The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Allow unfolded umbrella strollers on Metrobus

You can bring about anything onto a MetroBus—multiple large luggage, folding shopping carts, oversized packages—as long as it's not an unfolded stroller.

This guy can ride the bus...

Metrobus should either ban all items that can't rest on your lap, or to allow the smallest of strollers to board: unfolded umbrella strollers.

DC's Circulator adopted a stroller policy last year that allows unfolded strollers that are larger than umbrella strollers. And they haven't received a single complaint, according to DDOT's Aaron Overman.

...but he can't.
Circulator riders can board with unfolded strollers up to 48'' long and 24'' wide. Umbrella strollers, when unfolded, are no larger than 36" long and 18" wide.

In other words, they are no larger than the luggage and shopping carts that riders commonly bring on board.

As it is, almost every time a parent boards a Metrobus with a folded stroller and a baby they sit in the front lateral seating area where there is already plenty of room for an 36x18" unfolded umbrella stroller.

Of course, the Metrobus driver should be allowed to use discretion and require a parent to fold a stroller if the bus is simply too full for an unfolded umbrella stroller. The Circulator drivers have this discretion under their new stroller policy.

But the Metrobus drivers rarely use discretion, as they are not supposed to do so. Instead, the Metrobus drivers are required to enforce the fold-your-stroller rule on half-full and near-empty buses.

It's very common for bus and streetcar systems outside of the US to allow unfolded strollers, particularly within a certain size. Canadians allow unfolded strollers of any size on buses in Toronto and Winnipeg, up to 120x60cm (47x23in) in Vancouver and up to 105x56cm (41x22in) in Halifax.

What is the difference between American bus systems and those in most other countries that makes unfolded umbrella strollers impossible on American buses? Perhaps the difference is not between the bus systems as it is between the expectations of their riders.

Most other countries did not experience the flight of families to car-dependent suburbs that has defined America's landscape for the past half-century.

The result has been a deep decline in the percentage of urban residents that are children in the US, and with this a change in the expectations of urban residents. Small children, however wonderful they may be, are an inconvenience that urban residents have gotten used to not dealing with.

The inconvenience of stepping around the luggage of travelers on a bus, or the shopping cart of an urban shopper, is accepted as part of living in a city. I once brought a ladder I had purchased at a hardware store onto the bus and no one blinked an eye.

The inconvenience of stepping around an unfolded umbrella stroller, even though it is no greater than the other inconveniences, is more frustrating because it calls for a change in expectations.

If I was to purchase a large child's car seat and bring it onto the bus, it would have to sit in the aisle. If instead of being a large child's car seat it was an unfolded umbrella stroller, what would be the difference? The difference is simply that the former is expected and the latter is not.

Are there unthinking, entitled parents? Yes, just as often as there are unthinking, entitled young singles who won't vacate a special needs seat for elderly riders. So let's not compare my best to your worst when discussing this topic.

Parents who decide to stay in the city after they have children, and who then decide to rely on transit, are in a small percentage of parents who have agreed to shoulder far more frustration and inconvenience than other parents because they believe in the ultimate benefits of city life.

I can assure you that the struggles they bear to get through the day on transit with toddlers is far greater than the inconvenience they place on others.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 


Add a comment »

If Metro is concerned about offering their drivers discretionary oversight, why couldn't they create a rule that allowed unfolded strollers on buses, but just not during rush hours? As a daily bus rider, the only time a stroller might be an imposition is during the morning and evening rush, when some bus lines are packed to the gills. But from 9am-3:30pm, after 7pm, and on weekends, I rarely get on a bus more than half full.

Although this would still inconvenience some riders with young children, it would at least strike a balance between the competing space concerns. Anecdotally, I feel like I'm more likely to see strollers on the bus during these off-peak hours anyway. Which is not to say that a parent with a stroller never needs to ride the bus at rush hour, just that it seems less common to me.

by Emily on Feb 15, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

Hell no.

And Ken, can you really not tell the difference between luggage and a stroller?

Luggage cannot be folded. A stroller can.

I guarantee if there was a way to minimize the size of luggage, than that would be required too.

Saying that "if they can take up so much space, why can't I?" is childish and selfish.

by JJJJJ on Feb 15, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

"If I was to purchase a large child's car seat and bring it onto the bus ..."

