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Weighing in on a controversial issue

You know, I have no trouble wading into controversial political waters and sharing my opinions on all kinds of subjects. I’ll talk about crime, drug policy, our idiot mayor, unions, poverty, social programs, welfare cheating, public spending, the bus strike, whatever.

But I’ve been reluctant to say what I think about the deeply divisive issue of strollers on the bus. I mean, who wants to take on either motherhood or disabled people?

But the stroller thing has become a perennial problem and I don’t think it’s going to go away until we solve it. The parents won the last round, which was just a few months ago. It’s back again, and this time it has been framed as the seniors and people with disabilities versus the parents. I’m not sure this is the most helpful way to think about it. The problem is not parents or babies or people with disabilities or old folks or any animosities between these groups. The problem is we’re trying to make buses and strollers do something they weren’t designed to do.

As much as I love babies, and as much as I support the rights of parents and babies to ride the bus, our current buses were not designed to safely accommodate those big-ass stroller systems. They’re hazardous. Not just for the elderly and the disabled, but for all of us, including the babies. People are trying to navigate through this obstacle course of strollers, walkers, wheelchairs and shopping carts while trying to stay upright on a poorly designed lurching bus that doesn’t have enough things to hold onto. (This is especially true at the front of the bus, and especially if you’re short, like me. I can’t reach those bars that run along the top). People are tripping and falling. It’s only a matter of time till someone falls on a baby. This would be awful of course, but it’s awful anyway that we’re falling down on the buses, even if we’re not taking out babies.

umbrellaI think we need to look to history for solutions to this problem. I used to ride the buses with my baby, back in the 80s. I wore him in a Snuggly until he got too heavy (about four months) and then he graduated to an umbrella stroller. The rule back then was that you could bring an umbrella stroller onto the bus, but it had to be folded. That’s what we did. And I don’t remember there being all this controversy about it either. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it made sense and we all managed to live with it.

f-p_duo_strollerI don’t doubt that it’s a lot harder to fold and carry today’s massive stroller “systems” that convert from stroller to car seat and whatever else. Why not use your stroller system for all other purposes, but use an umbrella stroller on the bus? It’s small, it’s light, it’s easy to fold, it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it doesn’t take up half the bus.

In the longer term, I think we should be designing buses with strollers and walkers and wheelchairs and shopping carts in mind. Maybe all these vehicles and wheeled devices should be getting on the bus via a back door, and using the back of the bus, so everybody else doesn’t have to navigate through them. It’s having to get through them that makes them so hazardous.

I can’t imagine that we’re the only city with this problem. How are other cities dealing with it?

36 comments to Weighing in on a controversial issue

  • You took the words right out of my mouth, ma’am. Not that that it seems to have stopped me from mouthing off myself. Great minds!

  • I agree with you one hundred percent. As a carless mom of 4 I had baby carriers – slings and a baby trekker and a baby backpack. I had an umbrella stroller, and I had a big ass jogging stroller that I NEVER would have considered taking on the bus.

    I don’t get the “pro stroller crowd”‘s sense of entitlement, and the lack of empathy for others I see in this debate.

    If your stroller is too difficult to fold up to make the bus a SAFE place for everyone then GET ANOTHER STROLLER!

    I see people arguing that they NEED these crazy strollers because they need to carry the baby and their groceries – BULL – get an umbrella stroller and a BACKPACK for your groceries.

    There wasn’t any controversy about this until they started making strollers that held carseats from what I can see. Your stroller and your carseat are projectiles on a bus – they do not make your baby more safe. Youy want safe, get a sling or another babywearing device where you can be handsfree and baby is attached to you. I have a bad back and my trekker distributes weight well enough that I can still carry my 5 yr old on my back. And really, if you are using a carseat as a transportation device for your baby – TRAVEL BY CAR!

  • I agree – I dont drive and rarely take a stroller on the bus. If I do it is an umbrella stroller. Mine was 20 at Zellars, so even if you have a big stroller, getting a smaller bus stroller should be feasible. I got one for M for 5 dollars second hand. On the other hand, I have a friend with MS who cannot always carry her baby and an umbrealla stroller won’t always cut it in the snow. Sometimes, the issue is not as clear cut.

