“Bursch!” my eighteen-month-old points and yells. Even though that’s his word for everything, from bikes to balls, I say, “That’s right! That’s the bus!” Perhaps he’s picking up on his older brother’s deep love of the bus. Besides the fact that he’ll actually know what the lyrics of The Wheels on the Bus are talking about, his affinity for public transit will serve him well. In fact, I actually encourage it and bring my kids on the bus with me when possible. Here’s why I skip the car and ride the bus with my kids when I can:
My kids love it
Sprout’s love of the bus isn’t just because it’s brightly colored and passes by our house every 20 minutes. He enjoys riding it so much. In the bus, he can see out the windows much better than he can in the car. While it’s less of an issue now that his car seat is forward-facing, it was almost impossible to see anything out the window back when he was still in the rear-facing car seat. Sharing a bus seat, he can also see us, an obvious bonus. Plus, everything becomes more of an adventure on the bus! Our trip automatically becomes out of the ordinary. My friend who doesn’t own a car says that taking the bus sometimes feels “too easy” because the kids love it so much!
It connects us to our neighbors
Cars are inherently isolating. We walk out of our house, bundle the kids into the car, and then stay in our little box by ourselves until we get out at our destination. When we’re driving, we see people on the sidewalk or in other cars, but are going too fast to interact with them.
In contrast, taking public transportation involves seeing and interacting with the people around us. Waiting for the bus, we notice what’s going on in our neighborhood, from new people moving in to our neighbors growing tomatoes. Once we’re on the bus, we see a diversity of people of all backgrounds and experiences. I don’t strike up conversations with everyone I meet, but there’s at least a chance for a shared smile between moms or a helping hand with a stroller.
It teaches my kids independence.
When I was growing up, we had no bus system in our town and everything was too far away to walk. My friends and I had to rely on our parents to drive us everywhere. That meant that we couldn’t do anything truly independent until we were at least 16. Even then, we relied on having a car available to us. In contrast, depending on their maturity level, my kids will probably be able to take the bus places by the time they are 12 or 13. Taking the bus now familiarizes them with the whole bus system, including timetables and stops.
I can interact with my kids.
It’s really hard to have a conversation when I’m in the front of the car and my kids are in the back, especially when my older son was still in a rear facing seat. Even though I’m not the one driving, I find it hard to understand what he’s saying. On the bus, I can chat with them and look them right in the eyes. If it’s a longer trip, we can play games without worrying that I’m distracted.
It’s better for the environment.
Taking public transit produces a lot less pollution than driving a car, even a car full of kids. In fact, each person who rides the bus makes it more efficient, because it’s going to run the route regardless of whether it’s full or empty. Riding a city bus produces 1/3 fewer greenhouse gases compared to driving a car. In addition, having a large number and variety of people riding the bus – not only the people who have no other choice – shows my county that they should support bus service, making it better for everyone.
Now, we’re lucky that we have a robust bus service. A lot of places, like my hometown, still have minimal to no bus service.
But the bus service in your area may be better than you realize. In particular, a growing number of bus services are offering “real-time” scheduling based on a GPS on the bus itself. These services allow you to go on a website or app and see exactly when the bus will arrive at the nearest stop. For those of us used to waiting for ages for a scheduled bus to never show up, this is revolutionary. It’s made hopping on the bus for work when it’s raining out so simple for me.
My other big piece of advice is know where the bus is going and where you need to get off! I’ve had a couple of bus rides go quite badly because I assumed the bus was going somewhere that it wasn’t.
For more of our adventures in sustainable transportation, check out The Glorious Chaos of Biking with Kids to the Grocery Store. If you are looking to connect with fellow parents trying to live more environmentally sustainably, check out my Green and Sustainable Parenting group on Facebook!