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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Cadillac-sized strollers and complicated commute patterns

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We’ve all done it.

Sighed or even rolled our eyes at a mom with a seemingly Cadillac-sized stroller blocking the streetcar aisle.

If we knew where some of those mothers were headed and the immense effort expended on getting there, we’d likely demonstrate a greater level of patience.

“I went back to work when Jennifer was a year-old; each day I hauled her stroller on a streetcar, the subway, and a bus. The difficult commute was more exhausting than my job.”

April, a young Korean-Canadian single mother represents a group of users for whom public transit is especially challenging. A growing body of research like this one, conducted by Stanford University uncovers the dimensions of commuter patterns and quality of experience for women. Moreover, it unpacks the way that class, age, and family status impact the user experience finding that single mothers of African descent, and also Asian descent, like April face increased barriers to transit and have more “complicated” commute patterns.

Within the context of public transit, the term “complicated” is used to describe the ways that geography, long work commutes, traveling with children, frequent travel, making multiple transfers in a one-way commute creates hardship on transit users. These factors impact everyone, but it is clear why single mothers, solely responsible for supporting their families, running errands, and shuffling their child(ren) between activities would be most adversely impacted.

This is especially problematic because for single mothers public transit is not simply about moving from point A to point B.

“After Jennifer was born I became really focused on making a better life for both of us and public transit played a huge role in realizing that vision. Unfortunately because I’m a young mom, boarding the bus in a poor neighbourhood people treated me horribly.”

While re-calling a laundry list of unpleasant public transit encounters April’s voice begins to crack slightly. There was the young guy who told her to get her “f#$% stroller” out of the way.  Endless stream of passengers who aggressively pushed past her. And then there was the woman who entered her personal space and threatened to shut up her screaming and exhausted baby. These incidents took a significant toll and soon April found herself dreading the daily commute.

“Each morning I mentally prepared myself for the verbal abuse but by the time I got to work I felt horrible — about having to take transit, being a single mother, and imposing on people’s space.”

Also, not entirely unlike commuters with physical disabilities, April endured a number of design and service related challenges. She relied on the goodwill of transit operators and kind commuters to help her lift her stroller up the stairs of inaccessible streetcars and subways without elevators. On countless occasions she was left exasperated at the foot of steep stairwells or waiting in the cold for an accessible vehicle balancing her child, stroller, baby bag, work baby, and sometimes groceries for dinner.

In spite of exceptional work carried out by coalitions like ODA and submissions articulating priorities for greater accessibility in the public realm (including transit), progress has been snail-paced. Given the complexity of capital and infrastructure projects, public transit providers cannot solely bear the responsibility for the situation. Making public transit accessible for everyone requires significant will, expertise and financial investment across levels of government. Moreover, accessibility initiatives are unusually broad in scope. They include projects like getting additional accessible low-floor vehicles on the roads, installing a greater number of elevators and automatic doors, leveling off exterior sidewalks, staff training, and improving customer communications systems.

That said, legislation and debates pertaining to the importance of accessible transit planning, capital projects, and service delivery extend all the way back to the eighties. The slow progress is not only unacceptable, it comes dangerously close to contravening the human rights of people with physical disabilities, a rapidly ageing population, and single moms like April. It confines the most vulnerable members of our community to their homes while forcing others to seek alternative options.

Last winter April could no longer chance the probability of waiting for a couple of vehicles to pass by in anticipation for an accessible one. As an emerging fundraising professional she had clients to meet and although her employer was understanding, her public transit woes were wearing thin.

“I became so anxious about inaccessible streetcars and lack of subway elevators this past winter that I actually spent over $1,000 in cab fare in just one month. It cut into our food and emergency money but I couldn’t keep hoping that a vehicle would be accessible or that someone would help me; my job was at risk.”

The snow has melted giving way to longer, warmer days but single mothers like April are still being left out in the cold when it comes to gender-sensitive and accessible transit planning.

Photo Credit: Belinda Ageda



  1. I understand it is not the point of the article, but fathers use strollers on public transit and face the same obstacles.

  2. A parent gets on a bus with an SUV sized stroller, another child walking. Parent sits in first BLUE seat, child next blue seat, stroller blocks third blue seat, aisle is partially blocked. ONE fare (maybe not even that with a Metropass used) is paid. Everyone boarding and leaving the bus has to squeeze by. What is wrong with this scenario?

  3. What I don’t understand is if people know that they are going to use transit, why buy a stroller that is so big that it blocks the entire aisle, and people have to pay to get on at the entrance and then go to the rear exit doors to get on? Please explain the common sense in this? Or parents who a pushing a stroller with an 8/9 year old in it?

  4. Why can we not go back to the strollers of the 80s? They werent SUV sized and worked just fine.

  5. I think the wider issue that seems to be overlooked in this thread is how the design and layout of public spaces are not conducive to allowing access to parents (more oftentimes female as the research stated) with strollers who also have to juggle other loads. Not to mention even the elderly, or people with disabilities also mentioned in this piece. Yes, as a strapping virile male, I have had to, and fortunately been able to, hoist my son in his stroller while guiding the older one beside, or in front of me. However, not everyone is able to negotiate these obstacles. Furthermore, not everyone can afford some of the more compact, and sturdy strollers like a $1000 plus Bugaboo status pram.
    The economical, and almost factory-like manner in which space is designed these days, does not afford a lot of space to strollers. Instead, perhaps such criticism that is being cast about should be directed towards those who strategically seat themselves so as to occupy three seats with their bag, and spread eagle, as if patiently almost waiting for a protracted genital exam.