  • reb

    The ACCESSIBLE buses were mandated so disabled people could get on buses not so the mommy crowd could bring all their luggage along. I wish I could safely travel via regular OC Transpo as it would be cheaper for taxpayers and I could have more freedom in my travel.

  • Stephanie

    What I’ve heard the issues are mostly:

    1. Buses are a cheaper way of transportation for families with low income and no car (or the car gets taken by the other parent and the parent is stuck taking the bus to do groceries and whatnot). Sometimes it’s the only option to go places. The argument here is that people say that parents, before becoming parents, should have thought about transportation before having children, just like figuring out budget and caregivers. Transportation is important.

    2. Parents are wondering how they’re supposed to take out the baby out of the stroller, fold it up and stow it away all the while the bus is moving really fast and with today’s drivers braking and accelerating crazily, they’re saying “what, we need to ask a stranger to hold the kid up while I fold the stroller?!”. And would there be an exception for double strollers? Can’t fold those…

    3. Umbrella strollers are not made for snow. Personally, I’ve seen umbrella strollers with rubbered up wheels that are way easier to manoeuver in the snow. A tiny bit more expensive than regular umbrella strollers, but don’t think they don’t exist.

    4. The issue of who has priority when there’s a conflict between a disabled person/a wheelchair and a stroller. If one comes in first, who gets to have the space?

  • Mudmama and Redfraggle, thank you. Clearly you’re both managing to use the buses with your babies and without big-ass stroller systems. Good for you. As for the case of people who have exceptional needs (eg your friend with MS), perhaps OC Transpo could introduce a disability sticker that allows an exception to be made for them.

    Reb, I agree. The buses WERE designed for wheelchairs, and that system seems to work just fine.

    Stephanie, I have no problem with parents and kids (low-income or otherwise) using the buses. I just want them to be reasonable about how much of the bus they’re using and what sort of hazards they’re subjecting others to. As for your second point, no, I would not expect a parent to fold their stroller while standing on a moving bus and holding their baby. I would expect them to fold their stroller BEFORE they get on the bus. Point three, about the snow tires, yes, I agree. And Point Four – hands down, I give priority to the wheelchair.

  • You’re right. The fleet of buses that OC Transpo has (and most transit companies use) were not designed for strollers or comfort, for that matter. They are people movers. The more they can cram on, the more money they make. Something does need to be done so everyone wins in the end.

  • Obviously Vancouver has the same bus problems that Ottawa has. I agree about the huge strollers being a problem. I travelled on public transit years ago with two little ones only 16 months apart and managed with a backpack and a umbroller. I don’t know why these days they seem to need one the size of an SUV! Said from the point of view of someone who normally packs the world around with her. ;)

    I also am too short to use the upper bars and hand slings in our buses. There is very little in the front of the bus to hold on to so you’d better get further back or sit down before the driver takes off! Landing in someone’s lap is not good.

    Right now with the Olympics on our transit system is stretched to the max. Lots of folks who don’t normally use it are learning about how much fun it can be! LOL!

  • i am one of those people that navigates through the front as though it were a mine field to get to the back. I’ve also travelled in places where people with physical impediments and strollers have a far worse time getting on and off public transportation. Similarly, I’ve been to places where the transportation system is comprehensive f the need and demographic of the population, and address segments accordingly.

    2 things ottawa has always lacked: long-term planning for the city’s growth and corresponding needs, and a listening ear to what the people want (vs. what they think we need or should be wanting).

    OC transpo is great, for a small town. For the second largest country’s capital, it’s an embarrassment on all fronts.

    and as long as we keep buying cars because we don’t enjoy the public system, nothing will really change that much.

    “planning to have a car before planning to have a child” while great in theory, is a cruel suggestion. we shouldn’t look down upon people with priorities different from ours.

    we need a comprehensive solution to the problem of rapid growth in Ottawa and the inability of the infrastructure to keep up. we shouldn’t have convos about who to throw over board first.

