The Importance of Family-Friendly Transit

As someone who is raising a child without a car in a transit-rich
city, I sometimes need to be reminded that for many people in the
United States, the reality of maintaining a family life without a
personal motor vehicle is impractical — or simply unthinkable, for a
variety of reasons. This often holds true even if they live in a city
with relatively good transit.

Many car-free families in the Streetsblog Network have posted great
advice for people who want to have kids and take their transit too. Bus
and Car Free with Kids are particularly good resources. And today, network member blog Human Transit
is featuring a guest post from EngineerScotty, father to "several"
small children who is a frequent user of Portland’s TriMet system.
What’s special about EngineerScotty’s piece is that he makes some
persuasive arguments about why it’s good for transit agencies to
encourage family ridership:

kids_on___bway.jpgIn training for a lifetime of riding transit. (Photo: lauratitian via Flickr)

may dismiss families with children as an unlikely (or undesirable)
transit demographic, and propose that transit agencies instead focus on
those demographics more likely to be transit-compatible, such as
childless families and commuters. However, there are several problems
with doing so.

Families who make  the decision to move to the burbs are more
likely to abandon transit altogether.  A car will be a necessity — and then a
second car will often become attractive.  At that point, even the
morning and evening commute for the family breadwinner(s) may be
instead done by automobile.

Many trips made by families, especially daytime errands with smaller children, are made
during off-peak hours — an important consideration for agencies trying
to load-balance (which is pretty much every agency).

Children who grow up comfortable with transit are more likely to use it
as adults; those who grow up in the suburbs — and whose main exposure to
"transit" is an uncomfortable yellow school bus — are more likely to
an auto-centric lifestyle when they grow up.

Families with
children are an important political constituency as well.  If they have
no stake in good public transit, they are less likely to support it
with their votes or their tax dollars.

Children who are of sufficient age to travel alone, but aren’t old
enough to drive a car, are a natural transit constituency.

Good points all. What are your experiences with kids and transit? Does your local system encourage or discourage families?

More from around the network: A compelling video from Next Stop STL about how how hospital workers in St. Louis need imperiled transit services to get to work. Hard Drive wonders
why reporting broken glass in a bike lane doesn’t result in quicker
action — this in the bike commuter haven of Portland, Oregon. And I Bike T.O. writes about how bike-sharing programs should be aimed at residents of a city, not tourists.

  • I strongly feel that MUNI needs a 4 person (or 5) family pass. A lot of families drive to the city because it is cheaper then getting four passes on caltrain and then four passes on MUNI. I never thought of the off-peak hours argument, which I find very strong. Transit should not, and can not, be just a commute service.

  • I strongly feel that the woman in that picture has an excellent butt.

  • mikesonn: Yes, similar schemes are quite popular in Europe (e.g. two adults can bring two kids for free, etc.).

    Mark: She is so-equipped due to her combination of walking and transit-use.

    Also, half of all Americans consider their pets to a be a full-fledged family member . There are about 72 million dogs in the USA but an extreme minority of major transit operators in the USA (and Canada) allow full-size dogs: Calgary Transit, Boston MBTA, Metro North Railway (NYC and suburbs), MUNI (San Francisco), King County Metro (Seattle) and Toronto TTA (plus Autoshare in Toronto is as far as I know the only carshare operator in N. America which explicitly permits dogs not in a crate).

    It seems to go without saying that hundreds of millions of car trips are made every year in Canada and the USA for the simple reason that in most places dogs of all sizes are simply not allowed on transit.

    In most countries in Europe pet dogs have access to transit (Most Spanish and some French cities are the exception, but they are still allowed on intercity trains.)

    Those N. American dog-accessible services do not have problems with fights, pooping on the seats, allergies and so on, and on both sides of the pond operators and transit staff always have the final say.

    More info here.

  • Virginia Balogh-Rosenthal

    My mom routinely took 3 kids and a big clunky carriage on the NYC subway, relying on the kindness of strangers to help carry it (with my baby sister still inside) up the stairs while my brother and I walked behind holding the railing.

    Given this, I was truly shocked at how hard it was to take my twins on public transportation in San Francisco after they were born in 1998. It is just not possible to fold up a double stroller with twin babies and board the bus or subway so, for at least the first year of their lives, we got around by walking or taxicab. Once they began crawling, I would have them both crawl up the filthy steps of the bus on their hands and knees, get into seats, and then I would wipe their hands down with Purell. Sometimes I would put one in a backpack and the other in a single stroller (which the driver required me to fold up) and hold one child on my lap with one hand and the stroller with the other hand while teetering perilously forward on my seat so as not to crush the child on my back.

    When my husband and I traveled out of the country with our small children, however, we were pleasantly surprised that other countries (such as Hungary, Czech Republic,and Melbourne, Australia) all had an insignia of a baby near the rear door of a trolley, making it clear that this was the door to enter with a stroller!

    The difference is that many places expect people to take public transit and they assume parents with children need it to get around. San Francisco acts like any parent who ends up on MUNI with their child has left the SUV at home for the day. They fail to make the connection that those who get used to riding MUNI as children are more likely to take it as adults.