I suppose this is possible, but it is not *recommended*.

When you buy a car seat you drive to the store -- if for no other reason than to try it out.

Car seats are large, heavy, cumbersome and ungainly (just try to haul one through an airport). You don't walk around with one if you can avoid it.

by goldfish on Feb 15, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

Thanks for writing this, but as an urban-dwelling, bus-riding parent of two, there's one more important thing to add.

It is significantly MORE difficult to manage a child AND a folded stroller. Add in even a small bag, and the odds of being able to safely navigate getting on and off a bus goes down. I am quite capable of lifting a small stroller with bag attached to the back, child belted in, up a few steps. It's safer for my child, and keeps everyone moving. How is that not a good thing?

by Abby on Feb 15, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

Luggage usually also doesn't have a kid in it.

by Matt Glazewski on Feb 15, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

That kid's too old to be in stroller. And most strollers are much larger than that. First you let someone on the bus with a small umbrella stroller, then parents with 7 year old children buckled into giant SUV-sized strollers will demand to take up half the bus during rush hour. Slippery slope I say!

by Dan on Feb 15, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

Who would want to ride a bus or Metro with a small child? That's why God invented automobiles and car seats! ;)

by Lance on Feb 15, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

The slippery slope is not about lap sized items, but rather about stroller sized items. Have you seen the variety and enormity in strollers? Cup holders. Grocery holders. Four wheels. Six wheels. Eight wheels. Stroller size is one area where people are not allowed to use their imagination. And people are not afraid to use their strollers as a weapon or automatic right-of-way. They exercise a sense of ownership over the sidewalk. All others must yield. We definitely do not need this on metro. Carry your child, like an able-bodied adult should.

by aaa on Feb 15, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

I really am sympathetic to to parents trying to take small children on public transit and I've never been on the Circulator when even the largest unfolden stroller is a serious issue, but I have been on other buses where giagantic folded strollers are a problem.

On a full standard bus there is simply no place to put a large stroller even folded up that does not prevent other people from having to climb over it to board or exit the bus. They are not laid out the way the Circulator is. Short of taking up a wheel chair spot there is no place to put anything other than the smallest stroller.

Also, leaving a child in an unfolder stroller on a crowded bus, is likely to be terrifying for a small child as they are stepped over and bumped into because there is no way to enter or exit the bus around them. Pretty lousy parenting, when you could fold the stroller and hold the child.

Ride the X2 into NE during rush hour and you can see why some of us object.

by Kate on Feb 15, 2011 3:01 pm • linkreport

Other countries haven't been infected with the spectre of double wide strollers.

Keep those strollers off our buses.

I'd even say charge extra to bring them on Metrorail.

by charlie on Feb 15, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

strike "are not allowed to"

by aaa on Feb 15, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport

I don't think that "umbrella-sized" strollers have ever been the problem.

by andrew on Feb 15, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport


The general concern seems to be not about unfolded umbrella strollers, but about a slippery slope that this would somehow create. Other countries have size limits on unfolded strollers on buses, as was mentioned in the article. Why would we unable to enforce size limits, yet we are able to enforce the current ban?

If anything, those concerned about larger strollers should support this change, as it will incentivize parents to use smaller strollers.

by Ken Archer on Feb 15, 2011 3:08 pm • linkreport

Ok I'm lost. What's the difference between a regular and an umbrella stroller?

by HogWash on Feb 15, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

A few points:

Generally, I agree if there is room for a small unfolded stroller, then by all means.

However, I think you neglect some of the subtle differences in the scenarios you raise. First, I imagine foreign countries might be more willing just because we are a more litigious society, and public transit services are trying to avoid lawsuits (whether it's a reasonable precaution or not). As for other stroller sized objects, the things you mentioned (luggage and shopping carts) are carried on only occasionally by bus riders. Strollers would more likely be a more everyday occurrence.

This piece reminds me of the new Metro rail announcements where passengers when using escalators are supposed to fold up their strollers, take their child by the hand (or hold them if they can't, you know, stand, and also presumably hold on to the hand rail. So either they need three hands or they need to somehow contort themselves to pin the stroller under their arm. Also this formation would presumably break the "no standing on the left" rule. At this point, isn't it just easier (and possibly safer) just to leave the kid in the stroller?