  • I am really bothered by the planning to have a car idea – for any reason. I personally am a horrible nervous driver. I will never drive and this does not mean that I should not have children ( or step children).

    I also think that cars should be the exception not the rule. They are expensive, energy consuming space hogs and I find it so frustrating that having a car is considered a given, that people who don’t drive are odd. I don’t feel that I should have to drive. I resent that we design cities around cars and not people.

    I agree that we need to consider the public system a priority.

    I guess too that we all need to be courteous and flexible when sharing public transit – just like with sharing a houes, a community …

  • Libra

    I agree 100% Zoom. As a regular transit user, another pet peeve of mine are people who have huge backpacks strapped to their backs and who don’t take them off before boarding a packed bus. The end result: not only do you have to weave around wheelchairs, shopping carts, huge strollers and individuals who refuse to move to the back, but you also have to try and go around people who are more than blocking the aisle by having a huge backpack on their back. And if you are lucky enough to find an empty aisle-seat on a packed bus, you have to be extremely vigilant lest one of those huge-backpack wearers decides to turn around suddenly and slap you in the face with his or her backpack. I have seen it happen so many times to so many people, and felt it myself once. F’ing unpleasant, to say the least. ;-(
    I don,t hink that they are doing it maliciously, but come on people: take off your backpacks and carry them “à bout de bras” so that you don’t slap poor innocent people in the face!

  • I’m just going to ditto Redfraggle on the car issue – and really, don’t compare OC transpo to small town service. I get one bus an hour and its route takes over two hours. But the stroller issue isn’t as big here…most people use umbrella strollers here, fold them if needed, and sit kids in their laps.

  • The issue being discussed isn’t whether strollers should be allowed on buses, it’s whether or not they should be allowed to park in the area designated for disabled and elderly passengers. I thought there had been a recent compromise where people with strollers could use the area, but had to give up their seat to someone who was disabled or elderly. Which seems fair to me. I used transit in Ottawa and Toronto for twelve years and it never took me more than a few seconds to get around a stroller.

  • When we were at Disney, the buses there had a dedicated wheelchair/stroller area – actually there were two areas, one at the front and one midway. The seats there folded up and then there were anchors in the floor to secure these devices and stop them from moving.

    In general, though, I did see most parents folding their strollers before boarding, and it was fine…although pretty much everyone there was travelling with more adults than children so there were plenty of people to help kids get on and off, and to hold them on the bus.

  • I’ve decided that to call attention to this issue that I (a perfectly abled individual) am going to build a giant stroller for myself and have my husband take me on several buses around town one day. This is intended not to offend anyone, but to simply point out the fact that if it is UNNECESSARY for me to use a large chair on wheels on the bus then I shouldn’t.

  • Carmen

    Those strollers are huge, and I fail to understand their use. They hog bus space, sidewalks and block the way in stores…why not go for a smaller model, easier to use and probably much less pricy.

  • XUp

    Oh boy. First, I agree with everyone who gave hell to the person who said people should have thought about transportation issues before having a kid. Second, I want to emphasize that this is PUBLIC transportation we’re talking about. It’s not a private vehicle designed for your optimum comfort and safety. It’s supposed to be to get as many people as possible around the city as quickly and efficiently as possible. I sure as hell don’t like almost everything that goes on on OC Transpo, but I am vehemently opposed to banning people because they happen to interfere with your comfort. Women with big strollers don’t like taking buses any more than everyone likes having them there. They take them because they need to. They need the big strollers to not only carry their kid, but also their shopping. Umbrella strollers are fine for older children when you have nothing else to carry. I very much doubt that anyone is ferrying a 4-month old in an umbrella stroller. Children aren’t even able to sit up unassisted until around 6 months and making them sit up for long periods of time like that is highly discouraged. And it’s very nice to say we can strap our babies into a snuggly until they can sit in an umbrella stroller, but not every woman is capable of carrying an infant in such a device for long periods of time, never mind all the other stuff they have to carry. No woman in her right mind takes the bus with her strollered child just to go for a joy ride. This is a last resort solution. I take buses every single day and the number of times a stroller in the aisle has been an issue is extremely minimal. I never thought I’d live to see the day when I would be the voice of compassion on THIS blog.

