Accepting All Riders: Making TriMet work for moms and babies

Nova Newcomer

...the current TriMet policy does not adequately reflect the reality of a mother commuting by bus with a baby.

Editor's note: Today, we welcome Nova Newcomer to our roster of contributors. She's been a blogger, an activist, an organizer, and a consultant. Now, she's writing here at BlueOregon and we're thrilled to have her. Welcome, Nova!

Two summers ago, I was a new mom trying to take excursions with my newborn son and perhaps getting groceries and essentials on our way back home. One day, I packed up my stroller, grabbed my purse and my stocked diaper bag and went to the bus stop. When the bus pulled up, I was stunned to hear the bus driver tell me that I would have to break down my stroller and take my baby out of it and lug all of my other gear up on the bus with baby in hand. Thank goodness, he was willing to hop out of the bus and help me.

However, my experience is not typical and this was not during busy commuting time. Now as a downtown commuter who largely travels by bus without my child, I have seen countless mothers go through this same experience. In rush hour, tired bus drivers will be short with these moms. “You need to break down that stroller!” “That’s too big for this bus!” “You need to take that baby out of there!” And I have seen other passengers come to the aid of these mothers to help them get their equipment on the bus.Two years later, I find myself remembering my experience. I remember taking the bus less often because I was never sure if there would be a helping hand for me and my (necessary) gear. And I recall how I felt not included when I realized that my stroller was not an acceptable size for the bus, even though I would often fill it with groceries and essentials when out running errands for our household.

Most recently, this happened to a woman whose first language was not English. She didn’t understand what was being asked of her and her baby was sound asleep in the stroller. There was room on the bus for the stroller in the spots for wheelchairs and there were no disabled passengers on the bus at the time. The bus driver, following TriMet’s policy, asked her to break down her stroller. She didn’t understand and the bus driver asked again. Finally other passengers tried to explain and started trying to help her break down her stroller. By the time they were able to help her break down and secure her stroller while she held the three-month-old baby in her arms (she could have never broken down the stroller without help), she was two stops away from her stop.

Here is what I know. Space is at a premium on a city bus, bus drivers work hard and need passengers to respond to their requests and follow TriMet policy AND the current TriMet policy does not adequately reflect the reality of a mother commuting by bus with a baby.

Reading Trimet's policy on traveling with kids, it all seems reasonable.

You're welcome to bring a stroller on the bus or train, but keep in mind there may not always be room on board. If you do bring a stroller, we recommend using a folding "umbrella" style stroller. Large and double-wide strollers are not practical for use on TriMet.

In practice, this policy is a hardship on riding mothers. Consider these scenarios in regard to the policy:

The below changes would improve the experience for mothers greatly:

I don't believe Trimet's policy is an intentional slight to mothers, I think it just needs a minor revision to help mothers, fathers and caretakers feel like an accepted class of riders.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    I began reading wondering if the not-so-obvious safety concerns of infants in strollers on board a moving vehicle had been considered. It appears that you have been articulate in your concerns and offer a viable alternative while being mindful of infant safety as well as protecting the rest of the bus riders from a careening stroller.

    Well done.

    • (Show?)

      Strollers come with brakes that lock into position. Seems to me that if a stroller can be locked into position, with a baby in it, and that's good enough for a MAX train or the OHSU tram, then it should be good enough for TriMet buses.

      • (Show?)

        Kari, just because the wheels are locked doesn't mean that the stroller is secure. Trimet buses are regulataed by the Federal Highway Safety Administration, DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. They must secure all loads so that passengers are safe in the event of a sudden stop, lurch or change in direction.

        Who wants their kid securely strapped into a missle?

      • (Show?)

        Buses start/stop and turn more aggresively than the MAX and the OHSU tram.

  • (Show?)

    Can you please clarify something?

    When you say "Lift option (in policy) for mothers with strollers should always be offered", do you mean:

    1. Buses on standard routes which are equipped with wheelchair lifts should offer the use of the lift to those with strollers?

    or

    1. People with strollers should be able to register to use TriMet's "LIFT" transit service, which primarily serves those with disabilities with point-to-point service?

    There's a lot of difference between those two things, despite the similar "lift" term. The "LIFT" service, which primarily meets an ADA mandate (although TriMet exceeds these minimums in some areas), costs over $28/ride to deliver.

    • (Show?)

      Bob,

      Thanks for the question.

      I was not referring to the LIFT service. I was referring to a part of the TriMet "traveling with kids" policy that says "When boarding the bus, you can ask the operator to deploy the lift or ramp if you need it."

      I think it would be helpful to mothers and caretakers to be made aware about this policy (perhaps as an offer from the bus driver), because I don't often see this in practice and it is often very difficult for a mother or caretaker to get onto the bus with their necessary gear.

  • (Show?)