Also: A ladder? Really? How tall?

by Steven Yates on Feb 15, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

Why are strollers an issue? Since when are buses restricted to people who can walk?

by Jasper on Feb 15, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

Given the fear regarding large strollers on Metrobuses (and in general) and Ken's point that allowing small umbrella strollers on buses might encourage their use, a proposal:

What if people were only allowed to bring umbrella strollers on buses, and once on were allowed to use their own discretion as to whether to fold them? If the primary problem is ever bigger strollers, perhaps we should focus less on whether or not they are folded (indeed, those enormous luxury strollers take up a great deal of space even when folded) than on the size of the stroller itself.

To extend this idea, perhaps all bus passengers should have size limits on "carry-ons". The photo of a passenger with multiple large suitcases is ridiculous -- not only would those suitcases take up lots of passenger space, but he is sure to take significantly longer getting on and off the bus. What if all passengers were restricted to (1) anything that will fit on their lap, AND (2) one carry-on item no larger than a single rolling suitcase. An umbrella stroller falls within that category, as would most other items (rolling carts of groceries, the aforementioned luggage, even a large bag containing a comforter or three or several pillows from Bed, Bath & Beyond).

The idea being that passengers should restrict their carry-ons to items they can handle and move themselves, and don't make it too difficult for other passengers to board or exit the bus.

On a side note, since I don't know: do children ride for free on buses? It seems that Ken's argument in favor of unfolded strollers is stronger if the parent is paying for his child to ride the bus.

by Emily on Feb 15, 2011 3:18 pm • linkreport

Steven asked the most important question in this thread. You really brought a ladder on the bus? How big was it?

by anonymous on Feb 15, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

@KenArcher; I get it that this is a line drawing exercise, but...

there is a certain value in a hard and fast ban. I doubt many bus driver look forward to arguments about whether there is enough room, and as a passenger I'm not looking forward to it as well.

by charlie on Feb 15, 2011 3:23 pm • linkreport

What, are we recycling posts now? Wasn't this issue already covered about a year ago?

by Marian Berry on Feb 15, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

Answering as a carless (except for Zipcar and occasional car rentals) father of an almost three year old who won't walk more than a block in cold weather:

1. An umbrella stroller is the type that folds up into a very compact package, that can be slung over a shoulder or on your back. They are generally light and don't take up a ton of space.

2. Kids 5 and older pay the adult fare (see the section titled "Children's Fares":

3. Dan, that kid is around a year old. Most likely can't even walk yet. I assume you were joking about his age?

4. Agreed with Kate about the design of most Metrobuses as opposed to Circulators. It is very easy getting a stroller onto a Circulator. It would be tough on many Metrobuses because they don't have as much standing space.

by Ed on Feb 15, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

When you're an exhausted parent making your way home from the daycare center on public transit and your kid FINALLY falls asleep, and the bus is basically empty, you don't want to wake them up because some able-bodied childless hipster is worried about a theoretical slippery slope involving a hypothetical non-umbrella stroller that you don't own.

A child strapped into an *umbrella* stroller is perfectly safe, easy to lift as a unit, and takes up the same amount of space on a bus as (or less than) a typical fat person. Carrying a child *and* a stroller and making the transition back and forth (unfolded strapped in to unstrapped and folded with kid over your shoulder) is something every non-parent should try a few times before they ban umbrella strollers.

If you want to require parents to double swipe their cards to pay fare for the stroller I'm ok with that, but don't hate on parents who don't drive around in minivans. We're really not taking up that much space on the bus and the old ladies love making goo-goo eyes at the kid. It really breaks up the trip.

by Ward 1 Guy on Feb 15, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

Steven asked the most important question in this thread. You really brought a ladder on the bus? How big was it?

It was a 5-foot ladder. Georgetowners shop at the Ace Hardware in Glover Park. I don't own a car. And when I boarded the 30s bus back to Georgetown, the driver just said, "Items that big should be in a box, but don't worry about it". Nobody even noticed.

And the sun rose the next morning.

I promise the same result would ensue from allowing unfolded umbrella strollers.

by Ken Archer on Feb 15, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

Do we not let people in big electric wheelchairs on the bus?