  • I have to say I never took a bus when my girls were small. The idea scared me to death, with managing the steps and the giant bag and the constant crying. I was lucky that I could walk everywhere I needed to go. I’m not sure how parents manage, but I think they deserve space as long as their strollers are reasonably sized.

    Just curious how often this is really a problem? I see strollers on the bus all the time and everyone seems to fit OK. Maybe other routes are the problem though.

    I think the drivers should take some responsility too. People should be settled before they lurch away, throwing everyone in all directions.

  • They do make umbrella strollers that recline for newborns, fold with one hand so no one else needs to hold your baby, and pop back up in less than 5 seconds. They are much cheaper than the monster strollers too.

  • I think safety should come first no matter what. You shouldn’t be allowed to put someone else’s well being in jeopardy, no matter who you are or whatever the reason. This goes the same for people with shopping carts, luggage etc. My mom had two of us under two and never had a problem folding up her stroller on the bus.

  • Chris, I think OC Transpo has to be about more than moving the most number of people and bringing in the most amount of money. Public transportation has to be as inclusive as possible.

    Damselfly, what an interesting point about the Olympics bringing in all kinds of people unaccustomed to using public transit. I’m sure it’s an eye-opener for a lot of them.

    Nelly, I like your point that we shouldn’t have conversations about who to throw off the bus. Fortunately this one is about WHAT to throw off the bus. ;)

    Redfraggle, I agree 100% with everything you said.

    Libra – uh oh. I’m guilty of the backpack thing. I didn’t realize it was a big problem for people. From now on, I will take it off while riding the bus. Thank you for letting me know.

    Gabriel, the aisles on the current buses are too narrow for the strollers to go anywhere else BUT at the front. It’s not generally a problem to get past a single stroller – but when the front of a crowded bus is filled with strollers, walkers and shopping carts, it is both difficult and dangerous.

    Lynn, see, that sounds like an efficient system that was designed to accommodate strollers.

    Kim, good point. I don’t think anybody objects to people taking the space they need, but nobody wants people taking way more than they need. (Which reminds me of one of my pet peeves, which is people who give their knapsack a seat to itself on a crowded bus.)

    Carmen, I sometimes wonder if those big-ass strollers are being used by some parents as status symbols.

    XUP, your argument – that it’s public transportation, not a private vehicle for your optimum comfort and safety, applies just as much to parents as it does to anybody else. (By the way, is it my imagination, or are you playing devil’s advocate these days? I get the impression you’re bored with everybody agreeing with each other in the comments, and are trying to stir up an argument.)

    Finola, I can understand that fear. What’s the giant bag though? (As for your question about how often it’s a problem – I know it’s a regular problem on the #14, which I suspect is related to the fact that a lot of people on this route probably don’t have cars. As I said to Gabriel, a stroller or two aren’t a problem – but when the whole front of a crowded bus is cluttered up with strollers and shopping carts, it’s scary.)

    Thank you, Mudmama. I didn’t know about the infant umbrella strollers.

    Valerie, I agree. Safety first.

  • Em

    I weighed in on this back in November, when they were pretending to deal with this issue the first time around. Zoom & I are on the same page.

    However, now, i think a HUGE problem is that both OCTranspo and the City keep dicking around without ever coming to a firm plan. There are already rules about strollers in place to some extent, but it’s up to the individual drivers to enforce them. Maybe make them enforce it? Or just officially keep the status quo? It seems like the City and OCTranspo would rather pit groups against each other than to pick a “winner”.

    And what about ParaTranspo? What’s wrong with that system – that is, why do people with wheelchairs and mobility issues choose to take the “regular” bus over ParaTranspo? I try to be PC, but honestly, a guy in a giant motorized wheelchair also takes up a lot of space, can be a safety issue, and slows down the bus on-route while loading & unloading. They can be just as disruptive, and the buses were designed to accommodate wheelchairs only slightly better than they were to accommodate those ridiculous strollers. We don’t have StrollerTranspo, but we do have ParaTranspo, at least. I’m not up on the politics or usage issues with ParaTranspo, so I can’t comment on why people with mobility issues still use regular buses. I think it’s part of the issue too.