    I have found that TriMet policy, driver inaction, and people on the bus/MAX often make it difficult for anyone who is disabled, has children (especially very young ones or babies), etc.

    I got on the bus the other day. It was somewhat crowded, but not full. There were seats available towards the middle and back. I use a cane. No one would move out of the seats in the front, and the driver did nothing to make them even though they are required to do so.

    I couldn't navigate to the seats in the back, especially since those in the middle were single seats only (I had our 8 year-old with me) and the other ones required going up/down steps.

  • (Show?)

    Maybe I just don't get it. Back when I had to deal with this, the idea was to strike the stroller before the bus arrived. Otherwise you just slow down the route for everybody. On a related note, who the hell spends money on a stroller you can't strike down one-handed?

    Don't even get me started on parents who park strollers under the bike hooks on MAX and get huffy when a cyclist tries to board. Not to mention the ones who set up in the wheelchair spaces, still manage to have the damn thing in the aisle where we all get to trip over it, then sigh and act put upon when a wheelchair user boards.

    News flash: When you have kids you have to plan ahead.

    • (Show?)

      "who the hell spends money on a stroller you can't strike down one-handed?"

      people who buy whatever stroller they can afford from Goodwill, Craigslist or a friend?

      and frankly, most parents (esp those out solo) with a stroller have at least one bag for the kid, probably another for whatever errand they are running (or schoolbooks, groceries, etc). add to that kids being fussy and rebellious, which is like every damn time, and "plan ahead" is a pipe dream. you infer you did this, but it doesn't sound like you did a lot. transporting small kids via TM is an absolute ordeal at the best of times.

      and you may have noticed it rains occasionally here. bust down the stroller early & let your baby enjoy the storm? sure, why not.

      • (Show?)

        I disagree. I am a single dad of wonderful soon to be 3-year old and I've been riding TriMet + SMART since the beginning. With a little planning, yes you CAN make this work:

        • For really little guys (0-6m), don't bother with a stroller/car seat. Use a wrap, Bjorn, or (as I did) just carry them in your arms with a blanket.

        • For older kiddos, use a stroller if you want, but get one that can fold with one-hand. Remove everything except the child from the stroller when Transit Tracker says your bus is a few mins away, and then when you can actually see the bus put the kid in your arms and fold it up. Stroller in one arm, kid in the other. Stuff on your back.

        • Put all baby stuff in a backpack.

        • Don't bring the SUV stroller with the huge trunk that is designed only fit in a car. You need an umbrella stroller. Babies-R-Us has these starting at $18.

        • Thin down your baby paraphernalia; you don't need a dozen diapers, 2 changes of clothes, a full box of wipes, 17 toys, a full pantry, etc. Bring just what you will need for that specific trip.

        • Sit in the disabled seating, and put your stroller under the seat. If it's not available, then sit in any side-facing seats and hold the stroller between your legs.

        I think the key issue here is that most strollers are designed to be used with cars, and most parents pack like they're driving a car as well. When either of these things come into play you run into an unfoldable stroller situation.

        One last thing, for Nova - Lots of people care for children that aren't mothers (ex: fathers, grand parents, nannys, etc). Next time you may want to include us in your article. As written, it makes us seem invisible, which I find offensive.

        • (Show?)

          thanks for the awesome tips man

          Ken Enlarge

        • (Show?)

          Baby Bundlers are EXPENSIVE. If a single mother, on OHP & WIC didn't get a baby-backtype type thing gifted to her, how is she supposed to prioritize the utility bill money for a baby back pack?

          Those "SUV" strollers, the all-in-one, snap the car seat in gizmos, are sometimes GIFTED through OHP programs for completing all the prenatal care, as incentive to keep going to the doctor. Choices are limited on limited incomes, which also means limited choices when busing.

          When a mother has errands to run, even for 4 hours, there are diaper changes, bottles, snacks, and your own needs to care for.

          Stop being such an insensitive "super dad" and open your eyes to another view point.

          The policy can be more compassionate instead of all this fighting over different uses (bikes vs regular passengers vs moms and kids).

    • (Show?)

      Just because there is a bike hook doesn't mean you are always entitled to it.

      I've had cyclists do that before when I've been on the MAX. On more than one occasion on a full train I've had to stand where the hook is (typically I start further up and get pushed back with each stop as more people get on). Sure enough I will get a cyclist who wants to put their bike there (as if there is any room). And where am I supposed to go? Am I supposed to get off the train so you can put your bike there? There is a reason why there is a rule stating bikes are only allowed on the MAX when there is room.

      Not only that, but I have been told by TriMet employees (and have seen drivers tell other people) that the space isn't just for bikes - it is for other bulky items such as strollers (which are huge even when folded down), wheelchairs when the other open spaces are unavailable, walkers, etc. You aren't allowed to block the aisles with that stuff, and there are only a few places those items can go.

      Maybe you have to wait for the next train just like everyone else who isn't able to get on the MAX.

