Q. My wife and I live outside Washington, D.C. and just had a baby. We are going back to work in a month and commute into the city by taking the bus and metro rail. We found a daycare nearby work and are looking for the safest way to bring the baby on the bus and metro rail. Do you have any suggestions for keeping a baby safe and traveling as lightly as possible?
A. Dearest Aaron,
Congratulations on your bundle of joy, and props for raising a new tiny transit aficionado! Your little one will grow up knowing that public buses and trains can get her nearly anywhere she needs to go, and you might even spare yourself some whining for a car in 16 years. Well played.
The great news here is that babies, even tiny ones, can safely and (usually) happily commute by public transportation right along with you. And you don’t have to worry about lugging a car seat to do it, as most buses and trains lack the seat belts necessary to lock them in place. Don’t freak out about that, Aaron — public transportation is much, much safer than cars. A recent study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute found that car travel causes ten times more casualties (deaths and injuries) than does travel by buses, subways, and trains. So by choosing to move your little one by public transit, you’re already putting her in a much safer position.
Now, exactly how to accomplish that? Lots of commuting parents swear by a front pack, baby wrap, or sling, which has the distinct advantage of leaving your hands free to hold your briefcase, pay the fare, and perform “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” as necessary. Bus babywearing is also nice for rush hour, when things can get crowded, and some parents also appreciate that it keeps potentially germ-ridden strangers from chucking your child under the chin. The strapped-to-mom-and-dad method has got to be the lightest, easiest option until your baby can walk herself onto the train.
Eventually, though, the kid will outgrow that front pack, and at that point, you have two main options. The first is a backpack, and there’s a whole range to choose from. Some of the more technical, hiking-style packs have room for not just a toddler, but also an extra pair of clothes, lunch, and blankie, too. I know parents who swear by the simple, soft, fabric packs like these; there’s not much room for extra cargo, but the packs fold up and fit in your bag when you’re not using them. Of course, you’ll have to take the pack off while you’re on the bus, unless you’re OK standing, but that can be managed without much trouble.
If a backpack is not your style, you’re in Strollerland, Aaron. This poses several challenges, including getting in and out of turnstiles, climbing bus steps, and dealing with a bulky stroller on a jam-packed Metro car. One tip to help with all three: Choose a light stroller with a shoulder strap. It will let you transfer your child to your arms, fling the folded-up stroller over your shoulder, and proceed through all gates and stairs, plus spares you the problem of fitting the thing in the bus aisle.
Alternately, Aaron, remember that anywhere a wheelchair can go, a stroller can go. On the subway, find a metro employee to open the accessibility gate for you so you can skip the turnstile, and go for stations that have elevators whenever you can. Many buses can lower a ramp so you can push the stroller right on board, too. If not, a friendly fellow traveler might help you haul baby and stroller up the steps. (You can always ask the driver for a hand — but really, people, help the parent with the stroller, OK?)
Once you’re on, it’s considerate — and sometimes required — to fold that stroller up anyway and plop the baby on your lap, unless it’s not very crowded. During rush hour, you can probably pack three more commuters into the space your mini-me was taking up in her stroller, which your fellow travelers will no doubt appreciate.
Speaking of appreciation, it’s a lovely idea to start your trip with your baby primed for good behavior: fed, changed, happy, and/or asleep. Sometimes, though, the baby on the bus will go wah wah wah, despite her harried dad’s best efforts to the contrary. In that case, the rest of us would do well to remember this parent is doing the safe and responsible thing for both kid and the planet and keep our dirty looks to ourselves.
In no time, I’m sure green commuting with your baby will be second nature, Aaron. Enjoy the ride!