  • EL

    The importance of family friendly transit? I drive because MUNI has

    (a) proven unreliable when I leave work to get to daycare before they start charging late penalties,
    (b) MUNI train operators, even when asked, failed to pull up to a disabled ramp so I could use it with a stroller,
    (c) it’s cheaper to drive even though I pay for parking – reference the late penalties, or
    (d) all of the above.

    If you want to start with family friendly, how about a school system that actually allows you to go to a school that’s near your house so you wouldn’t have to drive/MUNI in the first place?

  • EL, I think your last point is paramount. The school system stresses our transportation system (driving, MUNI, biking, walking).

  • patrick

    I recently saw a piece about changing the SF school system to guarantee a space at the local school, or lottery for about 15 schools. I think there were going to be a few very high demand schools that would not have the guarantee for local residents.

    I don’t know anymore about this, but hopefully it will happen.

  • tea

    Nice cheeks!

  • Richard Mlynarik

    1. Low-floor buses and trains. No exceptions, no excuses. MUNI FAIL.

    2. Any-door boarding, with wheelchair/pram flexible space right across from one of the low-floor, level-boarding rear doors. MUNI FAIL.

    3. Reliable, timetable adhering off-peak service. MUNI FAIL.

    4. Affordable and widely socially adopted multi-use passes (which, with any door boarding and proof of payment) keep vehicles moving while allowing rapid boarding and alighting for everybody, including those with small children. MUNI FAIL.

    5. Free transit for school and children. MTC FAIL.

    Visit central or northern Europe sometime and watch the transit systems work for parents and children, as well as other riders, taxpayers and the urban environment. Then come back to San Francisco and slit your wrists.

  • C. Montgomery Burns

    MUNI’s policy for infants and strollers on buses is extremely family unfriendly for reasons that are hard to understand. Each time I have attempted to board a MUNI bus with an infant in a stroller, I have been told that the stroller must be folded up and the infant must be held for the duration of the ride. This is as good as saying don’t even bother to try and ride MUNI with a child in a stroller. MUNI should allow children to remain in strollers on the buses as is the custom in all/most of Western Europe.

    It is extremely difficult for one person to simultaneously take a child out of a stroller, fold up said stroller and carry the baby, the stroller, obligatory diaper bag and anything else you have, up the MUNI bus steps. Then once you are on the bus, there is no good way to hold onto the baby and keep the stroller and diaper bag out of the way.

    This policy is yet another example of MUNI’s backward nature, customer unfriendliness. I have heard it argued once or twice that this policy exists in the name of safety, but it defies common sense that an infant held in a non-seatbelt wearing parent’s arms would be safer than sitting strapped into a stroller in the case of an accident.

  • Andy Chow

    Other agencies do not permit the child to be on the stroller as well, not just Muni. I think it is so because of state/federal law. Most transit agencies require people in wheelchair to be tied up on they’re onboard.

    There are probably some strollers more transit friendly than others.

  • TK

    Andy, are you sure about that? I’ve never had a problem with my kid on BART. Maybe the well-paid drivers are too lazy to say anything.

    CMB, re MUNI, I’ve totally been there. Now that my kid’s a little older and I have more perspective, I kind of understand the policy though. The rationale with buses is that they’re too cramped to allow anyone to safely stand in the aisle if there’s a stroller there. Your kid might be safe in a 5-point harness if the bus is in a crash, but someone could fall on top of the stroller…so, yeah, it’s not good in any situation. (Do they finally have seatbelts on school buses these days? Talk about unsafe.)

    As for LRV’s, it seems like the drivers only hassle you if it’s crowded. You can probably keep your kid in the stroller if not.

    In any case, my advice is to bring a front-carrier/sling for when you’re in transit. Then you can free your hands for dealing with the stroller.

  • I am wild and crazy guy from Czechoslovakia. My papa made trams in a factory in our beautiful capital Prague. About 15,000 one particular model was made starting in the 1960s – the most successful based on the PCC from America. These are used from Croatia to North Korea. Every single one of these and also buses has a a large open space for a baby carriage, not just a stroller. They have steps, but everyone helps mama or daddy take stroller inside — this is social solidarity. I suggest you remove a row or two of seats inside buses.

  • Eggsddgf

    awesome cheeks! only reason i came here


Cutting Transit Means Cutting Independence

Today on the Streetsblog Network, a post from member blog VTA Watch, which covers the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority in California. The blog’s author discusses the impact of upcoming service cuts on the people whose mobility, and ability to participate meaningfully in their communities, depends on public transit. The post also goes on to […]

Driven to Distraction in America

A couple of weeks ago I left the transit-rich confines of New York City and headed down South to visit family. I made it all the way to Meridian, Mississippi without getting in a car (I rode the subway to Penn Station and took Amtrak from there), but once I got off the train in […]

Finding Effective Arguments for Funding Mass Transit

How much should passengers pay for mass transit? What with the financial woes of transit systems around the country, it’s been a hot topic. Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’re looking at the question from a couple of different angles. First, Yonah Freemark of The Transport Politic looks at the role of mass transit in […]

The “Choice” vs. “Captive” Transit Rider Dichotomy Is All Wrong

The conventional wisdom about transit often divides riders into two neat categories: “choice” riders — higher-income people with cars — and “captive” riders — lower-income people who must use transit because they don’t own cars. But this framework can undermine good transit, according to a new report from TransitCenter [PDF]. In the attempt to cater only to “choice” riders or “captive” […]