In case you haven’t heard (this is old news), according to a report in the globe several weeks ago, the T will NOT be moving forward with a ban on open strollers at this time. Many thanks to the folks who let the T know this proposed ban goes too far, several of whom attended an MBTA meeting to speak (one of whom demonstrated wrangling and infant in a carrier and a diaper bag, while removing her toddler from the stroller and folding. I believe her point was well made).
That said, there’s obviously a lot of tension out there over how we parents handle our kids and our strollers in transit. Judging from some of the comment threads out there, there are some who want us to take up absolutely NO space, which is impossible, but there are things we as parents can do to lighten the load, both for ourselves and our fellow passengers. I’ve been mulling over our methods for years, but this debate was finally the push I needed to lay out our approach. Are these “rules” hard and fast? No. Everyone has different needs depending on family size, kids ages, where it is they’re going and when, but they do outline an approach that we find helps streamline our space needs and makes riding transit with very small children easier for us as parents.
RULE #1: If your baby is small enough, ditch the stroller. If you are physically able and your kid goes for it (not all of them do), wear your baby. Wearing keeps your baby happier, up where he or she is interacting pleasantly with your fellow passengers, and hardly taking up any space at all. We used a messenger style diaper bag, and were able to carry both bag and baby, leaving a hands free for our older child. You might even get the magic toddler, who’s content to be worn indefinitely, and you might be amazingly strong, able to heft a 2-year-old onto your back with ease, in which case, by all means, keep wearing that kid up out of the way. But for most of us, either the kid or the grown-up gets tired of wearing before the kid is old enough to really hold their own on the train. For this stage, see rule #2. Are you in the Boston Area? check out the Boston Babywearers for great meetings and a lending library of different carriers.
RULE #2: Once you have to use a stroller, use the smallest one that does the trick. For us, the age-out for babywearing on transit has been at about 18 months. Unfortunately, an 18 month old (at least our 18 month-olds, yours might be different) really aren’t ready to be non-contained on the train. They’d rather be running up and down the aisles and aren’t yet big enough to learn the rules of the road. At this stage, we have used an umbrella type stroller (specifically, the maclaren “triumph”). Some other good transit strollers the uppababy g-lite or g-luxe (similar footprint, slightly lighter, handy kickstand when folded), or several of the chicco umbrella strollers. The super-cheap umbrella strollers are perfect for transit, and there are plenty of other models out there that can work, but in general think small, both unfolded and folded.
On buses in Boston, it is officially OK to fold the disabled access seats up to make a place to stand out of the way with your stroller, though by all means, be prepared to get out of the way if a disabled person needs the space. In general, bigger strollers can be tolerated a bit better on the subway (at least during off-hours) than on buses (where anything larger than an umbrella stroller is a strain, both for parent and fellow passengers). And even though bigger strollers are sometimes tolerable on subways (e.g. jogging strollers, UppaBaby Vista, Bob strollers, etc), it really is better to find something smaller. I promise, you’ll be happier traveling light, and so will your fellow passengers.
RULE #3 If your train or bus is crowded, fold up if at all possible. This does require advance planning. Make sure your junk is in a backpack, not the bottom of the stroller, particularly if you are traveling at rush hour, look in the windows as the bus approaches and fold up if things look crowded. As long as you follow RULE #2, you should be able to fold and carry your stroller over your shoulder and your toddler on one hip, while you wrangle your T-pass, and possibly your older child(ren) with your other hand. Is it easy? No. And it will take you longer to board and be a hassle for other passengers (which is one of the main reasons a blanket “folded stroller rule” is a really bad idea). It may be no fun to keep your toddler contained, but it will probably be alright, and other passengers almost always offer a seat in this situation. Are there situations where this is impossible? Yes. Absolutely. In which case, just do your best. If taking the subway, consider waiting for the next (hopefully less crowded) train.
RULE #4 Teach your kids how to ride without strollers ASAP. At barely two, we are starting to teach R to sit on a seat on the train. He’s very excited about this, but can’t do it for very long. We found that H, now almost 5, was decent without “containment” by about 2 and a half, and quite solid by age 3. This was largely thanks to some great tutelage from her grandmother, who took her out on brief one-on-one train trips to learn the ropes. Once she could handle herself pretty well, we would usually fold up the stroller on the train or bus to keep it out of the way if we needed a stroller at our destination, or if our walk would be brief, we enjoyed a blissful stroller-free transit ride. She was solidly walking distances up to a mile by about age 3 and a little, so that was when we stopped needing to bring a stroller for her except for in very strange circumstances.
With this approach, if you have only one kid, true stroller dependence on transit lasts for about a year or year and a half. We sometimes brought the stroller for younger babies, or our 3 year old, but those times were pretty few and far between. But for that year between about 1 and a half, and 2 and a half, we found the stroller essential. Yes, a few times we did have to fold up on crowded buses or trains, which we did, but it wasn’t easy, and a rule requiring folding up at all times on both buses and trains, even at off hours, would make transit riding extremely difficult (though yes, we know some parents who do it in cities that require it. We’ve also heard from parents who would ride transit more in those cities if it weren’t so impossible due to such requirements, or who rode transit when they lived in Boston, and stopped riding when they moved to a city that banned strollers).
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: Will this approach work for everyone? No. Not everyone is physically able to wear a baby. Some people have twins. Some people have a lot of kids. Some people have kids close in age (though even in this case, you can likely wear one and push the other in a small stroller much of the time, minimizing the need for a double stroller as much as possible). Also, if all of us parents who are able focus on streamlining our space needs on transit, it leaves more room for those with greater limitations (Say, for that dad commuting every day with 20 month old twins at rush hour. In the winter).
NOTE: Did you make it this far? Then consider voting for us again as a great family biking blog at Circle of Moms! You can vote every day for another week or so and be sure to look around at some of the other great blogs listed: http://www.circleofmoms.com/top25/biking-families