Family by Mark Nye licensed under Creative Commons.

WMATA currently bans open strollers on buses, but seems to be considering a change. GGWash columnist Stephen Repetski writes that the newest Amplify survey, WMATA's rider feedback tool, asks about relaxing the policy:

Repetski said the survey also asks about another perennial policy issue, namely whether to allow bikes on trains at all times of the day. The survey wording says that even if the policy changes, riders still would need to “use [their] good judgment.”

Former contributor Ken Archer wrote about the stroller issue back in 2011. Since the matter is now open for discussion, we wanted to share his original post with you again.

 


 

You can bring about anything onto a Metrobus — multiple large luggage, folding shopping carts, oversized packages — as long as it’s not an unfolded stroller.

Metrobus should either ban all items that can’t rest on your lap, or to allow the smallest of strollers to board: unfolded umbrella strollers.

DC’s Circulator adopted a stroller policy in 2010 that allows unfolded strollers that are larger than umbrella strollers. And they haven’t received a single complaint [as of 2011], according to DDOT’s Aaron Overman.

Circulator riders can board with unfolded strollers up to 48’’ long and 24’’ wide. Umbrella strollers, when unfolded, are no larger than 36” long and 18” wide.

In other words, they are no larger than the luggage and shopping carts that riders commonly bring on board.

This guy can ride the bus… Image by Johnathan Lobel licensed under Creative Commons.

As it is, almost every time a parent boards a Metrobus with a folded stroller and a baby they sit in the front lateral seating area where there is already plenty of room for an 36x18” unfolded umbrella stroller.

Of course, the Metrobus driver should be allowed to use discretion and require a parent to fold a stroller if the bus is simply too full for an unfolded umbrella stroller. The Circulator drivers have this discretion under their new stroller policy.

But the Metrobus drivers rarely use discretion, as they are not supposed to do so. Instead, the Metrobus drivers are required to enforce the fold-your-stroller rule on half-full and near-empty buses.

...but this baby can't. Image by Emmanuelle Bourgue licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s very common for bus and streetcar systems outside of the US to allow unfolded strollers, particularly within a certain size. Canadians allow unfolded strollers of any size on buses in Toronto and Winnipeg, up to 120x60cm (47x23in) in Vancouver and up to 105x56cm (41x22in) in Halifax.

What is the difference between American bus systems and those in most other countries that makes unfolded umbrella strollers impossible on American buses? Perhaps the difference is not between the bus systems as it is between the expectations of their riders.

Most other countries did not experience the flight of families to car-dependent suburbs that has defined America’s landscape for the past half-century.

The result has been a deep decline in the percentage of urban residents that are children in the US, and with this a change in the expectations of urban residents. Small children, however wonderful they may be, are an inconvenience that urban residents have gotten used to not dealing with.

The inconvenience of stepping around the luggage of travelers on a bus, or the shopping cart of an urban shopper, is accepted as part of living in a city. I once brought a ladder I had purchased at a hardware store onto the bus and no one blinked an eye.

The inconvenience of stepping around an unfolded umbrella stroller, even though it is no greater than the other inconveniences, is more frustrating because it calls for a change in expectations.

If I was to purchase a large child’s car seat and bring it onto the bus, it would have to sit in the aisle. If instead of being a large child’s car seat it was an unfolded umbrella stroller, what would be the difference? The difference is simply that the former is expected and the latter is not.

Are there unthinking, entitled parents? Yes, just as often as there are unthinking, entitled young singles who won’t vacate a special needs seat for elderly riders. So let’s not compare my best to your worst when discussing this topic.

Parents who decide to stay in the city after they have children, and who then decide to rely on transit, are in a small percentage of parents who have agreed to shoulder far more frustration and inconvenience than other parents because they believe in the ultimate benefits of city life.

I can assure you that the struggles they bear to get through the day on transit with toddlers is far greater than the inconvenience they place on others.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son.  Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.