Do parents and their offspring have the right to ride public transit, no matter how packed the bus/subway/streetcar or how enormous the stroller?
Toronto resident Elsa La Rosa doesn’t think so. The 61-year-old woman complained Monday to the Toronto Transit Commission that too many strollers block aisles and cause problems for other riders. She requested that a maximum of two strollers be allowed per bus during peak hours, three during non-peak hours, and that stroller users be charged an extra $2 transit fare, reports the Toronto Star.
The incident was enough to start a nationwide debate about whether parents have a right to cart their children around on public transit in strollers, no matter how bulky. As a result of Rosa's complaint, local transit operators as far away as Vancouver were making statements promising to review policies regarding priority-seating areas.
“This is not just a question of the environment but also a question of equity,” says Murtaza Haider.
The associate dean of research and graduate progams at the Ted Rogers School of Management and a transport planning expert, Haider points out that the majority of public transit users with strollers are members of low-income marginalized populations.
“It’s the people who do not have the means to an alternative means of transport who will be the ones most affected by such a policy," says Haider. "Its not a transportation issue, its an issue of social exclusion.”
In a CBC interview Tuesday, TTC CEO Andy Byford quickly dismissed the idea of charging an additional stroller fair, but TTC chair Karen Stintz said later that day she would be looking for other possible solutions to the issue. Then, Wednesday morning, Stintz told CTV’s Canada AM that she would not apply a limit to strollers on buses.
“I would never want to put a customer in a position where they’re asked not to get on the bus,” says Stintz. “I think there’s common sense that needs to prevail.”
Indeed, an editorial in the Globe and Mail Tuesday points out that bringing a kid in a stroller on public transit is no picnic for the parent, either.
“May I propose fewer glares and even a helping hand for the next stroller custodian you encounter on the bus?” writes Tralee Pearce. “They’re actually not trying to ruin your blissful ride.”
Canadian parenting expert Kathy Lynn of ParentingToday.ca believes that children should be the priority on buses.
“Are we going to leave a Mom or Dad with a five-month-old shivering at the bus stop while other adults board the bus?” asks Lynn. “I hope not!”
She says limiting the number of strollers is sending the wrong message to new parents.
"If we do this, any move to encourage people to use transit will suffer," says Lynn. "What parent is going to take the chance of being left behind with their little baby? They will get into cars and are less likely to ever get out."
Professional parenting advisor Judy Arnall agrees. "Like any other person’s behaviour, much of which is annoying, like talking loud on cellphones, bad breath and swearing, people should just be more tolerant," says Arnall. "A little patience goes a long well in living and travelling together."
Members of the Twitterverse were also quick to sound off on the issue, with the majority of tweets supporting stroller wielding parents.
“A stroller on a bus is like a crying baby on a plane: bothersome for other passengers but a nightmare for the parents. Compassion>anger” writes Tweeter ‘Simonsaysskate’.
While Matthew Braga jokes, “The other day there was a stroller at the front of my bus. I boarded via the back doors instead. It was terrible. Abolish babies.”
Tweeter Susana Cabral has another suggestion.
“I personally think that if people want to travel on a 'stroller free bus' they should pay $2 extra for that kind of inconvenience…”
In the comments page on the Globe story, many readers had constructive ideas, like suggesting that parents use smaller folding “umbrulla” strollers or child carriers when riding public transit.
Outdoor gear retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op even got in on the debate, issuing a press release detailing the many stroller-free ways to cart your kid around the city. Among them, baby carriers, bike trailers and trailer bikes.
At the end of the day, though, this debate may well be about more than strollers.
“As our system becomes more accessible, we will have strollers, electric scooters, mobility aids,” Stintz tells Canada AM. “The issue is not contained to strollers, it’s how do we create an accessible system that is welcoming for everybody.”