Tag Archives: BCiT

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.

Happy birthday, Chicklet!

It’s been four years since I brought my sweet girl into the world—and home on the 4.

Yesterday, I was in a nostalgic mood, so I reread my post from her first birthday. People, my baby has been around.

In her first year of life, my child has ridden the following routes:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 27, 36, 41, 44, 48, 54, 55, 56, 60, 66, 70, 74, 134, 150, 174, 194, 230, 255, 358, 545, 550, 554, 590–not to mention the Monorail, Puyallup Fair shuttle, Elliott Bay Water Taxi, Detroit People Mover, Amtrak, Portland Streetcar, and a few Portland bus routes.

It’s just a reminder of how much ground you can cover with only one. I know for sure that Busling didn’t ride that many routes in his first year. I’m not sure he has yet.

I digress.

Since her last birthday celebration, Chicklet has taken a big step in her journey as a BCiT: She started reading! (Well, not reading reading, but sounding out words. It counts.) Soon, I’ll be spending my bus rides kicking back while my little chip off the big chick does the entertaining. In the meantime, I’m enjoying watching her become who she is: a train chick, for those who were wondering. (See self-selected train engineer costume–minus the hat–above.)

Of course, four years of good livin’ for our baby girl = four years of bus parenting for Bus Nerd and me. We’ve learned a lot, and I’ve done my best to share some of it. In case you’re not up for reading an entire category of posts, here are a few of the highlights.

Why public transportation is good for kids
The sane person’s guide to taking kids on public transit
How riding the bus will make your kid smarter
What I’ve learned in my first year as a bus parent
What I’ve learned in my second year as a bus parent
Busing with two babies, part I
Busing with two babies, part II
Busing with two babies, part III

Happy day, baby girl. Thank you for the amazing ride.

How riding the bus will make your kid smarter

One of the biggest benefits of riding transit with little ones is that you can actually pay attention to them while you travel. Instead of hollering in the general direction of the back seat (or worse, resorting to an in-vehicle entertainment system to keep order), PT parents can have meaningful, even educational, interactions with their little darlings. Here are some examples of brain- and bond-enhancing ways to use transit travel time.

  • Read! Reading is a great PT pastime for children of any age. Research shows that reading to infants and young children helps with bonding, language development, and imagination. Books are also portable and compact—an essential addition to any parent’s bus bag.
  • Watch the world. Talk to your tiny ones about what’s going on outside the bus window, and they’ll learn to identify natural wonders (mountains, bodies of water), city landmarks, different types of vehicles, and various animals and plants. Bus time is also great for pointing out seasonal changes (leaves changing color in fall, tulips and daffodils coming up in spring) and explaining traffic rules.
  • Meet your community. What’s going on inside the bus is often at least as interesting as what’s outside. Infants love to look at faces, and babies who ride buses are exposed to a great variety of them. They learn early that people of different ages, shapes, and colors are part of their world. Older children will learn how to share space and how to interact politely with strangers. Being exposed to difference will help them develop empathy, or, at the very least, a more realistic picture of the world they live in.
  • Practice number/letter recognition. Long wait with a preschooler? Use the time to identify the route numbers that pass your stop, or practice reading the destination signs. (Kids who can identify letters can usually memorize simple letter combinations and sight “read” short words. Children who are working on phonics can practice sounding out the signs.) You can also make up games, such as putting the child in charge of telling you when your route arrives, or of finding all the routes with a certain number.
  • Learn to get around. Bus riding offers plenty of opportunities for school-age children to practice map and schedule reading and other skills, such as assessing direction of travel. Give your little BCiTs some trip planning/wayfinding responsibilities when you still travel together, and they’ll soon become experts at getting around town sans parents.
  • Talk. There’s nothing better for teaching, learning, or bonding than a respectful, reciprocal discussion between a parent and child. Transit rides and waits (not to mention the walks to and from stops and stations) are perfect for good, old-fashioned, heart-to-heart “tawks.”**

I am not naïve enough to believe that my children will always be thrilled about taking the bus every-dang-where. What I do know is that, so far, our bus time has been great for just about every aspect of their development. (Folks, for your sakes I have exercised restraint and not mentioned even one of their many demonstrations of genius.) It has also been great for our relationships. Bus time is as much about togetherness and adventure as it is about getting from point A to point B, and every time we travel, we create amazing memories. As I’ve said before, I could never trade that for easier access to the mall.


*Tip: Always carry a few tried and true favorites, but make sure to keep your selection fresh. The library is your friend.

**As my friend Aileen would say.

About that bus cake…

I recently chatted (via e-mail) with Nicole McGuire, the woman who made this amazing cake.

Here’s what she had to say about her kid’s bus obsession–and her work of genius:

Max’s love of buses began when he was about a year old with Joe taking him on trips when I was pregnant with our second child and too tired to go out and do anything. For some reason, Max just loved the bus from the start. By the time he was 14 or 15 months old he would literally shake and squeal with delight at the sight of an oncoming bus. He was a late talker, but his third spoken word was “buth!” (he hadn’t even said “daddy” or “mama” yet). We also live close to a busy intersection which services several bus routes, and so buses can be seen and heard at almost any time of the day out our window, so that probably contributed to the fascination.

As far as the cake went, I just wanted to make him something that I knew he would enjoy. He loves buses more than anything — except for Daddy — and I couldn’t make a cake in the shape of Dad. So, I got it in my head that I’d make him a bus cake. I had a vision of what I wanted it to look like, but I didn’t have any models to work from. I bought a book titled “Birthday Cakes for Kids” by Annie Rigg, hoping to find something to work off of. But unfortunately, there was nothing that resembled the image I had in my head. But I thought, “hey, how hard could it be?” and decided to take her cake recipe, thinking it would be sturdy enough to withstand shaping. It was; it worked beautifully.

Nicole was also generous enough to share her recipe. (It needs to be added to that cake cookbook!) I will definitely be trying it on a future birthday in our household. (Bus Nerd is next up, but he’s a pie man.) When I do, I’ll post photos (no matter how it turns out) here. If any of you try it before I do, be sure to report back.

Here’s the recipe for one 9×13 cake.
(I used 3 of these to get three 5.5″ x 13″ rectangles and then used the scraps to add the electric converter box on top. It really was a huge cake — it probably could have fed 30 people).

Annie Rigg’s Basic Yellow Cake:
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
4-5 tablespoons milk, at room temp

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and place greased parchment paper in a 13×9 cake pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in electric mixer until pale, light and fluffy, about 2-3 mins. Very gradually add the beaten eggs, mixing well between each addition and scraping down the bowl with a spatula from time to time. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and add to the cake mixture in 2 batches, mixing until smooth. Add the milk and mix until smooth.

Pour into cake pan. Bake on the middle rack of preheated oven for 45 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack. Turn the cake right side up and let cool completely.

I used a Betty Crocker buttercream frosting — your favorite will do.

As the cakes were cooling, I mixed the food coloring into my frosting. I used the gel food coloring for more intense color (bought at a kitchen store, but I think you can find them at nicer grocery stores).
Blue + Green = Teal (for bus top)
Yellow + splash of Orange = Gold (for bus bottom and doors)
Black (for piping and line down center of bus)
Red (for small red stripe and metro writing)
Splash of Black = Grey (for windows)

Once the cakes were cool, I used a serrated knife to level the tops of the cakes so they stacked nicely. I cut them into 5.5″ by 12″ rectangles, being careful to save the remainders for the electric converter box that went on top. I put frosting in between the layers to cement them in place. Then I cut a little wedge off the back of the bus so it tapered ever so gently. I took two 1″ x 4″ scraps and put them side by side and on top of the cake with frosting to make the electric converter box. I tapered the sides of these (cut off little wedges on front and back sides) so they lay on the cake at a 45 degree angle. Then I crumb coated it. This is just a fancy way of saying that I put a layer of frosting around the whole cake and then stuck it in the fridge for about an hour so that the surface of the cake would be easier to frost and wouldn’t get little bits of cake everywhere. Then, I used some photos I found on google images as a guide and I frosted it. (One tip — I used both a small and large offset spatula to crumb coat and to frost). Teal on the top, gold on the bottom, black stripe down the middle, gray windows, etc. For the thin lines I put the frosting in a plastic pastry bag and snipped off the tip to pipe the frosting. The frosting took a good couple of hours.

I then stuck Oreos on for wheels (I cut circles into the cake so that the oreos would fit in and would be flush against the cake) and frosted black lines along the bottom as a bumper. For the front bumper I used black licorice vines. I used giant yellow gumdrops cut into rectangles for headlights, and cut the small circular tip off orange gumdrops for parking lights. I used black licorice ropes for window washers and orange jellybeans for the little lights on the top of the bus. I used the bottom of large gumdrops for the taillights, red jellybeans for the little lights on top in the back and a licorice allsort for the tailpipe. Then I put two long candles in for the electric poles.

Hooray for Nicole (coolest mom ever) and my new (third) favorite BCiT, Max!

Chicklet’s future (fingers crossed)

I spotted this book-loving young bus chick on a southbound 48 (yes, I do ride other routes) the other day.