I don't see why having a stroller on the bus is a problem then.

by MLD on Feb 15, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

Luggage doesn't cry!

by Will on Feb 15, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

Our family could not agree more. As much as I encourage my wife to ride the bus with our two children, 8 and 2, she refuses to ride Metro Bus for just this reason.

by JH on Feb 15, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

I think you overstate the Metro policy. The statement "If you have a stroller, take your child out of the stroller, fold the stroller, and if possible, stow the stroller out of the way" is listed on a page titled "Rules and Manners" and is immediately followed by "Make sure that your child has no dangling clothing, untied shoelaces or unbuckled shoes" This doesn't strike me as a strict "no stroller" rule, although there certainly have been times when I have wished there was one, such as when a stroller is completely blocking the aisle on the northbound 42 during evening rush.

by Ktriarch on Feb 15, 2011 4:35 pm • linkreport

Why do people in this area take so much luggage to work? In my office, there are two ladies that constantly have their rolling suitcases. How much stuff can someone possibly need for an 8 hour workday? I'm sure some people are going right from work to airports or Union Station or something. But there are so many people with luggage, they can't ALL be leaving town every day.

I take less luggage on a weekend trip than these people take to the office each morning. I've worked in a few big cities, but I haven't seen anything like it until I moved here.

by Sam on Feb 15, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport


Both my wife and I have been ordered by Metrobus drivers multiple times to fold up our stroller, and never allowed to get on the bus with it open. No unfolded strollers may not be the exact policy, but in our experience it is how the policy is enforced.

by Ed on Feb 15, 2011 4:58 pm • linkreport

Do we have a bus design problem? I don't have a problem with unfolded umbrella strollers.

However, larger strollers, folded or unfolded are a problem unless the person traveling with the stroller and the child can get one of those first seats. Otherwise there is just no place to put the stroller that doesn't block the isle. And unlike people with carts or luggage, I've found parents with large strollers less able to move it to allow people on or off the bus. You can't hoist a stroller blocking the isle into your lap for a minute like you can a suitcase if there is a child in your lap. Or getting off and getting back on after you've let people by is hard with a toddler in tow.

Would designs more like the Circulator make it easier to say grocery shop or carry luggage or transport children?

I do Peapod or get a Zip Car to grocery shop if I have more than two bags of groceries because I don't feel like you can bring a grocery cart on the bus without being a huge nuisance to everyone around me. However, I'm betting the older people I do see with grocery carts on the bus might not have those options.

These aren't long haul buses. Standing isn't that bad if you have a place to stand and something to hold on to. Would fewer fixed seats make buses more useable?

by Kate on Feb 15, 2011 6:43 pm • linkreport


Buses like the Circulator are better in terms of design, but there will always be a fundamental limit on what a bus can do in terms of aisle width and floor height. The easiest thing to do would be to enable fare pre-payment and thus allow boarding from all doors - enabling strollers and suitcases to use the larger and more open space near the rear door of the larger Circulator buses. Otherwise, if you enter near the driver, you still have to walk down the aisle - and the aisle will always been rather narrow at that one spot thanks to the wheel wells.

by Alex B. on Feb 15, 2011 7:14 pm • linkreport

@Archer So you manufactured an issue for the purpose of criticism because you don't like the suggestion of common sense and safety. Are parents and children being persecuted by Metrobus Drivers? I doubt it. Must have been a slow day for the blog.

by Interested on Feb 16, 2011 8:15 am • linkreport

I still thing there is a lot of ignorance about the size of umbrella strollers. They are quite small, about the size of a walker that elderly and some disabled people use. The wheels lock so they don't slide around.

Strollers are vital for families with children who are too big to fit in a baby carrier (>9 months) and too small to walk on their own for anything but very short distances (<3 years).

