Category Archives: busing with babies

On families and fares, part II

Chicklet's new ORCA cardIt was definitely a proud moment, in a milestone sort of way, when each of my kids turned six and was old enough to pay bus fare. I gave them youth ORCA cards – along with lanyards to store them in – as birthday gifts and had to restrain myself from photographing their first taps on the reader. I still get a kick out of watching them march up the bus steps and expertly tap their cards (after politely greeting the driver, of course); it is a reminder that my dreams of raising bus proficient kids are coming true.

On the other hand, the fact that my children are now full-fledged, fare paying riders means, well, that they have to pay. And, as my heroes and sheroes from Rainier Beach High School reminded us last year, riding the bus is expensive.

Youth fare in King County is now $1.50, which means that taking two kids anywhere costs six dollars round trip. For those families with access to a car (or even to cabs or “ridesharing” alternatives), this substantially diminishes the financial incentive for taking transit. For families without access, it adds up to a significant cost burden. Some examples:

A two-way, off-peak bus ride for two adults and two children costs $16.

A one–way trip for one adult and three children costs $7.00.

A month of bus rides to and from school for one student costs $60 ($54 if the family can pay the lump sum for a pass).

Because our family doesn’t own a car at all, and because we don’t ride with kids daily (they walk to school), adding the youth fares has not made a very big dent in the amount of money we save by busing. But we are not representative of the majority of families who rely on transit — nor of the families who would choose it more often if the financial incentives were greater.

Our current fare structure (and, for that matter, our payment system) creates unnecessary barriers to taking kids on transit. If we are serious about reducing our dependence on cars (and the cost of living in our region), we need to do a lot better.

 

How to make a bus mama proud

Parenting is really hard. It’s harder than I ever imagined, and I imagined that it was going to be hard. My baby whispering skills are legendary, but with actual children, I have no idea what I’m doing. Most days, I feel like I’m messing up motherhood — and maybe even my kids.

Then yesterday, at the 8 stop, I looked over at my progeny and saw them doing this.

My rider-readers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t a surprise — they read every time we wait at a bus stop (or anywhere else, for that matter) — but in that moment, after a morning of whining, arguing, and selective hearing, it was a gift.

It looks like I’ve managed to get at least one thing right.

On buses and boundaries

Earlier this month, I wrote a short piece for Seattle’s Child about how Bus Nerd and I teach our kids to interact with strangers. Here’s a taste.

[We] don’t discourage our kids from talking to “strangers.” Like most parents, we have taught them never to go with a person they don’t know. But we also encourage and model safe and positive interactions, including making eye contact and greeting people, engaging in conversation, and helping those who need it.

We teach our kids how to recognize signs that someone is not safe to interact with: erratic behavior, inappropriate or aggressive language, invading personal space. And we empower them to decide what sort of interactions they’re comfortable with.

I certainly don’t have a magic bullet to protect my children (or anyone’s) from danger and violence. But the thing is, the more we isolate our kids and hide them away from the people they share the world with, the more disconnected and dangerous our communities become. We end up with fewer neighborhood friendships (and thus, more strangers), fewer “eyes on the street,” and lots more people in cars. And, as the number one killer of American children, cars are a significant threat to the safety of our communities.

Here’s to saying hi!

On cars and community

My love of the bus has always had its roots in a deep craving for community. I have written extensively (here and here and here and here and here, for starters) about how my family’s bus-based life has enriched our sense of community and our connection to our city and neighborhood.

And it’s not just about sharing the ride. Living without a car has forced us to participate in our neighborhood in a way we never would have if zipping* all over the region was as easy as jumping in the car. Out of necessity, we play at local parks, attend the local school, shop for groceries at the local store, and get our check-ups at the local clinic. (Our church is the outlier at exactly one mile from home.) We frequent the library, community center, and city pool. And, we regularly socialize with our neighbors. Instead of spending our energy searching for something “perfect,” we focus on enjoying — and occasionally, improving — what is available. This way of living has added a richness and sense of belonging to our lives that is nothing less than magical.

But for all its community-building benefits, our carfree life also has a disconnecting influence. We have a network of family and close friends that spans the entire region, and we don’t see them nearly as much as we’d like to. Traveling long distances by bus is fine for adventures, but it’s not something you “fit in” to your day; it is the day. Almost as soon as you arrive at your destination, you’re figuring out how you’re going to get back.

