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Could Capital Strollershare work?

We now have public systems to share bicycles. What about strollers?

Photo by PLR_Photos on Flickr.

Tanya Snyder suggests a "stroller-share" system at Streetsblog. She points out that as soon as children get too large to carry long distances, parents simply can't take their kids on a trip around the city on foot or using transit without a stroller.

A stroller makes the bus or train a viable mode of travel for a parent with a child. Yet strollers and transit only mix uncomfortably at best. Many bus systems require parents to fold the strollers, which means unstrapping the kid, folding the stroller one-handed while supervising the kid, boarding the bus and paying the fare while both carrying the stroller and holding onto the kid, and reversing the process at the other end.

Meanwhile, many non-parent transit riders can get quite irate at parents who take up a lot of space, want to keep the stroller unfolded, or delay the bus while folding the stroller; just look at the comments on Ken Archer's article on strollers, which have since been cited multiple times in the press as illustrations of how intolerant some transit riders can be toward parents.

Both sides have valid points. The parents need strollers, or will find themselves forced into driving everywhere. But strollers also do take up a lot of scarce room. What if parents could pick up a stroller only after they get off the bus? Snyder writes:

Once we get off the bus, it sure would be nice to have a stroller as we walk around a museum, or the zoo, or when I sit down for a meal. (Once kids are old enough to grab, they're too old to hold on your lap while you eat.) And if they sleep well in the stroller, you don't have to be prisoner to their nap schedules. You can continue with your full and busy day and they can just be lulled to sleep by the vibrations of the pavement (and potholes).

It's easy enough to say, "I'm never going to be one of those moms pushing a kid around in a stroller who's old enough to walk," but you can bet I will be. If I'm not, it's because I got suckered into the myth that you need a car if you have a kid. As Luna gets bigger, Stroller-Share would be useful for the outings where she starts out strong but wears out quickly. I bet any number of visitors to the National Mall get caught flat-footed when they realize it's a full two miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial—not to mention the distance back to wherever they parked the station wagon. Solution? Stroller-share!

We could name it Bay-B-Cycle in Denver, BittyTyke in New York, Capital Strollershare in DC, Play-Nice Ride in Minneapolis, the Cubway in Boston, Baby Bixi in Montreal.

Like bike-share, you'd have stroller stations in key places: transit hubs, tourist areas, shopping centers, children's museums. There would be a small range of options to accommodate newborns without head control as well as older kids who just need a rest, as well as double-wides. They'd all have a cargo basket underneath so parents can get a bit of a break from carrying diaper bags and such. The free half-hour might not make much sense for strollers, as they're not often used just to dart from one place to another, like a bike-share user would. Daily, monthly and annual memberships could still be available, with a focus on making one-time rentals as easy as possible, with payment by the hour.

If people mainly return strollers to the places they took them out, a stroller sharing system could work more like Bike and Roll, which rents bikes for longer periods of time (including tandems and child seats) for multiple hours, specifically to let people tour a place like the Mall.

Actually, it looks like they do rent one type of stroller: the jogging stroller, designed for a parent to take a run and bring the child along. Bike and Roll only serves the Mall and Alexandria today. Could a business succeed renting out other strollers, for 2 or so hours at a time, in places like Gallery Place, Georgetown, Clarendon, Bethesda and so on?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Sanitation is the barrier here. Has anyone invented a stroller you can hose down after use? Babies and young children both spread and catch diseases more frequently than adults. Also, strollers don't stay clean long.

PS. Last sentence is incomplete.

by Matt C on Aug 27, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

Isn't this kind of what they do in shopping malls/airports?

by drumz on Aug 27, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

Matt C +1,
Strollers are nasty, as anyone who has dealt with them can attest. I'd also add that when people take their kids in public, they are 100% responsible for their needs, so this seems a bit too nanny state for my taste. On the other hand, if I ever saw someone complain that a parent was taking too much space with their baby, I might have some choice words for that person. Wether way young or really old, everyone in our society needs to be respected, with or without laws.

by Thayer-D on Aug 27, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

I worked the stroller rental at an amusement park for part of one summer. Between uses we would hose the strollers down with a mix of hot water and some sort of mystery cleaning fluid (most likely pure bleach given how cheap the owners of the park were).