I was very glad to see this post because families with young children should have the same transit options as everyone else. The comments dismissive of these concerns have really surprised and saddened me.

by Ward 1 Guy on Feb 16, 2011 9:22 am • linkreport

I am a mother of twin toddlers and i have a double umbrella stroller. I avoid taking the bus with my kids because hauling 2 kids and a stroller on a bus is hard work. I don't see why one would need to leave the stroller unfolded considering that you can't get them on the bus unless they are folded. Why would you unfold them once you get in the bus? Personally I don't care how much space the strollers take up and I would be against paying extra for the stroller (we don't ask the obese to pay more do we?) My solution is to retrofit buses so that strollers can be stored on bike racks.

by snowpeas on Feb 16, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

PS to my earlier comment. I overreacted. The comments here aren't that bad. I think I was thinking of a discussion somewhere else.

by Ward 1 Guy on Feb 16, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

"The inconvenience of stepping around the luggage of travelers on a bus, or the shopping cart of an urban shopper, is accepted as part of living in a city."

Funny, I had a WMATA bus driver berate me today, for having a shopping cart - it was supposed to be folded. The cart was full. The bus, however, had about 5 other people on it.

(Oh, and @Sam - travelling consultants typically take all their luggage with them on Thursday/Friday ... in that case, it's how much did they need for five 8 hours days, plus they have hotel checkout mid-day. There are a lot of consultants in the area.)

by jill on Sep 30, 2011 4:25 pm • linkreport

So, was there any research doen on why the ban was enacted? What did WMATA have to say - anything?

Why is this post comparing a living person strapped in a chair to an inanimate object? If a person falls over luggage, no harm to the luggage. If a person climbs over luggage, no harm to the luggage. Kids are not quite as sturdy, umbrella strollers are not wheelchairs and children are not adults (who can perhaps block someone from falling on them).

I cannot imagine an unfolded stoller on Metro buses - outside of taking up the handicap area. They cannot fit anywhere else - maybe in the back in the newer ones (before the stairs).... so definitely design issues.

I would not want to be a bus driver trying to enforce a discretionary policy. They would be eaten alive by the parent.

The idea of the reconfiguring of the bike racks is an interesting idea. Helping more people easily use public transport is a good goal.

by greent on Sep 30, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

We are one of those families that has chosen to stay in the city and use transit for many of our needs, which include travelling with children. We can ride the subway most of the time but I often have cause to take the bus. Here in Boston there's been a similar debate about whether or not to allow unfolded strollers on buses.

Two points: not all people travelling on buses with children have "chosen" to stay in the city and ride transit. While I fall in that category and would like to feel welcomed on the bus with my son in a stroller, many--in fact most, probably--of the parents riding buses with children are people who are dependent on transit because they can't afford a car. They are the ones who deserve better mobility rather than to have their already challenging circumstances made more difficult. Not everybody takes the bus by choice as I do.

Second point is that part of the problem is that buses are designed in most cities to maximize seating, but this makes NO sense on crowded urban lines. Even without wheelchairs, strollers, grocery carts, etc., it still complicates loading and unloading when the bus fills up. Add those other elements and it's even worse! Take out all or most of the seats, at least in the front half of the bus, and keep more open circulation between the two doors as well as keeping more open space for strollers and other accessories. I'm convinced this would go a long way toward solving the problem.

by GA on Oct 3, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

isn't a stroller technically a wheelchair? it has the same function and nearly the same design... so if I get a toddler-size folding "wheelchair", instead of a "stroller", doesn't that circumvent the ban? there are strollers that look like mini folding wheelchairs, actually. To be clear, is it a ban on young people using wheeled chairs, or a ban on certain types of rolling chairs? Suppose I got my 1 year old a remote-controlled electric wheelchair, can we use the wheelchair ramp?

Personally, I don't see why people don't just make their kid walk as soon as he figures out how. I mean 4-15 months he should be walking, though he prob. needs to hold your hand for safety. My son was walking fine at 1 year. If I needed to take public transportation, I would just lift him on board and he would walk with me.

It seems to me the space issue has more to do with the seats that are bolted to the floor. What if we took all the seats out and just told everyone, if you want a chair, bring a folding chair... not a tall one - one with a low center of gravity. it's not like there are seatbelts on the bus anyway. Bolted-down seats down stop you from falling over either, so what's the difference? Most people wouldn't bring one, and there would be way more space on the bus. If you put recessed hooks in the floor and the folding chair had a harness to the sitter and to the floor hook, wouldn't that theoretically be safer than a bolted down seat with no seat belt. considering almost nobody ever gets injured on the bus anyway, even without belts, there's no reason to be strict about seating options, or elimination thereof.

by Lee on Jun 28, 2012 7:38 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us