More than 340 people have jumped on board a fledging online petition asking the CTA to be more welcoming of parents with children in strollers — and to give them priority seating.
The just over one-week-old petition follows a 2012 Chicago Transit Authority “Be Stroller Saavy” campaign encouraging riders to use small, umbrella strollers and fold them if buses become crowded.
Since the policy started, riders say they’ve witnessed ugly scenes on CTA buses. In one case, a mom lifted up a double-seat in the priority area, locked a stroller into the empty space, and then sat down in a third seat while other riders stood during the ride.
The petition writer, Michelle Parker of Chicago, writes current CTA policies are “discriminatory towards strollers” and encourage “mild irritation to open hostility” by “suggesting open strollers are unsafe.”
In her online petition page, Parker wrote that parents or other caregivers should be able to lock strollers in place in the priority seating area and let their children remain in them “for the duration of their rides.”
Parker contends that moms and other caregivers are often asked to fold strollers before they board, which involves removing a child and belongings from a stroller, collapsing the stroller, stowing the stroller and finding a seat for the caregiver, child and belongings. All this can add several minutes to a CTA stop, wrote Parker, who could not be reached for comment.
“Allowing a caregiver to quickly board and simply secure the stroller [in the priority seating area] is a significant time savings,” Parker wrote on the website. And, she noted, “One can assume having the stroller, child and belongings secure during a ride would be much safer for all riders.”
Her petition urges the CTA to clearly indicate that priority seating areas allow strollers; to direct bus drivers to “always” kneel buses for strollers and “promptly comply” if asked to lower a ramp; and to provide “recordings and signage” asking riders to accommodate strollers.
CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinksi noted that the CTA is one of the few major U.S. transit agencies that allow open strollers on trains and buses.
Pace, in contrast, requires that strollers be “folded and placed between seats to avoid blocking aisles or creating a safety hazard,” a spokesman for the suburban bus company said.
The CTA is required by law to provide priority seating for people with mobility devices, other disabled patrons and the elderly, Hosinski said.
Moms with strollers may use the priority seating area, but the CTA has a pecking order for those seats. First dibs go to those in wheelchairs or scooters; then other disabled riders; then elderly; then expectant mothers and those with children in strollers; and, finally, everyone else, Hosinski said.
“There’s nothing saying people with strollers can’t sit there,” Hosinski said. “But the bus operator may ask a mom with a stroller to give up a seat to someone with a disability device.”
Although on-board announcements about priority seating refer only to the disabled and elderly, CTA bus drivers have been trained in the more detailed hierarchy governing those seats, Hosinski said.
In addition, the CTA’s stroller policy instructs riders to fold strollers if a bus or train becomes crowded.
Barry Popko, 59, who rides CTA buses in a motorized wheelchair, said he had no objection to allowing moms with strollers in the priority seating area — as long as they turned over those spots to arriving disabled riders and the elderly.
“I’ve seen instances where it gets pretty ugly,” Popko said.
About six months ago, he said, during a rush-hour ride, a mom lifted up the double-seat in the priority seating area to lock her stroller, with child inside, in the empty space, and then sat down in a third seat.
This did not go over well with other riders who were forced to stand on the crowded bus. The situation apparently escalated into exactly the kind of “hostility” Parker apparently hopes to discourage.
“People were saying [to the mom] `You shouldn’t be sitting there. This is for the disabled.’ . . . People were yelling and screaming at her,” although no disabled person was trying to claim the seat, Popko said.
Some riders were unnecessarily mean to the mom, but finally, someone offered her a seat in another section of the bus, Popko said. He could not remember if the bus driver intervened to remind the mom that strollers on crowded buses are supposed to be collapsed.
Several moms who openly signed the petition on the website posted comments adding that they feel safer with their children in open strollers on buses. Being a mom is tough enough, some said, and the CTA should do what it can to help mothers and children ride safely. One woman wrote that she had “many frightening experiences” with a stroller on a CTA bus.
One petition-signer, who identified herself as Melanie Taylor of Evanston, noted that tiny babies are too small to safely use those easily foldable “umbrella” strollers, and sometimes moms have to get out to take a child to the doctor or get groceries.
“New mothers feel isolated enough, and when people who are grown adults and only need to care for themselves on the CTA shame new mothers (and other caregivers) for `inconveniencing’ them, that is the epitome of selfishness,” Taylor wrote.
Charles Paidock of Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders said some fancy strollers are almost as big as “a sedan.” That’s one of the complaints CTA officials cited when they started their “stroller savvy” campaign.
Paidock said, he, too, has seen conflicts break out. He witnessed a verbal battle between two elderly women and a mom who was occupying two priority seats with a stroller and a third seat herself.
Eventually, “the whole bus got engaged in the conversation,” Paidock said. “They were exchanging remarks, unkind remarks, about people who get on and take over the bus, thinking they own it.”
Paidock said he had no problem giving parents with strollers priority seating, but it’s only common sense that there should be a pecking order to filling those seats.
In the meantime, “I don’t know that she [Parker] needs a petition,” Paidock said. “Why can’t you just go to somebody and suggest this? This is what it’s become.”