So, we rarely eat Sunday dinner with my youngest brother and his family in Tacoma, or spend a spontaneous afternoon with close friends in Renton or Kirkland. We skip most birthday parties that are held at transit-inaccessible venues — in other words, most birthday parties**. We leave evening gatherings earlier than everyone else, because waiting for a transfer with two small people after dark is not my idea of a good time.

It is very important to us  to be connected to the Black community– both for our own social well-being and to foster a strong sense of identity in our children. While we are definitely connected to Black folks through family, church, and neighborhood friendships, we don’t participate in some of the organizations and institutions — specifically, those aimed at connecting Black families — we would otherwise be a part of. With Seattle’s small Black community now so dispersed — “automobility” is essentially a requirement.

Of course we know about (and occasionally use) carsharing, but, with car seats to schlep and no cars nearby, it’s not especially convenient or desirable for us. More than anything, the need to use a car regularly to feel connected reinforces how integral cars are to the way we practice community in the United States in 2015.

I don’t see a path to changing the way of life in this country so radically that cars (or for that matter, airplanes) are no longer necessary for maintaining relationships. Our culture is too mobile and often more focused on opportunity than community. But certainly, we can all work to build connections with the people we share our neighborhoods with. We can think of the places we choose to live as more than just access points to all the other places we want to go. Rather, we can think of them as the places where we build our lives.

As the late activist (and Bus Chick shero) Grace Lee Boggs said, one of “the most radical things [we can do] is stay put.”

***
* I should note that traveling around this region by car involves very little zipping—hello traffic!—but you get the point.
** Having a few friends over for cake (ahem) apparently does not cut it anymore.

A beautiful, brief ride

On October 22, 2014, a chubby, dimpled, charming 16-month old — known for a single post as HBE — joined our family. On July 20th, 2015, he returned to the one he was born to.

It was an unexpected, happy outcome. It was what I prayed for when I prayed for our little guy (which I did, and still do, every night). It was also a heartbreaking, wrenching loss.

I feel a bit at loose ends right now — experiencing emotions that do not have a name, grieving and celebrating and missing and aching and sighing a big sigh of relief. The last time I felt this overwhelmed was when my mother died eight years ago.

Back then, I found solace on the bus. I remember being comforted, as I boarded the 4 for what ended up being my last visit with her, by the man in front of me who didn’t have his fare. A week later, after countless hours staring out my apartment window, I was desperate for the distraction of a ride.

Today, it’s not distraction I am craving; it is communion. It is both the actual community I am part of on the bus and the metaphor of the shared ride that ease the pain of this transition for me.

My family shared a beautiful, brief ride with a remarkable human being. The experience blessed and forever changed us. And now he is off on the next leg his life journey.

Oh how we miss you, my dear, sweet HBE.

Moving beyond the margins

Last week, Portland bicycle activist* Elly Blue published a piece in Bicycling magazine about how her decision not to have children has enabled her carfree activism: both her ability to afford life as an full-time rabble rouser and her general freedom to cycle without the physical encumbrance and time constraints of transporting children.

Some UCLA researchers have thrown down some science about women and bicycling. The gender gap in cycling is so huge in the US (by comparison, to say, the Netherlands) not because women are particularly afraid or particularly fussy about their hair, but because of the pure logistics of the combination of errands, drop-offs, pick-ups required to run the Mom Taxi.

I read about this new work with interest. I’ve never owned a car. And I’ve never had kids. Both these factors have contributed to my ability to get around by bike, write about bicycling, live a bike-obsessed life. Otherwise, there isn’t really a practical connection between these two definitive—and in some circles, oddball—life choices, but they’re linked in my mind, in my own story of my life. And that link is very much economic.

While Blue’s piece is on the one hand a celebration of her freedom to make these choices, it is also an implicit acknowledgement that her circumstances are unlikely to be replicated on a broad scale.

As someone who, in over 11 years of living without a car, has taken fewer than a dozen bicycle trips**, I am hardly the right person to say what will get folks on bikes. (Or, perhaps I’m exactly the right person.) But, I do know a thing or two about what it’s like to parent without a car. And I have some thoughts.

On the one hand, we should definitely challenge the concept of the “mom taxi,” both the mom part and the taxi part. It is past time for us to address the cultural (and economic) conditions that chain mothers to their cars.