A book-loving bus chick
BIG book, little person

I was planning to ask her what she was reading on my way out, but she got off before I did. My guess? Based on the book’s size and the intensity of her focus: Lord of the Rings. Which reminds me: A few weeks ago, on the 14, I saw a bus chick of about the same age with her nose buried Return of the King.

Looks like the future of buschickhood (buschickdom? buschickery?) is in good hands.

Chicklet and the 27, part I

It seems that little Chicklet is a bit of an early talker. At eight months and some change, she said her first word (aside from “dada” and “mama,” that is): “kitty.” This is somewhat of a surprise, since we don’t have any pets, and she’s only seen a few living, breathing cats in her short life. (Our neighbors’ cat, Otis, is apparently pretty inspiring.)

My first word (at about the same age) was “more.” It is a concept that has defined my life ever since (you can never have too much chocolate ice cream or listen to “If I Was Your Girlfriend” too many times in a row), so it will be interesting to see how (or if) “kitty” comes to define Chicklet. Maybe she’ll grow up to be a cat lady. Or a veterinarian. Or a person who’s into leopard prints.

But I digress.

What I want to tell you about is Chicklet’s second word, which–I swear on The Book–was “bus.”

This morning, as she breakfasted on homemade applesauce and pseudo-Cheerios, the 27 stopped at a light outside our kitchen window.

Me (for the kajillionth time since her birth): “Rosa, see the bus?”
Chicklet (for the first time ever): “Bup.”
Me (incredulous): “Bus?”
Chicklet (emphatic): “Bup!”

She repeated it all morning. “Bup,” when she wanted more applesauce, “bup,” to get out of her high chair, and again (perhaps to restore my belief that she actually understands what the word means) when the 942 passed. Since then, she’s been saying it every time she sees or hears a bus, which, given the location of our home and our preferred mode of transportation, is pretty much constantly.

Such a smart girl. Before we know it, she’ll be memorizing schedules.

Speaking of trickling…

This was the scene when a young BCiT lost her lunch (actually, it was probably more like a between-meal snack, judging from the bags of popcorn I saw the other kids holding) on the 554:


I can sympathize with the poor dear–and not just because of those enjoyable months I spent busing while pregnant. I experienced a similar episode back in my early bus chick days–except that I lost my breakfast (I was on the 2, on my way to school) and, because buses had windows that opened sideways back then, there was no caution tape involved. But I digress.

The driver warned us to stay in the front half of the bus until he switched coaches at Eastgate. He didn’t have to tell us twice. We passengers stayed bunched together in the front with the windows open, practicing one of the most essential bus riding skills: breathing through our mouths.

Still more on bus chicks in training

My friend Monique, although hardly a minor, is a BCiT in her own right. In March, she moved from transit-unfriendly Houston to Boston to accept a year-long contract position that advanced her career and satisfied her taste for adventure. Since it’s not a permanent job, and since she owns a home in Houston, she’s subletting a cool apartment in South Boston and getting around by bus, train, foot, and, very occasionally, Zipcar. (Boston, as some of you might know, is the home of Zipcar.)

Transit-based living agrees with Monique. She loves her walkable neighborhood and the freedom and financial benefits of getting around without a car. (She does, however, admit that she might not be as enthusiastic had she made the move in January.)

Unlike most transit types, who swear by faster, more reliable trains, Monique actually prefers the street-level option. (Would that we Seattleites had the choice!) Says Moni, “I prefer the bus to the subway because it allows me to learn and see the city and connect how all the neighborhoods relate to each other.” Apparently so. She is already amazing Boston natives with her impressive knowledge of the city.

Even with all the looking around, Monique still finds time to read on her rides. She’s finished several books that have been on her “list” for years, including one of my all-time favorites, White Teeth. (Wonder if any Boston librarians are keeping track?)

Those of you who read my Real Change column might remember Monique from her advice for avoiding unwanted bus macks. Her advice hasn’t served her well so far, as she’s been the recipient of more than her share, including several of the far more rare bus driver macks. One driver, who finishes his shift at around the same time she leaves her office, has taken such a fancy to her that he provides door-to-door service, dropping her off in front of her building on his way back to base.

Two months as a bus chick and she’s chartering buses? The woman could teach me a thing or two.

A Boston bus chick
Moni on MBTA

And while I’m at it…

BCiT, n: Bus chick in training. A young person, usually under the age of 12, who is learning the bus-riding ropes. A BCiT always rides with an experienced bus chick while she masters basic bus survival skills, such as when to ring the bell, how and when to pay, and appropriate bus behavior–and then more advanced skills, including schedule-reading, trip-planning, and street safety. If she shows promise, she is permitted to ride without a mentor, and, eventually, initiated into the sisterhood of full-fledged bus chicks.