Public Transportation: The Kid-Factor

Lord knows there are some rather vocal supporters of public transportation out there.

They could generally be described as the riders who ELECT to use public transportation over a car for their daily traversing.  They are a spritely bunch.  As passionate about their underfunded and underrepresented cause as any minority voice.

But have you ever noticed that it’s a minority without many kids?

It’s not like it has completely escaped me that transit-swingers are largely made up of young singles, DINKS, and retired persons, but I only recently became more acutely aware of what I’m terming “the kid-factor”.

What spurred me to this revelation?  Well, having a kid.

Bottomline: Having a kid makes taking public transportation HARDER.  Where once you could jump from feet to bus to escalator to train to bus to feet, now such hopping becomes a slog.  A slow, stroller-folding, elevator-riding slog.

And apparently I’m not the only one.  Note this line from a recent article by transit-loving journalist Maria Saporta, reflecting on the greatness of MARTA bus line 45…

Finally, when my son was born, it became a bit much to ride MARTA. Plus I needed my car to go to assignments all over town.

Although I was no longer a daily rider on the 45, it was comforting to know it was there when I needed it.

And if Maria Saporta has to give up MARTA, what choice do I have?

But has this recent development caused me to cede my pro-transit promotion to my procreation?  Nope.

In fact, the experience actually just emphasizes the built-in difficulties of Atlanta’s transportation system.  Where it was once tolerable, in the present it’s just not an option for a time/baby-strapped parent.

I may have been a bit more grim in my overall assessment of the kid-factor  if I hadn’t recently taken my trip to Portland, Oregon. (Oh lord, here he goes!).

OK, OK, but young parents and their children abound on Portland’s light-rail. Now is that because 8 months of rain toughen the Oregonian spirit and make lugging a kid onto a train no big deal?  Not really. I’d argue it’s because it’s just plain easier to get a kid on and off transit in Portland.  No entering stations.  No steps onto a bus.  Short walks to stops.

In Portland, the “convenience threshold” is met, even for parents.

But here in Atlanta, we’ve settled for a less convenient model, which tends to limit its ridership to the die-hards, the ultra-mobile, and those without options.

And no longer as “ultra-mobile” as I once was, I’ve suddenly found myself back in my car.

8 thoughts on “Public Transportation: The Kid-Factor”

  1. While I’d agree that there are challenges taking mass transit with a very young child, I do see a lot of parents with children of all ages on MARTA. My daughter, who is three years old, loves taking the train and was always asking to ride the bus to work with me. If we take MARTA we get to talk more, look at books, and see different views than she gets snuggled down in a car seat, struggling to peek out the window.

    Of course she is also an easy traveler, having logged more miles on airplanes in three years than most adults in a lifetime. And wherever we go, there are airport people movers, subways, buses and trains getting us around in these new places. She finds it fun.

    I’m not discounting the negatives so much as saying that there are some positives as well.

  2. My grandson LOVES trains and buses and subways and airplanes, and thinks nothing of the logistics of getting on and off. No, we don’t HAVE to take these modes of transportation, we choose to do so. But MANY families have NO OTHER WAY to go where they need to go, and they seem stalwart and determined to make whatever trips they need to make, even with multiple kids, strollers, backpacks, etc. I say THANK YOU to MARTA for making that possible, both for my/our fun and appreciation of the availability of public transportation in Atlanta, and for helping all people in the metro area go to the places they need and want to go.

  3. It’s really quite easy with a baby if you leave the stroller at home. Don’t use a Bjorn; invest in an Ergo. An Ergo is really comfortable for parent and for baby and should be useable until the child is 2-4 years old. I have a 9 month old and taking her is easy. Taking my 4 year old is a little bit less easy because she does walk on her own and she’s slower than I am. I admit that taking them both by myself is where I usually draw the line. Now my idea of a good time.

  4. You need to define the age of a “kid” as used in your title. Certainly young children anywhere add difficulty to travel including in cars. I would not put my kid on a MARTA train by themselves. But there are many “kids”, some from private schools, riding MARTA trains. I ride MARTA as a personal conviction against dependence on oil, and also because I am too cheap and don’t want to pay for parking in downtown Atlanta. I rode public transit in middle-school as my mother had a job until 5:00. So if kids of a certain age can ride by themselves apparently they can also ride with adults. Portland and many other cities are much better supporting transit use. While we are making progress in many areas, Georgia is still near the bottom.

  5. The underlying principle is this:

    What is more important to you? Reducing dependence on vehicles/oil, or having an “easier” commute?

    1. If we have a shot in hell of gaining majority support on more fuel-efficient transportation options, we better make it easier. The “reducing dependence” argument isn’t going to work with a large majority of the population.

      1. Unless government ( or market factors) make the prices of petroleum products, gas guzzling automobiles and parking much higher than they are now. I don’t see this happening but it would force people to change behavior – even if they don’t perceive fuel efficient transport to be easier.

        1. Good point. Cost is the other primary motivator for the vast population. Ease and cost. For most people, threats of apocalypse just can’t compete with everyday influences.

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