family homes with yards.”

      13. “Then, having raised a kid knowing how to use public transit they can get their own damn selves to soccer practice.”

        Seriously. My husband’s cousin has two non-driving teenage kids who are each on 3, count em, 3 soccer teams. All she does when she’s not working is drive those kids to freakin’ soccer. I keep telling her “Just buy them a bus pass and let them figure it out themselves” but it’s such a foreign concept to her–she is from a rural area and moved here just a couple years ago–that she can’t seem to wrap her brain around it. Watching her makes me more determined to teach my kids how to ride the bus.

      14. “The reason wheelchair users are fastened down is to protect riders from the weight of the wheelchair, not protect the wheelchair user.”

        Where did you get that piece of information? Sounds completely false to me.

  2. I’ve assisted numerous friends with small children onto buses over the years. The stroller hassle is a major reason that people with little kids retreat to cars. Once parents make this decision their motivation for voting for transit seems to drop (personal anecdotal observation). And the kids who are reared to expect door-to-door car transport dislike “waiting around” for buses intensely, so an auntie who tries to re-educate them later on faces routine mutiny unless she can wave the promise of a link train or a Monorail in their faces within fifteen minutes or so.

  3. It’s like that in Japan, too. I guess it’s a function of how crowded it is, but strollers are usually not very welcome on trains.

    I think a lot of the reason both here and in japan is that mostly transit is used for commuting, not as much for general “lifestyle” trips.

    1. In my experience the reason you see less strollers on trains, especially subways, is that many of those systems have incomplete or limited universal accessibility in the stations, especially the older systems. Copenhagen’s Metro is a good example of a new system with universal access in all stations, while NYC Subway is an example of incomplete universal accessibility.

      1. The Copenhagen S-tog is over 75 years old and has universal access. So do all their buses and so did their streetcars before 1972. It’s an issue of societal values.

      2. Are they, Erik? What year did they achieve that? Most European suburban and regional rail systems have surprisingly variable platform heights and wide gaps to mind, even when the platforms are otherwise 100% accessible from the street.

    2. “I think a lot of the reason both here and in japan is that mostly transit is used for commuting, not as much for general “lifestyle” trips.”

      Yet children fit in well with off-peak trips. Who’s around to take the bus in the middle of the day? The elderly and stay-at-home parents.

    3. I think a lot of the reason both here and in japan is that mostly transit is used for commuting, not as much for general “lifestyle” trips.

      This is completely wrong if talking about places like Tokyo with good transit—there, transit is the normal mode of travel for pretty much every trip.

      Also as far as I can see, the general populace in Japan simply doesn’t use the sort of “humungo strollers” that cause problems. In fact, what seems to be the fashion these days is a sort of baby sling so that you can carry the baby on your chest—pretty much the diametric opposite of humungo strollers as far as transit-friendliness is concerned.

      1. Strangely, on my recent trip to Tokyo I didn’t see a single other kid on the subway, short of another American child on the bullet train to the airport. Our son was in a carrier – strollers aren’t worth taking on long trips.

      2. @Matt
        Depends on the time and location, of course. During before- and after-school periods in more residential areas (i.e., less so between central business districts, though very few places in Tokyo are entirely devoid of housing), there are huge numbers of kids on the trains. Older kids (middle-school and up) often go to non-local schools, so they tend to form the bulk of them, but there are plenty of gradeschool kids too (often traveling alone at ages that would make a typical American freak out); I guess many of the latter are traveling to/from their “juku” (“cram school”?) because grade schools tend to be local. On weekends, one sees more of a mix, and many more families traveling together.

        [A particularly, er, awe-inspiring experience is being on a train when a gradeschool field trip happens to use it (I’m talking about the whole school)… it’s like the tide rolling in…]

        Another interesting (er, I think) tidbit: I often just sit in the cafe and listen to people around me talk. One thing I’ve noticed is that people in Tokyo spend a huge amount of time talking about trains, both in passing (“here’s how you get to this event”) and more explicitly (“hey did you know…?!”). Not just nerds or salarymen grumbling about their commute, but everybody, grandmas, housewives, hipsters, teenagers, … everybody.

