"CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) policies and practices are currently discriminatory towards strollers." Apparently, stroller discrimination is rampant here in Chicago, y'all.
This is the opening line of Michelle Parker's online petition to the CTA where she demands that the CTA make changes to their current policies to make public transportation more "family friendly."
What's her beef? She states that the CTA has aided in the "Creation of a hostile environment for caregivers" who use strollers and that the CTA's "current policies encourage this (hostility) by suggesting open strollers are unsafe via recorded onboard messaging." She does not, however, provide any data to support that open strollers are actually safe.
She goes on to state that the current CTA stroller policies create "considerable safety issues for children, caregivers and other riders" and cause a "significant slowing of transit." To solve this problem, she proposes the following:
- Young children are allowed to remain in strollers for the duration of their rides.
- Designated areas for special needs on trains and buses clearly allow strollers.
- Drivers are instructed to always kneel buses for strollers and to promptly comply if asked to lower the ramp.
- Recordings and signage ask riders to accomodate (sic) strollers.
Did you catch the special needs part? That's because in her original petition, Parker compared strollers to wheelchairs (she has since removed it) and when she was interviewed by Red Eye Chicago, she stated "strollers are their wheelchairs." Did you cringe? Me too.
I do have issues with this petition. For one, strollers are not wheelchairs and shouldn't have the same rights. Disabled folks who use wheelchairs have rights that are protected by a federal law called the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the CTA has a legal responsibility to make buses accessible for wheelchairs whereas strollers do not have any legal protection and the CTA does not have any responsibility to make any concession for them.
But my main problem with this petition is that Parker didn't do her research. If she had, she would know that the CTA has one of the most lenient stroller policies of all the public transit systems in the country and that the majority of her requests are already part of the current CTA guidelines. In fact the CTA rule section on strollers is six paragraphs long whereas other metropolitan cities devote only one sentence. The first line of the CTA stroller rule section states: "Children in open strollers are welcome on the CTA..." It goes on to say that strollers should be kept clear of aisles and doorways and that the disabled have priority use of the Priority Seating area and that if those seats are not in use that open strollers may use that area. The rules also state that during busy times, strollers may need to be folded to accommodate other riders. And that riders may request use of the access ramp or lift during boarding and exit. This is in sharp contrast to Parker's assertion that the CTA's policies are discriminatory. Quite the opposite actually.
What's also noteworthy is that Pace, the transit authority that operates a mere few miles away from Chicago doesn't allow open strollers at all and has a firm fold-your-stroller-before-you-board policy that works for its riders. New York has the same policy as does Los Angeles. Back in 2011, Boston considered banning strollers from their transit system all together.
So why the inflammatory petition? Because there is actually a problem.
This petition sparked a lot of debate in the mom's group on Facebook where it was posted. Many were offended by Parker's statement that strollers and wheelchairs are equal. I'm not going to lie, I think that point is disgusting. But many ladies supported the petition, not because of Parker's view of strollers being similar to wheelchairs (even though shockingly a handful actually did), they supported it because they had lots of bad experiences on the CTA with their children and strollers.
Several stated that buses frequently refused to stop at designated bus stops when they were waiting with an open stroller. Others were asked to fold their strollers when boarding practically empty buses during non rush hour. A few stated that bus drivers and passengers openly threw shade at them when they asked that the ramp be lowered or the bus kneeled so they could board. Multiple moms stated they had seen other moms brought to tears by bus drivers and one mom shared a particularly disturbing account of being screamed at by a CTA bus driver for having her newborn baby in an open stroller, during off rush hour, in the middle of snowstorm, oh and he was sick and on the way to the doctor.
While I do not agree that the CTA is discriminatory, I think it's clear that drivers are not following the CTA's very clear policies. Refusing to stop is unacceptable as is yelling at riders. Being unfriendly about lowering the ramp when it's in the CTA guidelines that it's allowed is not cool either. But what seems to be at the core of the issue for many moms is the demand to fold up strollers when the bus is not running during rush hour and not full. The CTA's own policy allows this so why aren't drivers complying?
I also believe, unlike Parker, that blame is not with the CTA. Their guidelines fulfill almost all of her requests. The problem is with the bus drivers who are taking it upon themselves to divert from the rules established by the CTA and they should be reported and disciplined when they don't follow protocol. If enough moms file complaints and bring attention to individual incidences of mistreatment by drivers, the CTA will have to listen and they will have to assess and correct the issue.
I would encourage any mom that has an issue with CTA's drivers not following their own policies to write an email to the Assistant Secretary to the Board, Gregory Longhini (firstname.lastname@example.org) and include photos (the CTA website says non-commercial photography on buses is allowed) showing empty buses when they are asked to fold up. Report buses that don't stop. Turn in bus drivers who don't accommodate the use of the ramp as they are supposed to. Blow up his email until the CTA is forced to recognize the insubordinate behavior of its employees. But most importantly, read the CTA's policy and know your rights and speak up when drivers are not following protocol. The key is to make sure that drivers adhere to what the rules are and if we all stay vigilant we can make the system with work with us instead of against us.
Do you have any stroller rage with the CTA? Start a dialogue and share your story in the comments.