    But I must say – I love taking the bus during the cold winter months. I hardly ever encounter this issue when there is snow on the ground.

  • futurelandfill

    Thirty-odd years ago when my kiddos were stroller-bound (yes, Umbrollers – cheap crappy child-traps they were – I remember one of the suckers losing 3 wheels at a time in a puddle in the market one afternoon) there were a lot more services closer to home and rents downtown were cheaper so taking a bus was an expedition, not a daily commute to school, supermarket, daycare, what-have-you. Face it, cities have been given over to car-culture and buses are a stop-gap to try and minimize the damage instead of a legitimate transportation model. Give us back neighbourhoods with grocers and bookstores and schools we can walk to. Bulldoze the superboxes that ring our cities.

  • reb

    To EM

    On Paratranspo I pay an extra ticket for any weekday trip before 9 am.

    Although seniors, paratransit users and people on ODSP qualify for a reduced fare pass it is rendered ineffectual on Paratranspo as an extra ticket is required when using it on Paratranspo.

    I have to plan my travel and call in to book it the day before.

    I cannot book more than 4 one way trips a day.

    I need to sit waiting at the appointed time and spot for up to 1/2 hour before paratranspo is late.

    Per trip my paratranspo trips are more expensive for our taxes.

  • Arden

    People who are on limited incomes, who need OCTranpso often aren’t the ones with the SUV strollers, since they often cost ludicrous amounts of money as well. There are many options for carrying around infants, like the infant umbrella stroller, or slings, or baby bjorn type things. I didn’t get the impression that Zoom was saying people have to get a car in order to have a baby, but that if they want that kind of massive device for carrying around your baby, you may as well get the car and be done with it.

    (I agree with futurelandfill, I want neighbourhoods back. We don’t really have any truly self-sufficient neighbourhoods, in most other major cities, like Toronto there are still at least some self-sufficient neighbourhoods, though obviously not the sprawling burbs)

  • “crowded bus is filled with strollers, walkers and shopping carts, it is both difficult and dangerous.”

    So are buses packed sixty people beyond capacity. I’m six feet tall, 240lbs, and in twelve years of transit use I’ve never had a problem stepping around a stroller, or navigating around a motorized wheelchair. If a bus is packed beyond capacity, or you don’t feel comfortable being in a bus with a couple of strollers parked near the front because you feel it presents some kind of hazard, there’s always another bus coming… you could also ask the driver to let you in the back door.

    My girlfriend and I picked up a stroller a few weeks ago, second hand. It has four wheels in front, and two in the back so I’d imagine it fits your idea of an SUV stroller. The big wheels, it turns out, makes the thing easy to use in the winter. The tiny wheels of an “umbrella” unit are useless at this time of year. If we were living in Ottawa we’d be using the bus daily. She, or I, or both would be on the bus with the stroller and her four-year old son. If they ban the stroller from the bus, they’d be keeping us off the bus.

    …and what are they going to do with a ban, have OCT drivers prevent women from getting on the bus with their stroller and infant? “Sorry ma’am, you’ll have to walk in the rain because your stroller might get in the way”.

  • But Gabriel, this is not an issue across the river in Gatinbeau – they have a hard fast rule, fold your stroller. Guess what, the buses are full of young families with strollers, folded strollers.