  4. I would have just boarded, ignored the driver and taken the kid out of the stroller when I get to my seat. What’s he/she gonna do? It is safer for me to maneuver this way than what Alyse had to deal with. Don’t like it? Parents may have grounds for an ADA lawsuit since the child cannot walk.

    And I’ll bet that LINK’s rules state that kids must also be out of the stroller and the stroller must be folded too. That’s the rule on LA Metro Rail.

    And the USA wonders why it is in decline?

      1. If you’re trying to make the argument that children are by default disabled, good luck.

      2. Now that our infant is a teenager I thing it’s pretty clear that children are by default disabled :=

      3. Being a baby or even a toddler is a disability, albeit a temporary one, when you really think about it.

        Babies can’t walk.
        Babies can’t talk.
        Babies can’t use a toilet.
        Toddlers need a caregiver’s (a PCA’s) help to use a toilet.
        Babies and toddlers can’t do much of anything independently, and need constant supervision and care.

        Babies and toddlers do not fit the general definition of “able-bodied”.

    1. I’ve heard a lot of theories as to why America is in decline, but never because Metro asks parents to fold their strollers.

  5. I think this fits in well with the discussion a few days ago that lawsuits are the reason we don’t get rid of more seats on buses.

    Fear of lawsuits is like fear of terrorism. You might end up severely limiting your life for no good reason. Get a backbone, Metro, and run buses the way you think they should be run. Not the way you think lawyers think you should run buses.

    If I were Bus Czar I’d remove half the seats in most urban buses (anything on wires would be a good start). Then I’d let strollers on at the rider’s own risk. Maybe I’d even hand out flyers to parents with strollers describing the risks and showing them how to ride with strollers.

    Next thing you know, hot coffee will be banned.

  6. I ended up giving up on strollers as soon as they were big enough to walk at least part of the way (I’d carry them the rest). Unless it was a Link trip. It’s a shame that Metro isn’t more kid-friendly.

    1. I did the front-carrier thing when younger, then an umbrella stroller or just sholder-carrying (I know, it’s dangerous, but it’s easy). Only once did I lug on our full-sized Bob, when I was stuck out in the rain and had to take the bus – it was a nightmare, and I would have taken a cab if I could find one.

      I had a nanny for over a year, and she refused to take the bus. She couldn’t carry my son far and didn’t want to deal with a stroller on the bus.

  7. Idea: Dual-use bike/stroller racks on the front of the bus. No more legroom issues, and riders don’t have to listen to the crying.

    Kidding.

  8. Cut & paste from Sound Transit website. Nothing forbids a stroller with kid installed —

    •Link light rail trains and most ST Express buses have level boarding, so you can roll a stroller directly onboard.
    •Sounder trains and some ST Express buses have a couple of steps up to enter the vehicle, so it’s easier to fold your stroller and carry it with you.
    •Do not store strollers in wheelchair or senior priority seating areas.
    •Do not block aisles and exits.

    Since a stroller with a kid in it is not being “stored”, it can properly occupy a wheelchair or senior seating area (except perhaps when a wheelciair or senior rider really needs that spot).

  9. From my perspective as a driver, Metro’s policy states clearly that the stroller needs to be folded and stowed. If I allow anybody to do anything else and I get in an accident, it’s likely to be ruled a “preventable” no matter how careful I was driving. Some drivers aren’t sticklers about the policy and that’s fine – until they get into an accident.

    The safety officer I was speaking with about taking out seats had a list of judgements against Metro ready and waiting for my suggestion. I’d guess she has similar stories about baby strollers.

    Want a more easy-going policy about strollers? You either need tort reform or to “shoot all the lawyers” (Larry the liquidator in “Other People’s Money”)

      1. Sorry, but Metro operates ST Routes and the same policy applies to all Metro operated ST service. I don’t know what PT or CT does for their routes…

      2. How about the SLU Streetcar? That’s Metro operated. Same policy despite that wide open spaces and level boarding?

      3. Velo, Metro policy trumps ST policy on Metro-operated ST routes? I’d like to see the contract language that allows that! I don’t believe it.