  6. I found a back pack carrier so much better than a stroller.

  7. I’ve taken lots of strollers on the bus…from the easy and light Maclaren umbeella stroller to the Chicco Travel System to the biggest honking one of all, the Kolcraft (or is it Colkraft?) Options lT Double Stroller…and I can definitely say that it is easier as a guy. People will throw side eye at an Asian lady with a kid but a big white guy chattering with his kids seems to get a pass…even with the big honking stroller.

    To the person commenting on parents with kids using up the blue seats, everyone who pays has the right to use the transit system. Our bags don’t deserve seats, but we cannot always fold up the strollers and put our kid(s) in our lap as much as we would like to.

    Instead of complaining about strollers and d kids taking up seats (especially now since we don’t have fares for kids under 12), maybe complain about the poor line management and maintenance issues that keep the buses from being as frequent as they should be.

    Cheers, Moaz

  8. I was hoping this was an article centred around a rant on Cadillac-sized strollers. When they block an entire bus width, and force people to climb over them, that’s a whole other story than a parent with a regular-sized stroller trying to wrangle kids and groceries.

    I’d love to see a size restriction on transit, personally.

  9. The woman in that illustration isn’t even using the stroller!

    When my children were small enough, I strapped them to my chest. After they were too big, I used an fold-up umbrella stroller OR they walked.

    I think I was about 20, ten years ago, doing my daily teeth-grinding commute to York University, when I decided I would never take an unnecessarily gigantic stroller on transit. Two children later, and without relying on a car, I still don’t see the need.

  10. Longer/articulated buses, the most strollers I’ve seen on a bus are three (and that’s rare – it’s usually two at the same time) Or just get up people, and use the wheelchair space by lifting up the chairs (and if there’s someone with a wheelchair using the space, everyone just cooperate and encourage NICELY to move a little farther back on the bus, and offer your seat up while doing so. That way, no congestion at the front, a space for mom’s to put their strollers and not feel so bad about it, and everyone wins. And smile at the kids while you’re at it (They notice, y’know) It ain’t that hard to be kind.

  11. I think the simple move of going from flip-up seats in the wheelchair designated areas to flipdown seats (individually) would help enormously.

    Leaving the space open for someone standing w/a stroller or the ability to pull one seat down and place the stroller w/in the space occupied by the other 2 (when flipped up) so as not to obstruct the corridor.

    That said, a little courtesy and common sense by all, including the use of reasonable size strollers; and ceding seats to those who really need them would be most welcome.


    One other note, in fairness to the TTC, so far as I am aware in my travels it is one of, if not he most accessible large-scale transit system going. That’s not to say there isn’t lots of room for improvement, but it should be seen as enormously positive that we are less than 10 years away from every single station in the system having elevators.

    I say this having had to navigate w/a mobility challenged senior; it wasn’t easy, but was far better than in many places, or in the past here.

  12. There are a lot of great community-minded people who help out… but unfortunately, there are also a lot of hateful, self-centred people who don’t want to be inconvenienced by anyone else’s difference or need. And this points to the importance of broadly inclusive transit, public services, and public spaces. One peeve I have about the stroller issue is people who think parents should use those little flimsy fold-up strollers a lot of our moms used in the 60s-70s: yes, they take up less space (thus causing less inconvenience to public grouches), but they’ve been identified as a safety risk for kids, they don’t protect kids from the elements, they don’t convert into car seats, they don’t include storage for all the kid-related stuff parents have to haul, etc. We all need to be compassionate and willing to give a little, and to value truly inclusive public transit and cities.

  13. @Ellen
    I found a back pack carrier so much better than a stroller.

    Good idea. Better yet, they also have carriers you can wear in front and that way baby sees you all the time! LOL

  14. @ Moaz
    “…….parents with kids using up the blue seats, everyone who pays has the right to use the transit system.

    They DON’T have a right to use blue seats nor do their kids while others stand.
    If you are not qualified to use blue seats DO NOT sit there regardless.

  15. While I applaud a lot of the content of this article, and despite what the pointed research says, this article is wholly biased to one particular gender.
    There is not one mention of a single father. Not one quote by a single father. Not one opinion by a father.

    Being a single father who goes through all of the above, just like the mothers, it would be appreciated that my efforts could also be recognized.

  16. To those moaning about single fathers and the male perspective: 85% of leaves in Canada for maternity are women. And considering that this issue has been an issue for a very long time (when men didn’t even take paternal leaves) its quite fair that this focuses on women. And I say this as a man who spent 6 months on paternity leave.

  17. @Ellen @Raymond
    I have a baby carrier which I love and use often, but I’m still on maternity leave. If we consider the case of April from the article, I can’t imagine that she is going to strap on her one year old child, the baby bag, her work bag, and the groceries, all while wearing work clothes. (And then huff it up those stairs in the inaccessible stations, oy!)

  18. Why are compact strollers so much more expensive than the Cadillac sized ones? Should was not be penalizing the stroller manufacturers so that they’re given incentive to make strollers as compact as possible?

    Part of the problem is also in the design of the low-floor buses. For some reason, those with strollers want to be near the front of a bus, where the width of the aisle is narrower. Time to have specific spaces for strollers that are farther back, where the aisle is wider.

    And also let’s put an end to allowing people to stand between the front wheel wells where the passage is one-person wide — unless all the seats are taken and the bus is near capacity. It’s ridiculous that there are people who are constantly blocking the entrance/exit of vehicles — especially TTC personnel!!!! It just makes the anger for all go through the roof.