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MTA buses, long a source of stress and impossible coordination for passengers navigating the system with children, may gain new space for unfolded strollers after new negotiations between caregiver advocacy groups and transit officials.
“We have been looking at this policy for quite some time in regards to system safety. It’s a Catch-22 — I think if you allow a stroller on board, there’s no way to secure it, and if a bus stops short, you’ll have a safety issue. So listening to our customers today, I think we’ll go back and have that discussion again,” said Craig Cipriano, interim president of New York City Transit (NYCT) as the MTA prepared to take a new look at its stroller policy during this month’s transit committee meetings. Current rules state that strollers must be fully folded up while passengers ride NYCT buses — a significant challenge for many caregivers who are managing multiple children and bags in addition to often gargantuan-sized strollers.
As the MTA prepares to revisit its “no open stroller” policy on city buses, Community Board 4 Member and public transit advocate Leslie Boghosian Murphy captured one small, unsecured passenger’s worrying safety incident. “Just the other day I saw a mother — she had a toddler in a stroller and she was very compliant. The bus driver said: ‘Can you please fold the stroller?’ She said: ‘Yes, absolutely.’ So she put her child on the seat and then she started folding up her stroller and the bus stopped short. The kid went flying and hit her head on the metal post up at the front of the bus. It’s super dangerous, and this is why kids should be allowed in strollers,” she said.
Many caregivers in Hell’s Kitchen — where subway routes are sparse and do not extend beyond 8th Ave — find themselves frequently in the position of needing to negotiate MTA buses and strollers.
Boghosian Murphy concurs, having witnessed dozens of local caregivers struggle to manage under the stroller folding policy.
“I was on the M11 bus a couple weeks ago with my daughter and there was a woman who was getting on. She had an umbrella stroller, one of those very small ones, and there was her baby, sleeping in the stroller and another child with her, maybe around four, who was walking as she tried to get on. The bus driver told her she couldn’t get on without folding the stroller. There was this big back and forth between the bus driver and the mother and the bus driver essentially said, ‘you can’t get on the bus’. She was so exasperated. She said, ‘forget it. I’m not even gonna fight.’ She got off,” said Boghosian Murphy.
Fellow Hell’s Kitchen rider Leslie Woodruff’s experience of navigating a stroller as passengers stepped over her child to board that bus convinced her to reluctantly turn to ride-shares rather than manage city transit with a stroller. “I still have PTSD from that first bus ride after my daughter was born. The irony of being ‘baptized by fire’ on an arctic-cold January morning does not escape me. I never rode the bus again with my child, instead racking up hundreds of dollars in cab fares to preserve my dignity (and sanity),” said Woodruff.
“This is exactly the opposite of what the MTA should be encouraging,” said Boghosian Murphy. “The bottom line is if we are going to move people out of personal vehicles and ride shares like Uber or Lyft and onto public transit, we have to make it more user-friendly.”
Only 29% of subway stations contain elevators, leaving many caregivers little choice but to use the MTA bus system, the only fully accessible method of transportation in the city. Other major urban centers like Washington DC, Chicago, and Dallas have adopted policies to accommodate passengers with strollers, allowing them to keep strollers open as long as there is room for other passengers.
Boghosian Murphy argues that the best way to make space is by running additional buses, creating a more reliable and less cramped transit option.
“I love the bus but it’s not always user friendly, especially for caregivers or parents. If it’s a space issue, I would say we need more buses on that line. The MTA should take note — ridership is evidently high at this point of day on this line or whatever their analysis and their metrics tell them. More people, therefore more buses should be dedicated to this line. That’s what we want. It’s not necessarily making more space within the bus, it’s having more buses on that line,” said Boghosian Murphy.
Additional fleets on each bus route would also assist with broader accessibility issues, as buses currently have a limited seating options for passengers using wheelchairs and walkers. In 2019 the MTA created an Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility, an all-volunteer group of private citizens that aims to tackle the system’s many antiquated access issues. Perhaps the committee will convince the MTA to follow the lead of Scandinavian countries, where transit systems have designated sections for families with strollers as well as passengers with wheelchairs to ensure appropriate access and space. One member of the ACTA committee has already branched out, creating UP-STAND, an advocacy organization dedicated to making public transit systems and public areas of NYC safer and more accessible for pregnant people and caregivers.
For now, the agency has agreed to resolve space issues on MTA buses by rolling out 800 new vehicles with flip-up seats, allowing for additional space for passengers with strollers and wheelchairs. “That gives an opportunity to rethink the issue and how do you position and secure an open stroller that’s not folded,” said MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Leiber in a statement. The new fleet of remodeled buses, however, will only comprise 13% of the MTA’s over 5,000 vehicles.
While she hopes for further adjustment, Boghosian Murphy is optimistic that all changes move the MTA toward becoming a more accessible and desirable system to use. “There is a very big push by interest groups, our community boards, people in the neighborhood for the MTA to get more people on public transportation, because the more people that use public transportation, the stronger the public transportation system will be.
“But it’s chicken or egg. We can’t moan and groan that people aren’t taking the bus when it’s not the best working option for them — we have to make it the best working option. Whatever the solution is, we shouldn’t be discouraging people, especially families who you would think would then create further generations of public transportation riders, which is exactly what we want instead of a family getting in a car or getting in an Uber or a taxi. The MTA should do whatever it can to encourage the behavior, not discourage it.”