Last week in Ottawa, a woman was left in tears when she and her 2 month old daughter were kicked off a public transit bus in favor of a passenger who wanted to board with a wheelchair. Nelly Elayoubi and her daughter, Ayah, had boarded several stops before with Ayah in a stroller. When a second stroller with two children boarded, the area at the front of the bus became crowded. When a person in a wheelchair wished to board at a later stop, the bus driver demanded that the “last stroller on” get off – but upon realizing that that stroller contained two children, he ordered Elayoubi and her daughter off the bus to make room for the wheelchair.
Strollers and public transit are a contentious issue in Ottawa and many other cities. Many people believe that strollers, especially the large so-called “SUV” style strollers are a danger and an inconvenience to other bus riders. And while certainly strollers take up space, what this unfortunate case illustrates is not the danger of strollers but rather, the lack of common sense and civility among bus riders and drivers alike.
Earlier this year, the Ottawa City Council debated a motion to force parents with strollers to collapse the stroller while on public transit. But who are we kidding, really? It’s not “parents.” It’s women. Often, it’s women of lower income in the first place, who rely on public transit as their only mode of transportation around the city, and for whom fully featured collapsible strollers may be out of their budget. This “solution” debated by the city council would force a parent to juggle one or more children while trying to collapse and stow a piece of equipment that often requires two hands to collapse – if their stroller collapses at all. If not, public transit would be largely cut off to this group of riders.
Perhaps the worst of all, the motion was brought forward by an acessibility group who found that too often, wheelchairs were getting left waiting by the side of the road for the next bus due to capacity. One group of riders is pegging another group as a scapegoat – and we’re an easy scapegoat, us mothers who dare to leave the house with our children, our children who should be seen and not heard and definitely shouldn’t inconvenience anyone else – when the reality is, it’s not the fault of the riders if the bus is full.
A public transit system is meant to be available to all. Instead of pitting one group of riders against another over “who” has more rights to ride the bus, why not give common sense and courtesy a chance to prevail? Hold public awareness campaigns for parents traveling with children about the most rider-friendly ways to travel, such as using a sling or carrier or smaller, collapsible, stroller. Ensure drivers are able to assist parents who need an extra set of hands to collapse strollers when required. Let families know when the best off-peak hours are to travel to allow room for their strollers. And hey – it’s great marketing for stroller companies to say that their stroller is transit-friendly. Why not develop better, lighter, smaller, more easily collapsible stroller options for people who ride mass transit?
But the most important part, truly, has nothing to do with the stroller or the wheelchair. We need to encourage everyone who rides the bus to respect the fact that all people, no matter how able-bodied or not, no matter how young or old they are, are entitled to use the transit system. Encourage a spirit of cooperation and courtesy when the buses are crowded. All this woman needed was a helping hand, a friendly person to say “here – squish the stroller in here. I can stand,” and this entire situation would have been prevented.
Common sense and courtesy. Simple.
Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik