Since landing in Australia, I’ve done everything possible to avoid driving. Lucky for me, Sydney public transport pretty good, and there are rarely places I can’t get by bus, train, or ferry. When I started my Mother’s Group, it actually came as a shock to me that all the other local mothers drove, as a lot of my expat friends were also non-drivers. Never one to conform, I was determined to carry on riding public transport, baby in tow.
Trains and ferries are fairly straightforward, but catching the bus with a stroller (pram) is a different animal. Like going out to eat or boarding an airplane with your new baby, riding the bus can seem daunting for a new parent. Will I know how to get on and off? Will I be able to balance everything? Will the bus driver gnarl at me if I’m not fast enough? Will the other passengers shoot me death rays from their eyes if my baby cries? I know I’m not alone in this, as many people have told me that they find the prospect of riding the bus with a stroller daunting, and I, too, was so nervous on my first few trips. Having been riding Sydney buses with a young child for over 3 years now, I think I’m a bit of an expert, and I want to share with you my top tips for riding Sydney buses with a stroller.
Catching the Bus
Your best option for riding a bus with a stroller is to catch an accessible bus. If you’re able to plan ahead, use the Transport NSW Trip Planner tool. Look for buses with the wheelchair symbol. Most accessible buses will also have the wheelchair symbol displayed on the front or side.
For the official word on riding an accessible bus, this is Transport NSW’s policy.
As for my suggestions …
- Hail the bus, as usual, then have a look to see if there is space for your stroller. Most accessible buses have two areas where the seats fold up for wheelchairs and prams. They are usually red seats across from each other near the front of the bus (just behind the luggage racks), or sometimes they are closer to the middle door. If both sections are taken with wheelchairs or prams, you’ll either have to wait for the next bus, or choose to fold your pram (more on this later).
- Assuming there is room, the bus driver should lower the bus for you (though, honestly, I can manage even if they don’t). Push on your handle bar to lift up the front wheels of your pram, and lift it on board. Remember to tap your Opal card.
- If there are people sitting in the accessible seats, and they don’t automatically move, you may need to ask them nicely if they’d mind sitting elsewhere. 99% of the time, people are happy to make room for you, though very rarely I’ve had someone either rude or completely oblivious. *Do be mindful that there are people with invisible disabilities for whom changing seats may pose a problem, so if you’ve asked nicely and been told, “I’m not able,” please don’t press the issue.
- Fold up the seats, and move your stroller into place, facing backwards, and apply the brake. There is also a seatbelt that can be looped around the stroller’s handle for extra safety. I don’t often use it, but you will occasionally get a driver who insists that you do, which if fine.
- If you’re nervous about riding the bus with a stroller, definitely do your first couple of trips outside of peak hour when the buses aren’t as full and people are less frenzied.
- And, you’re all set. Enjoy the ride – could be your first chance to sit all day! And, if your baby cries, don’t stress it. 90% of the passengers have headphones in, anyway!
Getting Off the Bus
- Ring the bell for your stop, as you normally would. Wait until the bus has come to a full stop to take the brake off the stroller and begin to roll towards the exit. You never know when a bus can make a sudden stop, so seriously – always err on the side of caution.
- If the bus driver notices you getting off, she will often stop any passengers who are getting on, as there’s really not enough room for you both to pass. If not, you may just need to ask them nicely if you can pass.
- *This is my number one tip for riding the bus with a stroller* When exiting the bus – GO BACKWARDS. I can’t tell you how much easier it is to get your stroller off the bus if you pull it, rather than push. You can step down first, then pull down the back wheels, then front wheels. It’s far more manageable than trying to push your stroller off the cliff that is the bus step.
If you take nothing else away from this article – go backwards!
Oh, and don’t forget to thank your driver and tap off with your Opal card.
Don’t even get me started on why Sydney Buses even have non-accessible buses in their fleet. Can you imagine the frustration if you’re a wheelchair user? Completely not cool, in my opinion. Yet, they do exist. I had a chat to a bus driver about this once, and he told me that the plan is to have all buses accessible by 2018, so that’s still awhile before the non-accessible ones are out of the equation. Based on my experience – and completely unscientific – I’d guess that maybe 10-15% of Sydney buses are not wheelchair/pram compliant. So, if you’re a frequent rider, you’re going to get one of these, eventually. As I said above, your best bet is to pre-plan for an accessible bus. However, often you’re just rocking up to the closest stop, and hoping to catch the next bus that comes, and pre-planning isn’t possible.