  • XUP

    I don’t think I’m deliberately playing Devil’s Advocate, though I do sometimes take a side more vehemently than I actually believe. In this case, however, I’m authentically vehement. If a baby or young child has to be on a bus there is nothing safer than being strapped into a good, sturdy stroller with the wheels locked. If a bus is ever in an accident or even if the bus slams on its brakes (which happens a lot) little kids will go flying out of their seats and mothers are not always able to hang on to babes in arms. Baby slings are fine in some cases, but like I said, not every woman is capable of carrying even 10 pounds of baby strapped to her front. And it’s very unsafe in winter. And like Gabriel pointed out, those umbrella strollers are not usable in winter. Why is no one complaining about the Zimmer frames or motorized wheelchairs or shopping carts? Because it isn’t PC to tell the elderly or disabled to stay off our public transit system because they’re inconveniently clogging up the aisles? But it’s okay to tell young mothers that they have to carry their children and their shopping and their fold-up strollers in their arms if they want to get on a bus?

  • Em, I can sympathize somewhat with OC Transpo and the City treading cautiously here, since I was reluctant to wade into this one myself. But it’s their job to figure it out, so they should stop being such weenies about it. And you’re right, pitting groups of riders against one another isn’t a solution. For what it’s worth, I’m happy to have wheelchairs on the bus, because the bus was designed to accommodate them. They’re not blocking the aisles or posing a hazard.

    FutureLandfill, that’s an excellent point about how our neighbourhoods no longer meet our needs, forcing us to go further afield. I find it crazy that all the bed and mattress stores in this city are over by Merivale, all the outdoor gear stores are in Westboro, and the little independent book stores and pet stores and so on, are gone.

    Reb, yes, from what I understand, people wouldn’t want to use Paratranspo unless they had to. The regular bus system, with all its flaws, is preferable, in terms of both cost and convenience.

    Arden, you’re right, it wasn’t me saying people should have cars before they have babies. I didn’t have a car until my baby was 13, and then only for two years while I lived in Wakefield. I know what it’s like raising a child in this city without a car.

    Gabriel, I’d suggest that the fact that you’re six feet tall and 240 pounds should make it EASIER for you to navigate the bus. Smaller people are at a distinct disadvantage on a crowded bus. As for the alternatives, double ditto what Mudmama said.

    XUP, like I’ve said before – lots of parents manage to take the bus with babies without using honking big oversized strollers. I did it, Mudmama did it, Valerie’s mom did it with two kids, Redfraggle does it, all those people in Hull do it. Until the buses are designed to accommodate these things, other parents should do it too.

  • The giant bag was my diaper bag. For a while I had the two in diapers, plus spare outfits for two, plus snacks for one. But I probably wasn’t all that efficient either.

  • It would be much easier to ride the buses, and to share them without tempers getting so hot, if they weren’t always so darned crowded. People shouldn’t be crammed in like sardines. There should be enough buses to meet the demand.

  • Stephanie

    Note: I was simply reporting that one argument people have is that parents to be should think about transportation before having kids, not that I take that position on the issue. Thanks.

  • Stephanie – that was clear – thats why I said simply that I am bothered by the idea. Honestly, I come across incredulity all the time when I explain that I don’t drive. :)

  • TechWood

    It’s been awhile since I was on an Ottawa bus, but here’s my POV. People with disabilities AND a stroller have the option of using ParaTranspo for their transit needs.

    For those that think it’s a matter of how many people you can cram on a bus to make money, two words – public system. It’s not designed to make money but to be cost effective at delivering a service that everyone can use.

    It doesn’t make much sense to add multiple areas for wheelchairs/strollers, etc. One area should suffice considering it’s about the buses being accommodating to everyone. That means a single area for those that REALLY need it and the rest for the hordes of people that require transit everyday and can stand/sit within a given amount of space.

    From the point of safety, I think having a child anywhere on a bus other than safely attached to a parent is a hazard. Strollers whether they have wheel locks or not are unsafe when the bus is going from mobile to stopped on a dime. In fact I’d go so far as saying that it should be mandatory that strollers should have to be stowed under a seat or tethered to ensure they don’t become airborne.

    In my bus days I always put my backpack by my feet with one strap through my leg to ensure it didn’t get away when the bus stopped suddenly.

    One last thought – what about overhead bins like on planes – couldn’t they put something up there to safely stow items?

    Cheers!

  • Julia

    Thanks for having this discussion! All these comments are great. Food for future thought…

  • Very neat blog.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.