Bringing a baby on the bus

By Andy Shenk

Since my spouse Nikki and I had a baby this spring, we've learned to experience the city in a new way. One of the first adjustments was figuring out the best way to ride the bus. I took Henry home from the hospital on the 43 in his car seat, but for errands and longer trips, strollers are so convenient with a baby.

Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that strollers and buses are a bad combination. If a bus was even moderately full, trying to fit Henry and his car seat, the two of us, and a folded-up stroller was no fun.

To be fair, we have a bulky jogging stroller that takes up a lot of space. But the way Cincinnati buses are configured, strollers have to be collapsed to allow enough space in the aisle, meaning we are far from the only ones to deal with the stroller/bus conundrum.

The beauty of a stroller, of course, is that you can store extra items like groceries in various pockets and compartments, while giving your arms and back a break from carrying the baby. Not being able to bring one on the bus, at least until Henry is old enough to walk and sit on his own, means taking a different approach to grocery runs and other excursions.

We are lucky enough right now to live within a 15-30 minute walk of Kroger and Findlay Market, but not everyone in the city has that option. Solving the stroller issue is important, especially because babies are often the impetus for parents to buy a car, if they haven't already. Nikki and I got so many comments along the lines of "You won't last long without a car" when she was pregnant and I think it comes in part from the perception of the bus as horribly inconvenient, especially when you add a baby to the mix.

Cincinnati is not alone on this issue. Don't get me wrong. Cities everywhere struggle with making public transportation accessible to everyone. Luckily, there are solutions.

While in Paris with Henry this summer, Nikki and I were very impressed by the ease of entering at the middle doors and parking our stroller in one of two wide handicap-accessible spots. Other passengers were quick to move, too, when we boarded and we saw plenty of other parents bringing strollers on the bus.

The downside to the Paris buses is that we never saw any wheelchairs. I'm not sure if the drivers don't assist with wheelchairs, making it too inconvenient to use the bus, or if wheelchair users have other transportation options in the city. Either way, I would like to think someone has designed a bus, and bus system, that can accommodate both wheelchairs and strollers.

On that note, there is no reason a bus system could not build platforms that would allow for level, roll-on access for both strollers and wheelchairs, at least at the most important stops on the system's busiest routes.

Nikki and I are able to make do, mostly because we live downtown and can walk most places, but making sure that the bus is accessible to everyone at each stage in life is important because it further undercuts the argument that "You have to buy a car to live in a place like Cincinnati."

For now, though, I usually either carry Henry in my arms or strap him to my chest in a baby carrier when I'm riding the bus.

It turns out I ride the bus a lot more often with a baby. For one, we've had a lot of doctor appointments in the past few months. Second, when I'm with Henry, the bus has replaced my bike, for anything more not within walking distance.

I've also had to change my approach to catching the bus. Where before I could run a few blocks and sprint down a bus if necessary, with Henry I need to budget a few extra minutes.

And I really don't want to miss my bus.

One, Nikki and I don't have the option of calling a taxi like we did sometimes in the past. We never bring Henry's car seat out with us, so it's bus or walk once we leave the apartment.

Two, babies are on their own schedules. Waiting an extra 20 minutes when Henry's tired or fussy or hungry is miserable.

Both of these issues come back to frequency, of course. If the bus came every 10 minutes, we wouldn’t need to worry as much about getting stranded.

To be fair, living downtown with dozens of routes available, we come close as you can to enjoying that type of frequency, but we've still had several bad experiences trying to catch a bus home from various parts of the city. It would be far worse for anyone living outside of the urban core.

But I've never regretted our decision to rely on the bus. We get so many smiles and kind words from other passengers when we bring a little baby on board.

And I love not needing to strap him into a car seat and stick him in the back seat. We get to ride the bus together and watch the city go by. As he grows older, I can't wait for him to learn about Cincinnati from the view outside the window. There's only so much to see driving up I-71 to Blue Ash. I'll take the 78 to the Zoo any day.