      4. Community transit does not allow objects in aisles (ie strollers), not likely pierce transit would either. central Link and sounder maybe. tacoma link probably does.

    1. Why would taking out seats lead to suits against Metro? If that’s the case they shouldn’t allow standees at all.

      1. Got me, but that’s what she said. I suspect the reasoning is seats = less chance people will be standing and thus less falls. I didn’t get into the details and frankly didn’t want to. Once somebody pulls out the lawyer card, it’s hard to move forward.

        To paraphrase Larry the Liquidator from Other People’s Money:

        Lawyers are like nuclear weapons – I’ve got mine and they’ve got theirs. But if somebody uses them, it just f…. everything up.

      2. @VeloBusDriver

        Following that logic Metro should never let anyone stand on a bus, which is absolutely ridiculous. This sounds like one of those circumstances in which if a “big wig” actually cared and pressed for the removal of seats to improve operations and comfort it would happen regardless of what the safety officer said.

      3. You: Preacher, Me: Choir

        Rip ’em out, I say. I fold up the 3 seats in front of the passive restraint area in my Rapid Ride B coach to discourage them from being used and thus keep the wheelchair area free for those who need it. That said, it’s a futile effort.

        I do make allowances for folks in management having access to information that I don’t – like the amount of money Metro spent on judgements last year.

      4. Metro tries to avoid having standees. they consider a bus “overcrowded” if there are ANY standees for a span of 20 minutes anywhere on the route, or if more than 20% of the riders are standing at any point in time

        It’s not about the potential for injury in accidents that makes Metro leery of standees, I think. It’s simple slip-and-fall injuries they’re worried about, those can be quite expensive. If people are seated, instead of standing up, they’re not going to slip and fall. (of course, if we had a single-payer government health care system, like a lot of these European countries, there would not be any paranoia about liability for the potential medical bills, and everyone can relax a bit.

        I would suspect regarding strollers, Metro’s not so much worried about the crashworthiness of the stroller, but the potential for a cheap, lightweight, narrow, top-heavy stroller to tip if the bus makes a sudden move.

        I suspect the operators of rail transit aren’t as concerned with standees and strollers, because trains don’t tend to make sudden moves.

      5. “or if more than 20% of the riders are standing at any point in time”

        (uncontrolled laughter) About 2 years of my commuting life were spent on a Metro bus packed to the gills. Find me a 2X on 3rd and Pine at rush hour that can fit another 5 people on, and I’ll bet that means they’re either falling out the window or it’s following behind another 2X. The same goes for at least 5 other bus lines downtown that I personally have experienced multiple times.

        Hoping they can someday find money for enough buses and drivers to fit this policy is far less effective than just tearing out some seats would be.

      1. Not buying it. How come they are being allowed to build Husky Station if there’s no Dawgs allowed?

  10. It’s perhaps worth noting that Metro continued to purchase high-floor buses after other large transit agencies had switched to low-floor, and low-floor buses are a prerequisite to conveniently getting strollers and other non-wheelchair mobility aids onto the bus without delays. It’s one of the many minor bad decisions Metro has made that add up to a bus system that’s needlessly inconvenient and discourages choice riders.

    1. That’s because then Metro GM Rick Walsh had a bias for offering more seats than accessibility.

      Which was fine to a point. He let Victoria, B.C. Transit (the first purchasers of New Flyer D40LFs) get the kinks out. But when they proved to be reliable, and able to make trips in less time due to less delays from ramp deployment…

      Actually Copenhagen allowed strollers long before the advent of Low Floor buses, but this was in part due to their buses being mid-engined and having a third rear door.

      Here’s another pic of a modern Copenhagen bus:
      http://images.travelpod.com/users/ae.middlemarch/1.1280622913.the-bus-had-two-spaces-for-prams.jpg
      Notice the special button for stroller users to signal the driver that they will be alighting.

  11. Instead of a stroller a baby sling is way easier. You can carry a kid up on your hip even when they are no longer babies. Plus there is no folding/moving etc. Yes you need a strong back to lift them and the diaper bag but strollers big enough to be useful are a pain in anything resembling a crowd, or a store, or a restaurant.

    1. +1. This is how I get around with my 2-month-old, and the added bonus to a sling is that she usually falls asleep in it, so she’s not fussy and complaining the whole trip, like she often is when riding in a car seat. When my 4-year-old got too big for tiny wimpy me to carry in a sling, but was still too small to walk long distances, I went with a Maclaren umbrella stroller that had a strap so I could sling it over my shoulder. That plus a backpack as a diaper bag made the commute home with him after work MUCH easier.

      1. I used a messenger bag as the diaper bag, sling for the kid on the opposite shoulder. The umbrella strollers I ended up owning weren’t worth diddly. The wheels were too small to jump sidewalk cracks easily and the frame was too week to carry the diaper bag. But maybe the Maclaren’s are better made.

      2. I am going to sound like I work for the Maclaren corporation, but seriously, I LOVE that stroller. It’s survived 3 plane trips, checked. Wish I’d never bought that stupid Graco travel system with the giant monster SUV of a stroller, total waste of money.

  12. I could have written this article–I too became obsessed with finding the perfect umbrella stroller when I was commuting home on the 5 daily with my oldest, who was 14-24 months old during that time period. He was too big for me to comfortably carry him in a carrier, but too small to walk all the way from the bus stop to our house without demanding that I carry him. (I eventually settled on the Maclaren Volo, which I still totally adore–weighs almost nothing, has a strap so you can toss it over your shoulder, and has survived trips to Mexico, Hawaii and Disneyland, including being gate-checked.) At the time, the 5 express (which doesn’t go to my house) was usually a low-floor bus, and the 5 to Shoreline CC (our bus) was not, so sometimes I’d catch the 5 express and transfer to a 355 at 85th, just to avoid having to deal with carrying a wiggly kid up the steps of the bus. I was really glad when he was finally big enough to climb up those giant bus steps himself (and they really are huge for a little kid).

    On many buses, I felt that the absolute best place to sit when you have an umbrella stroller is the area just behind the wheelchair seating, on the side that has more legroom. You can hook the stroller handles on the handle at the top of that little wall-thingy there, so you don’t have to later fish the stroller out from under the seat. Second favorite choice for me was in the wheelchair seating area, since it was fairly easy to tuck the stroller under the seat there, and more importantly, to retrieve it when it was time to get off the bus. But then if folks with mobility issues get on, you have to move, which is of course a hassle. Hence me liking the area just behind there best. Third favorite is the bendy part in the middle of a double-long bus, I actually like to sit there when carrying a large bag too because there’s good floor space to set bags and strollers down.

    FYI, the monorail at Disneyland requires you to collapse your stroller before boarding. I think that’s because there’s so many seats in there and such tiny aisles. Kind of like a Metro bus.

  13. One thing I’ve observed over the years is that a lot of transit decisions are made by management that doesn’t ride transit, at least not on an every-day basis. Their transit riding experience is often limited to escorted excursions, show-piece trips for the media, and that sort of thing. I think if more of them rode every day to work and back, with a few ventures out on weekends, things wouldn’t be so f****d up.

  14. Solution, strap the stroller in just like it’s a wheel chair. Done. A stroller properly strapped is no more in danger than a wheel chair strapped and probably safer than anyone else on the bus.

    When my kids were little I bought strollers based on their ability to be folded with contents included (sans baby). I’d pull the kid, pop the latch and the stroller would drop which I’d then put between the seat and seatback. I could do this as fast as most people would board. I see people with these giant strollers though that take 10 minutes to change shapes.

    1. Hmmm…. What if Metro sold below-market-cost fold-up baby-strollers to ORCA holders with babies… the idea being that the subsidy for the strollers would be covered by fare recovery from the parent and boarding time saved.

  15. Don’t know about Copenhagen. But in Stockholm you’re not only welcome, you also ride the bus for free when accompanying a pram. (Why? So that you don’t have to leave your kid by his-/herself to buy a ticket from the driver.)

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