The combination of spilled juice, stray Cheerios, and bodily waste is something I still smell in my nightmares.

by dcparker on Aug 27, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

It is a "nanny state" problem if a private company offers to solve a problem for a consumer at a cost? That term is thrown around too loosely.

by cmc on Aug 27, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

If everybody would just chill out, this problem would not exist.

by Jasper on Aug 27, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

"too nanny state"? Not sure I see that here, or the likelihood of it (doubtful this would lead to, e.g., a requirement that all parents use a stroller to take their kids on the Mall).

Sounds like the sanitation/cleaning issue is the biggest problem. Could it be solved with some sort of a cover? Get one free along with your key fob when you buy an annual membership; otherwise they'd be available from certain locations / vendors / vending machines? Publish the specs so that the street vendors could offer them with "FBI", "CIA", or Bart Simpson mud flap designs?

by Arl Fan on Aug 27, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

@ CMC,
No, it's not a problem, and I take back my nanny state wording.

by Thayer-D on Aug 27, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

The biggest problem is that strollers are "soft" -- i.e. made mostly of fabric -- whereas a bike has very little "soft" (just the seat, and I'd be interested to learn how long a CaBi seat lasts).

Go to a grocery store and look at the carts with the baby seat permanently attached -- they're made of hard plastic -- OK for a half-hour grocery shopping trip but I wouldn't want to wheel my baby around all day in that.

by Simon on Aug 27, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

Whether or not it applies, the use of "nanny state" in the context of stroller rentals just adds to the overall feeling that I am reading The Onion on this one...

This seems like a solution in search of a problem. Sure, having a child could be more convenient. Sure, people without kids get annoyed by children. Welcome to life.... are any of these problems that really require an entire new citywide infrastructure to cope with? That could possibly be done well enough, comprehensively enough, that you could really leave home without a stroller (if you weren't going to anyway)?

I think we can live without this one.

by Jamie on Aug 27, 2012 12:21 pm • linkreport

Interesting thought. For the sanitation aspect, how about making it so you had to buy a seat cover in essence that was easily rolled up and transportable. Without the seat "cover", the device would not be usable somehow so that it was just a frame that the seat cover snapped onto. Perhaps this could avoid the sanity issue. For musical instruments and diving rentals, people buy their own mouth pieces. So think of something comparable for this service.

by Steve on Aug 27, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

I don't see any point to this. I have to mimic the "am I reading the Onion?" sentiment. As a parent, I would rather have my son's stroller on the bus or train than have to lug him and all his toddler stuff around without one. Why would I trade our own stroller for a rented one? And as for the dirty looks I get from hipsters for taking up an extra six square feet of a train, I could care less. It's no different from a suitcase, wheelchair, bike, or guitar. Who cares?

by Pat on Aug 27, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

If you really want to solve an _actual_ problem (instead of a made-up one): cheap-o long-term stroller rentals at airports subsidized by the airlines, thus obviating the need to check one's own stroller through the airline (which they usually don't charge for and thus aren't making any money off of).

by Simon on Aug 27, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

Sorry, but in Montréal it'd have to be "Bixi Bébé".

by Gavin on Aug 27, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

I would use this service with my 3-year-old for longer trips, and make fewer car trips as a result, particularly if the stroller had a reclinable seat-back so my son could nap in the stroller.

The Smithsonian already offers stroller rental at the National Zoo.