On the other hand, people need to live their lives. And currently, just getting to the most basic destinations is not feasible by bike (or transit, for that matter) for most parents–most people–in most parts of the country. To have any hope of shifting the paradigm, we must provide robust, affordable***, accessible, safe, reliable alternatives to driving.

We aren’t.

***
* Or, as I affectionately refer to her, “bike hustler.”
** I am working hard to raise two cyclists, though!
*** And by “affordable,” I mean free.

Multimodal Monday: Sounder to the fair

Heading to the train

Let me begin this post by telling you how much I love the Sounder train. It is delightful. Truth be told, I enjoy the train a heck of a lot more than I enjoy the Puyallup Fair. Last year, Sounder was easily the best part of the entire fair adventure, and the fact that Sound Transit was running a fair shuttle again this year is a good part of the reason we decided to go.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out quite as well for our 2014 Puyallup pilgrimage.

The schedule for the shuttle is very limited this year; it only runs on September13th and the 20th, with three trips to the fair–leaving from Seattle at 10 AM, 11:45 AM, and 12:40 PM–and only one trip back, at 6:30 PM.

Since our only return option was on the late-ish side, we decided to take the 11:45 AM trip down. By the time we boarded the train in Seattle, it was already packed. After several minutes of wandering, we were able to find two seats in separate areas of the same car. Each of us ended up with a kid on our lap, but we were more fortunate than the riders who boarded after us, who did not find seats at all.

During the trip down, ST employees (or maybe fair people?) walked through the cars selling tickets to the fair, which was a great way to streamline the experience for riders. (They’re also selling train/fair “express packs” online this year.) We took advantage and bought our tickets on the way down.

Pierce Transit provided a shuttle from Puyallup Station to the fairgrounds (definitely an upgrade from the school bus ST used last year), but per usual, we opted to walk the half mile. It’s actually a very pleasant walk through downtown Puyallup–past the library and Pioneer Park–and it got us there faster than waiting for the shuttle would have. And, thanks to our ticket purchase on the train, we were able to bypass the line and walk right in.

The fair itself was the same as always. We ate. We listened to music. We saw draft horses and piglets. We rode some rides. We ran into friends.

Because we anticipated extreme crowding on the ride back (three trains’ worth of folks trying to fit onto one train), we headed back to Puyallup Station at about 5:50 PM. By the time we arrived, at around 6:00 PM, the line looked like this.

Sounder line

Sounder line

Needless to say, we didn’t make it on board. When the train finally pulled away from the station at a little past 6:30, it was so full the driver could barely get the doors closed. The hundreds of folks left behind milled around, confused, until word got around that buses were coming. A few minutes later, they arranged us according to destination.

Bus destinations

By this time, Chicklet had to use the bathroom. Unlike the Sounder, buses don’t have restrooms, and there was no way she was going to make it through a 45-minute ride without one. An ST staffer directed us to a porta potty, and we managed to make it there and back just as the bus to Seattle was pulling up.

The ride back to Seattle was lovely. We had seats together, fair scones (ST staff handed them out while we waited for our buses), and gorgeous views of The Mountain. We leaned back, relaxed, joked, and relived our experiences while the sun set outside the bus windows and the driver apologized for the inconvenience over the PA.

By the time the bus dropped us off at 5th & Jackson, both kids had to use the restroom. (It wouldn’t be a bus fam adventure without a trillion trips to public restrooms.) We hustled to King Street Station, took care of business, then full-on sprinted for the 14. By 8:30, we were home, exhausted and grateful.

There is no doubt that Sound Transit botched the planning for its fair service this year. They didn’t even do a very good job of managing communication during the drama. The day probably wasn’t the best advertisement for public transportation–either for the folks crammed on the train or for those left stranded at the station after a long day.

On the other hand, thanks to some scrambling by ST staff–and off-duty drivers who were willing to help out on short notice–everyone made it back where they started. And, if I may inject a bit of perspective: Trips to the fair are one thing. Until we adequately fund transit, people with far more important destinations will continue to be passed up and left behind.

Here’s hoping for a smoother experience next year. Or, maybe we’ll just go back to riding the 578.

On families and fares

Last November, our Chicklet turned six—and entered the world of fare-paying riders. As with many aspects of taking transit with children, this transition has presented some logistical challenges.