Here are my suggestions:
- Ask the driver (nicely) if you can push your pram in between the red seats. The non-accessible buses have a bank of four seats in the front which face each other. If the bus isn’t busy, some drivers won’t mind if you just push your pram in between these two seats. Be aware, that you do this at your own risk, and the drivers can’t guarantee the same level of safety as in an accessible bus. And, some will downright refuse, which they are completely within their rights to do.
- Can you fold your stroller? If your stroller isn’t too unwieldy and you don’t have a lot of shopping in the basket, consider folding and storing your pram in the luggage rack. Only do this if you’re comfortable folding and lifting your stroller with one hand (baby in the other arm, of course!), as it is unlikely that the driver will help you.
- Wait for the next bus. Such is the reality of public transport – sometimes it’s just necessary to wait for the next bus. As much as possible, leave yourself extra time when travelling. Thankfully, the chances are that the next bus will be accessible.
Choose Your Stroller Wisely
If you are an infrequent rider of public transport, bus riding won’t play much into your selection, but if you think that you and your little one may hop the bus with some regularity, I urge you to take that into consideration when purchasing your pram/stroller. A couple of things to think about:
- Can you fold it easily? As I talked about above, there are times when the ability to fold your stroller may mean the difference between getting on the bus or waiting for the next one, and with a cranky baby, the wait can seem like an eternity. Even accessible buses can get full – I’ve been on a bus leaving the beach with as many as six strollers – two parked and four folded up in the luggage rack! Make sure that you can fold your stroller with one hand, and that you can lift it at least to shoulder height for storing it.
- Is it light? You definitely want a light stroller if you’re storing it, but not having to push too much extra weight will also just make things easier for you as you maneuver on and off. Don’t forget that you’ll also have several kilos of baby, a nappie bag, and maybe even some shopping tucked away. Make it easier on yourself with a lighter pram.
- Double strollers. If you have more than one child in a stroller, I highly recommend that you get a double stroller with the seats above and below, rather than the side-by-side style if you’ll be riding the bus with any regularity. All strollers need to fit within certain width guidelines (less than 800mm wide), and it’s very hard to get through the aisle with a side-by-side stroller. I have actually seen a mother refused a ride because her double pram was too wide.
How to Be an Awesome Bus Rider
So maybe you’re not riding with a stroller (I don’t know how you made it to the end of this article, but cheers!). As a mother with a stroller, this is what I’d say to my fellow passengers who want to be awesome:
- If you’re sitting in the accessible seats (the ones that fold up), please don’t zone out or get so engrossed in your phone that you don’t notice when someone who needs that seat – either because of a wheelchair or stroller – gets on the bus. Don’t make us ask you to move, if moving does not pose a physical issue for you. Be rad and jump up when you see us coming. Extra awesome points for the people who push the seats up for us. Yes, I can do it, but it’s a kind gesture. Your parents raised you well.
- If you’re getting on the bus, take a moment to look down the aisle to see if anyone with a stroller is getting off. If they are, stand to the side at street level, and let them pass before you step on. I promise the bus won’t leave without you.
- Offer help, if you’re able. It’s so nice when I’m stepping on the bus and someone offers to lift up my pram, or on the odd occasion when I’ve had to fold my stroller – yes! I could so use your help, thank you! I don’t actually typically need help when I’m getting on and off, so I sometimes decline with what I hope are profuse and sincere enough thank yous, but you never know who does, so it’s really lovely to offer. It just makes everyone feel happy, you know?
- Don’t give the stink eye if a baby is crying on your bus. Actually, this is just a good general rule in life. Babies cry. Move along.
There are a lot of perks to using public transport – better for the environment, not having to find parking at the other end, letting someone else deal with the traffic jams – and having a stroller shouldn’t be a deterrent to choosing this method for getting around. Let me know if you give it a try. I expect you’ll also be an expert in a couple of trips.
Do you ride the bus with a stroller? Have I missed any pro tips?
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