If parents insist on someone cleaning the strollers between uses, then this wouldn't work. I don't know if the Zoo does cleaning between uses. You could possibly use strollers with no fabric and even have wet-wipes at stroller-share stations.

by Ken Archer on Aug 27, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

Or parents could just manage to use strollers that don't take up the space of six people. Would that be so hard?

by Gray on Aug 27, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

Where is Lydia DePillis when we need her? This is her kind of story! A ridiculous idea that needs her special brand of ridicule.

by Karl on Aug 27, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

Also I saw an ad or commercial for a special "all terrain" stroller that was huge and proceeded to be shown used exclusively on sidewalks. Needing all-terrain for a sidewalk is maybe a signal that we need better maintained sidewalks.

by drumz on Aug 27, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

The sanitation issue is too big a barrier. Even the most well-tended-to kids eventually have some bodily fluid event that makes the stroller gross. Parents will clean their own kids' stroller because they have to put their own kid in it again. Stroller-share would unplug this incentive dynamic to keep the equipment clean.

WMATA could still do more on the stroller issue by promoting umbrella strollers more heavily in their advertisements and website to:

1. Encourage parents to get strollers that work best for everyone on transit.

2. Encourage churlish types to understand that public transportation is for all members of the public, including those too young to walk significant distances, climb stairs, or make safety-conscious decisions about crossing streets.

by CityBeautiful21 on Aug 27, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

@Gray: A few weeks ago, I saw a couple where baby (not a newborn) was in a snuggly (remember those). I wanted to congratulate them for not having some SUV contraption that would be impractical even in the suburbs. It looks like some makers of strollers have tried to slim them down while allowing parents to strap on all their crap (which often is the main reason for the stroller) without using too much space. I saw something like this in Central park over the weekend. I should have taken a picture.

The history buff in me likes to note that families, often very big families were raised in the most densely populated sections of DC and other cities, and not that long ago. Somehow, people have managed and the impediments to urbanization and family life are probably more routed in imagination than in fact.

by Rich on Aug 27, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

Sorry, Pat, but you deserve the dirty look if you're truly taking up *6* square feet with a stroller. My largest suitcase (which is HUGE, I have to be careful to keep it under 70 lbs. for international travel, because it will easily hold 100+ lbs of stuff, and I don't take that one on the Metro), takes up well under *2* square feet of floor space. This, once again, is my complaint. We're not talking about 2-year-olds in umbrella strollers, we're talking about people taking up the space of 3, 4, 5, or more full-grown adults to cart their old-enough-to-walk kids around in SUV-size strollers (5, 6, or even older...the biggest strollers - again, seen many of them on Metro - can hold *2* average *6* year olds). That's just insanity, and, yes, it's rude to fellow riders. Kids 5 and older are supposed to pay to ride the Metro. If your kid is old enough to pay and not disabled, they should be walking. If your kid is younger and you're traveling a long distance, an umbrella stroller is fine (5 seconds on Google netted me a result of one that will hold a kid up to 40 lbs and takes up under 3 square feet of floor space).

But just like people with bikes and suitcases and guitars, it's appropriate to ask for common courtesy. Stay towards the ends of the trains (where you're likely to get newer cars with more open floor space...the first and last two cars are usually good bets) and cars (where you can use the extra floor space in newer cars or otherwise get the stroller out of tripping range of *most* people who need to get on and off). Try to travel at lower-volume times (fringes of rush hour and off-peak...I find it hard to believe that every single employer I've had was A-okay with parents calling off or late all the time because of their kids but that there are no employers out there who are willing to let parents start work a little early or late to avoid the heart of rush hour). If your kid isn't in the stroller or the train is REALLY crowded, fold it up (I get that it can be awkward to do so and then board a bus, but getting *on* the train, seating the kid, and *then* collapsing the stroller, and popping it open and putting them back in it just before exiting doesn't seem like too much of an inconvenience *when the train is very crowded*...particularly if there are multiple adults handling one child). Use the elevators. Try not to block the doors, and if you get stuck in front of a door, accomodate people getting on and off. I do these things any time I have to travel with luggage or other items that I know will be in people's way, and I just don't find it that hard to do. Most people in wheelchairs seem to be able to pull off not being super-obstructive.