In an ideal world, Bus Nerd and I would be able to pay for Chicklet with our own ORCA cards.* Unfortunately, that is not an option. Not surprisingly, it isn’t possible to load two passes onto one card. And, though each of us has both a pass and a supplementary “e-purse”** loaded on our cards, it’s not possible to use the pass for the adult fare and the e-purse for the child fare. At least, we haven’t found a driver who thinks it’s possible; the request seems to baffle them.

The last thing we want is drama and confusion (and holding folks up!) every time we board a bus with our kid, so, we decided to “simplify” by buying Chicklet an ORCA card of her own. The thing is, simplifying’s not so simple.

First of all, buying the pass was a hassle. FYI folks: You can’t buy a youth ORCA card just anywhere; you will have to schelp downtown during business hours. And make sure to bring your kid’s birth certificate. No proof of age, no pass. At the time I purchased Chicklet’s card, I worked downtown, so I went to Metro’s pass sales office–with the necessary documents, thanks to knowledge gained helping a young friend some years ago–during lunch.

Because Chicklet’s daily commute is a walk, she doesn’t ride the bus enough to justify a pass. So, I loaded the card with twenty dollars. (The total cost was twenty-five, since the card itself costs five dollars. Don’t get me started.) Later that day, I logged on to ORCA site, registered the card, and set up autoload to add $10 whenever she ran out of money.

Chicklet was really, really excited to get her own card. (Though I’m not sure she liked it as much as this one.) We wrote her name on the back in black sharpie, and she used it for the first time on a trip to the Seattle Center to meet up with some lifelong friends. It took her a couple of tries to get the hang of tapping (and to figure out what the different beeps mean), but within days, she was wielding that card like a pro.

Yay! Except…

Chicklet has no place to keep a transit card. At six, she does not carry a wallet or purse and only carries her backpack to school. I anticipated this issue and so bought her a lanyard with a card holder when I bought her the card.

Chicklet with her lanyard

Chicket, wearing her lanyard on a recent bus excursion

The lanyard is a great place to store the card (and has the added bonus of providing a place for us to keep the school ID she never needs), but it doesn’t address the more critical six-year-old challenge: She isn’t the best at keeping up with stuff.***

In the interest of not losing (or having to remember) it, I carry the lanyard in my bus bag, which I always have with me. When we go somewhere on the bus, I get it out of my bag; she wears it while she needs it, then gives it back to me.

We still don’t have a solution, other than buying another card, for when she travels with her dad. Sometimes, we remember to do the card hand-off in advance. Most of the time, we don’t. And, despite my precautionary measures, we have already managed to lose one card.

The details of the loss are not important–especially since we still have no idea how it occurred. What is important is that, after a week of paying cash, hoping it would resurface, I made another trek to the Metro offices.

The first place I visited was the lost and found. Despite the fact that her name was written on the back, the man at the desk said he could not look for the card without the eight-digit card number. Of course, I had no clue what the card number was. And, of course, he could not look it up from his desk. For that, I had to visit the pass sales office.

The woman at the pass sales office was able to look up Chicklet’s card, and when she did, she discovered that it was not a youth card but an adult card. (Apparently, it is common for youth cards to mysteriously get converted to adult cards when an adult loads money on the card online. And also, no one really knows how to prevent this from happening.) So, even if I found the card, Chicklet would not be able to use it. (Apparently, despite all this unintentional online card-flipping, there is no way to intentionally, with the help of Metro staff, convert an adult card to a youth card.) She recommended that I purchase another card.

I did buy another card, but unfortunately, the woman I was working with was not able to transfer the balance from Chicklet’s lost card to her new card. (The person authorized to do that was away at lunch.) She registered the new card for me, in hopes it would prevent the inexplicable youth/adult mix-up (she was doing her best to help, bless her heart), and promised that my balance would be transferred by the end of the day.

A month later, the balance has not been transferred. But, so far, weeks after I set up autoload online, the new card is still registered as a youth card. And so far, we’ve managed to keep track of it.

But I’ve taken a few additional precautionary measures, just in case.

Chicklet's new ORCA card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*******
*Actually, in an ideal world transit would be free. This would just be a decent scenario in the very broken world we live in.
**An e-purse is an electronic account from which a fare is deducted every time you use it.
***For context: She has managed–more than once–to lose a pair of glasses that were attached to her face.