The Importance of Family-Friendly Transit

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.

  • Erik G.

    LA Metro rules state that children may not ride in strollers aboard ANY of their vehicles. They are to be removed and the stroller or carriage must be folded up or disassembled. So the next time you see a kid wheeled aboard a Subway or Light Rail train, remember that the parents are breaking the rules. Only at LA Metro would such an asinine policy (for rail transit) actually be on the books.

    Oh, I forgot, Amtrak Surfliner has the same bizarre rules because they think they are a Long-Distance Intercity train, yet they function like a commuter train especially after all the Metrolink cutbacks on their Orange and Ventura County lines.

  • Michelle

    Erik G. – Oh no, this is the rule for NYC subways and buses too. I’ve often wondered, which stranger should I ask to hold my baby while I fold up my stroller before boarding the train? Or maybe I should just lay him down on the subway platform? Fortunately, I’ve never been hassled about this.

    I wonder, is this a standard policy for most U.S. transit systems?

  • Raul

    That is the cutest picture of the two kids.

  • 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.

  • M

    Good point Todd. Transporting my pets (not just dogs) was actually one of my top concerns when deciding to get rid of my car. My pets are tiny and I could easily hide them in my backpack, but with TSA agents poking in people’s belongings, I feel uncomfortable taking them on the train and bus, even though my vet is along the train route I ride each day.

    This rule doesn’t of course stop people from taking animals with them. I’ve seen cats, dogs (of all sizes), rabbits, fish, turtles, baby chickens, lizards and even a snake on the train before where supposedly only service dogs are permitted.

  • Ack! Those fist bumping babies are too cute for words!

  • Spokker

    Todd, the end of suburbia and the end of cheap oil is the end of big dog ownership. Big dogs need space and yards to play, and you won’t find that in downtown lofts and apartments.

  • @ Spokker

    Maybe not in downtown lofts and apartments, but you could make that work in rowhouses, which do have small yards. Granted, they aren’t huge yards, but big enough at least for a dog to drop a deuce. You’re a bad dog owner if you don’t take your dog for walks anyway, so I figure it’s not too bad.

    I don’t know about pets on transit. Maybe if they’re in carriers. I’ve seen that snake guy too by the way! “Snakes on a Train” :)

  • Spokker

    Chewie, okay I guess so.

    I’m glad the livable streets movement isn’t dominated by cat owners, then.

  • Spokker

    “That is the cutest picture of the two kids.”

    I may be revealing my prurient nature, but I didn’t notice any kids in that photo.


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