But I do think that the Smithsonian or NPS could also pull off stroller rental. Zoos, amusement parks, and other attractions do it. Outside of extreme incompetence, there's no reason NPS couldn't, also. And if they can't, yes, services like Bike and Roll's can do it just slightly off of the Mall.

by Ms. D on Aug 27, 2012 11:09 pm • linkreport

Steve Jobs once said that if you asked a focus group to come up with an iPod, they would have told you they were perfectly happy with their Walkmen. This comment thread sounds an awful lot like that kind of focus group. It also sounds like what everyone said about bikeshare before it started -- solution in search of a problem, etc.

I don't know how successful a stroller share would be but its an intriguing idea. Yes, the sanitation issue is significant, so some thoughtful design would have to go into solving that problem (perhaps, a hard plastic stroller and renters are responsible for carrying around their own soft padding, much like bikeshare renters have to carry around their own helmets?). But, none of the problems mentioned on the thread are unsolvable from a design/engineering standpoint. The fact that stroller rentals do exist in some situations -- like at Bike and Roll, amusements parks, malls, and airports -- suggests there is underlying demand. Remember when people said there's no need for bikeshare because you can rent a bike from Bike and Roll?

While I don't have a stroller, I am someone who regularly transports my bike on metro, so I face similar hassles to people navigating strollers through the metro system. I certainly use bikeshare sometimes to avoid the hassle of bringing my bike on metro, so I can imagine stroller users may do so likewise with stroller-share.

by Falls Church on Aug 27, 2012 11:28 pm • linkreport

Another idea to solve the padding/sanitation issue is to have a hard plastic base and an air-filled vinyl top layer that is water/pee/stain proof. Kind of like inflatable furniture or an inflatable sleeping pad one uses when camping. The top layer could be replaced periodically at a relatively low cost without replacing the rest of the stroller apparatus.

by Falls Church on Aug 27, 2012 11:39 pm • linkreport

There's just one big difference between bike share and stroller share... children are messy and they are often sick... do you really want your child sitting in a stroller that God knows how many other kids have drooled, slobbered, and possibly even messed their diaper in? I mean really, that's just sick, you don't know what you'd be putting your baby into. Even if a crew comes along to clean them periodically I'd still be worried about putting my child into something filthy.

by Matthew on Aug 28, 2012 2:31 pm • linkreport

Needing all-terrain for a sidewalk is maybe a signal that we need better maintained sidewalks.

Sure, but we do need better maintained sidewalks. So it's both a signal and a solution. :)

by oboe on Aug 28, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

I am liking the idea of a hard, plastic base, and parents bring their own fabric covering.

Not only does this solve the cleanliness issue, but a challenge with strollers is the easiest ones to transport - umbrella strollers - are the hardest for kids to nap in because they don't have hard backs (and don't recline).

The stroller stations could be really small, as collapsed strollers take up less space than bikes.

by Ken Archer on Aug 29, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

Stroller rental, I can see. Working out the details would be tricky, as the places that have it now are often closed environments (e.g. an amusement park), not open ones like a city.

Stroller share? As in the same format as Bikeshare? I have more trouble seeing this.

For one, the universe of potential users is much smaller. You're only talking about parents with kids, and even then, only a subset of parents would use them - those that need a stroller full-time (e.g. for a kid that can't walk or an infant) wouldn't likely be able to make use of a shared system, since they'd have to start and end all their trips already with a stroller.

Two, the purpose of a shared system is to use the bike for a short trip and then return it for use by someone else. The system is inherently limited to the area of coverage it has, thus any strollershare would need to have a fairly wide range of coverage (e.g. a lot of stations), and that's a large capital investment for a little benefit (the aformentioned small universe of potential users).

I just don't see it working, and not due to the logistics of cleaning, either. I just don't see how that model applies.

What might work would be straight-up stroller rental (Bike n Roll style) or a membership-based, return to its home kind of service like Zipcar is (where each stroller would have a set parking space).

The idea of strollershare is a nice statement of the problem, but I don't think this idea comes anywhere near a solution.

by Alex B. on Aug 29, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

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