Limiting strollers on the TTC isn’t the answer to our overcrowding problems. In fact, the mere suggestion displays a shocking lack of empathy.
scape·goat [skeyp-goht] noun. —a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.
Toronto’s stroller war was reignited earlier this week thanks to a metaphorical Molotov cocktail from Elsa La Rosa, the lone 61-year-old woman who told TTC commissioners that stroller-pushing parents should be charged extra and limited in numbers. Oh, and she also said the age of eligibility should be lowered for a Seniors Metropass.
In other words, La Rosa’s complaint was crassly self-serving—she wanted cheaper transport for herself, and for those damn babies to get off her streetcar lawn. However, I imagine if she one day requires a walker or wheelchair, La Rosa would probably not want to pay extra or be left at the curb in the pouring rain or swirling snow because too many similarly-impaired seniors were already onboard.
That would be outrageous, of course, but it’s not an untoward comparison—a single parent with an infant (who can’t walk) or toddler (who can’t walk far) has mobility issues that are resolved with a stroller.
Now, it’s possible that La Rosa hasn’t properly thought through her suggestion’s slippery slope—what about her fellow old ladies and their grocery-filled handcarts?—and is simply blaming the easiest target for her own discomfort, no matter how small a segment of TTC ridership is actually comprised by stroller-pushing parents, or how vulnerable their teeny-tiny passengers are.
La Rosa isn’t the only one who sees strollers as hell on wheels, at least based on the angry comments dotting this week’s coverage of her complaint. Those small children, harried parents and bigger-than-back-in-my-day strollers sure make a great scapegoat, but blaming La Rosa is no better than blaming babies—the real problem is the TTC’s declining service and increasing fares. Yet rather than immediately dismissing La Rosa’s request to effectively create a second class of passengers on public transit, TTC chair Karen Stinz asked staffers to study the issue, while TTC CEO Andy Byford told Newstalk 1010, “We may need to limit the numbers of particularly the bigger strollers. We’re certainly going to reflect upon this.”
Cue a media and social-media firestorm—which is maybe what they wanted. Both execs subsequently made clear the TTC has no intention to increase fares or limit strollers, but by allowing it to get as far as it did, the furor distracts us from the fact that too few buses and streetcars, not too many strollers, is the actual problem at hand. Overcrowding is most often caused by underfunding, and one possible solution is to apply a congestion fee (like the one in London, England) so we can reduce downtown traffic and afford to increase the TTC fleet.
I’ve already written a defense of modern strollers, though I’ll again point out to non-parents that umbrella strollers can’t hold infants, navigate snow, or carry groceries. As well, folding up a regular stroller holding one or two kids, baby supplies, and purchases simply isn’t feasible. The fact that everything is locked together tightly is precisely what makes travel possible.
Nobody rides the TTC because they want to, especially during rush hour. It’s a fairly unpleasant experience (just peruse the 285 comments on our recent article “TTC: Toronto’s terrible commuters”), and it’s even tougher when traveling with a baby in tow. People use TTC because they have to get somewhere at a certain time (chances are those peak-hour tots are en route to or from daycare) and they have no other option. To restrict anyone’s access to taxpayer-subsidized public transit is beyond the pale.
Not to mention that stroller-pushers are also more likely to be low-income and marginalized. As transport-planning expert Murtaza Haider told Yahoo, “It’s the people who do not have the means to an alternative means of transport who will be the ones most affected by such a policy. It’s not a transportation issue; it’s an issue of social exclusion.” So non-parents can gripe, “If parents can’t afford to drive, they shouldn’t have kids in the first place,” but that’s both mean and ignorant. Many downtown residents don’t own cars for a number of reasons—a trend that public transit is intended to encourage.
Strollers on transit aren’t a new issue, and this isn’t even the first flare-up of 2013. Just a couple weeks ago there was that TTC driver, angered at having to lower his bus ramp, who told a passenger she “should really get a smaller stroller that you can manage to lift onto the bus so that I don’t have to mess around with this stupid bull—- at 6:30 in the morning.” (Oh, and the charmer allegedly added, “Where’s his dad? He should be helping you. If he even has a father.”)
But there’s a lot of anti-parent animosity off transit, too, be it in restaurants, airplanes, or even just walking down the sidewalk. Dirty looks and dark grumbles follow us around. Not saying some parents don’t act entitled or that some kids aren’t awful to be around, but tarring us all with same brush is just as outrageous as doing the same to all non-parents.
It also displays a shocking lack of empathy. Every single one of us was, at one point, a baby. We had to be carted about, and were probably annoying to grown-ups, too, but people in days gone by seem to have had more patience for parents with young children. I’m not saying we need to have a metaphorical village raising our children—or even go so far as Finland, which lets parents with strollers ride for free. But the least we can do is not turn parents into scapegoats for the TTC’s deficiencies.
Demand better service. Don’t blame your fellow victims, no matter how small.