      Folding down your stroller is not always an option, especially on the MAX train. On a bus the driver can give you extra time to get everything. Not the case on a MAX train. Not many people can deal with a folded down stroller, baby, diaper bag, groceries, etc. all in two hands and get off the MAX in the time allotted. About the only way I was ever able to do that is if I was able to keep everything in the stroller and push it. I could fold down the stroller with one hand, but that's pretty hard to do when you have an infant who cannot hold themselves yet and needs to be fully supported by 2 arms.

  • (Show?)

    Nova, welcome aboard! We have WAY too few female voices here, and your first post illustrates the poverty of diverse subjects this leaves us.

    Keep up the good work--

  • (Show?)

    Nova, imagine doing this over 20 years ago when the buses were all tall & the lifts took about 5 minutes. the spaces at the front were a lot more tight, too. i had a lot of fun, both here & in Eugene, with a baby & a 3-yr-old (i was a stay-at-home dad/student & got a lot of these opportunities). in other words, this is nothing new. Trimet's gotten new equipment but little else has changed. i don't believe this has ever been a priority for TM, not if the same problems persist for decades.

    just like they can't figure out how to use computers to keep the same buses that are late the same amounts of time during the same times of the day on-time. they seem to put their strongest efforts into planning the next round of cuts & fare increases; this is something that has been happening quite smoothly & regularly for the 30 years since i moved to Pdx. but how to help a struggling mom?

    screw you; my bus is late. move your ass or walk.

  • (Show?)

    I wish I knew how to go about advocating for this change because it seriously affects my quality of life. Bus trips with a 9 month old and a just turned 2 year old are hard (especially if you are out for the day and carrying all the necessary paraphernalia). But bus trip that involve changing bus lines are almost impossible.

    • (Show?)

      one place to start: the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (http://www.wpcwalks.org/).

      and never stop sending comments to Trimet.

      my older son was 3 yrs older, & that helped a lot. but it was always an ordeal, even at its best. if nothing else, the stress of making sure they were safe, especially with the bus moving, was never-ending.

      and then there was the time the jackass driver in Eugene shut the doors & started off before Alex had climbed down the back steps....

    • (Show?)

      I suggest contacting the citizen Committee on Accessible Transit (CAT). Accessibility also includes people traveling with children (see latest TriMet TV video)

      http://www.trimet.org/CAT

  • (Show?)

    TriMet's policies about strollers differ between bus and MAX for a couple of reasons. Foremost is for the safety of the child. Buses have a much shorter stopping distance than MAX trains, so emergency stops are more likely to result in tip-overs or runaway strollers. Unlike a heavier MAX train, when a bus is involved in an accident the vehicle can move or swerve in various directions, which can also result in tip-overs. There is also less space aboard a bus to accommodate customers and their various needs, including mobility devices, luggage, push carts and strollers.

    Families and persons caring for children are welcome on the TriMet system, and we value input on how we can make the experience better. We have met with parental advocacy groups, including representatives from urbanmamas.com, to discuss the challenges of balancing space issues on our vehicles. As a father of three (including twins), I am very aware of how challenging it is to travel anywhere with kids. No amount of planning will eliminate the fact that kids require a massive amount of stuff. Our challenge is to accommodate everyone as best we can and still meet our obligations to the safety of all passengers, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. This region is known to be accessible to persons with disabilities, as well as being friendly to families and cyclists. These needs will continue to grow, as will the challenges to continue to balance the needs.

    To address your specific suggestions:

    1-TriMet operators should offer the use the ramp or lift to riders with strollers. It is fine to roll your stroller aboard the vehicle and then remove the child and collapse your stroller. Though this may take longer (deploying the lift on one of our many older bus-types can add up to five minutes), it is not against policy and may be more convenient for riders who are also carrying other bags or another child.

    2-While it seems reasonable to allow large strollers to be locked down in the mobility device securement area, our Committee on Accessible Transportation (a citizen committee that represent the needs of seniors and persons with disabilities) has raised concerns about creating conflicts between riders over this seating area.

    3-Providing hands-on assistance with riders’ personal items is not something that TriMet will require of an operator, as it raises liability issues. However, providing assistance to customers who need it is always the best practice. We can do more to reinforce that, and will do so with our operators.

    4-Strollers are welcome in the bike hanger area of MAX trains, and riders with strollers are not required to surrender the area to cyclists. Similarly to the previous suggestion, adding a jump seat would create potential conflict between riders with various needs.

    Josh Collins TriMet Operations

  • (Show?)

    I have no problem with strollers in the disabled area IF the rider with the stroller understands that if a disabled person requests the seat, they have to move--stroller and all. If there isn't room elsewhere, the person with the stroller may need to get off the bus. Sorry, but strollers, especially SUV strollers, are optional. Wheelchairs are not for the people in them.

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