Why My 12-year-old Is Riding Public Transit Alone

I’m nervous posting this because of the freakout when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride public transit alone.  I don’t want to be the next “America’s Worst Mom”!  But I think it’s important to talk about how to approach children’s independence safely and gradually so that they learn the skills they’ll need as adults.

Nicholas is 12 now.  He was 11 last summer when he started riding Pittsburgh city buses by himself.  His father and I think he could have handled it just fine when he was 10, too, but his day camp required that an adult sign him in and out every day until age 11.

Nicholas has been attending this day camp at the Carnegie Museum of Art & Natural History since he was 5.  He used to go every week as his summer childcare while we were working.  Now that he’s old enough to keep himself occupied while his father works from home, he only signs up for the week-long camp sessions that interest him most.

I used to work 4 blocks away from the museum, taking public transit to/from the bus stop right outside the museum.  It was easy for me to drop off Nicholas on my way to work and pick him up on my way home.  But the summer he was 9, I was on maternity leave until late July, and he wanted to attend some weeks of camp anyway.  Baby Lydia and I got an early start practicing getting out of the house on time, in order to drop off Nicholas by 9:00 each morning and pick him up at 3:00!  (When I wasn’t working, he didn’t stay for the optional “post-camp” until 6:00.)  We enjoyed the daily outings and sometimes did other things before heading home.

Last summer, I was between jobs.  My feelings about time were very different from maternity leave; I felt constantly busy and stressed about job-searching and trying to catch up on all those projects that are hard to do while working full-time.  It was a great relief to hear that Nicholas was excited about finally being old enough to sign himself in and out of camp!

We prepared carefully for his first solo bus trip.  Here are the details to consider and the ways they worked out for us: Read more of this post

Public Transit and Convenient Commuting

It’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that the majority of Americans who work outside the home commute by car.

I understand that many small towns and suburban and rural areas have no public transit at all, and that many cities have inadequate public transit providing infrequent service to just a few neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why so many people put up with it!  Of course there are situations in which people have good reasons for living and/or working in remote areas.  But there are millions more who just seem to be taking for granted that, as a grown-up, every day you get into your car.  It hasn’t occurred to them to try their local public transit or to ask why there isn’t any.

What really staggers me is when I hear people who live and/or work in the very same neighborhoods I do, talking about driving to and from work–especially if they’re employed by one of the local universities whose every employee/student ID card functions as a bus pass!  Seriously!  You don’t need a special card; you don’t need to sign up for the transit program; as soon as you get your ID, you can hop on a bus, tap it against the card reader, and get a free ride to anywhere in Allegheny County the transit authority goes, any time buses (or light-rail trains or inclines) are running!  You can use it all weekend, not just for commuting!

Pardon all the exclamation points, but I’m excited to be working for the University of Pittsburgh now.  None of my previous employers offered free transit, so I’m accustomed to paying slightly over $1,000 per year for an annual bus pass giving me unlimited rides all year.  It was convenient even when it was a series of monthly passes arriving by mail, even more convenient with the ConnectCard that lasted all year.  It cost much less than paying cash fare for my workday commute, with the additional bonus of free rides for other travel.  But it was a substantial expense each year, which I don’t have now, whee!

It took me until last week, my fourth week at the new job, to realize just how staggeringly convenient my new commute is: Read more of this post

Public Transit and Summer Fun (Plus tips on vacationing in Pittsburgh!)

Warm weather is here, and I’m looking forward to summer!  We won’t be taking any big vacations; most weekdays, I’ll be going to work in my office as usual, and our seven-year-old Nicholas will be attending art and natural history day camps at the Carnegie Museum while his dad works from home.  I take a city bus to work, getting off right in front of the museum, so it will be easy for me to take Nicholas there each morning.  I’m looking forward to riding the bus with him again like I did for three years while he was in preschool!  I have missed my commuting companion since he started going to a school within walking distance of our home.

I will admit, it’s a little bit annoying that he has to pay to ride the bus now and that the transit authority doesn’t sell bus passes for children.  Most days, Daniel will be picking up Nicholas and usually will do it by car, so Nicholas will be paying child’s fare for only 5 rides a week, a total cost of $5.50–much less than the $22.50 price of a weekly pass.  At least we’ll be able to avoid the hassle of finding exact change every day, by buying ten-trip ticket books, which they do sell in a half-fare version; the price is the same ($11 for 10 rides) but the tickets can’t get accidentally spent on something else!  If I drove him to the museum and then parked my car all day in the neighborhood, I’d burn through that $11 every two days!  (Parents of day campers get a parking pass for the museum garage, but it’s good only for short times for drop-off and pick-up, not for a full day.)

On the bus, and while waiting for the bus, I can read books to Nicholas–or my first-grade alumnus can read to me!  That’s another change from his preschool days.  I look forward to sharing more stories with him and having more reading time than we do at bedtime.

Every day, we’ll get to walk together from our house to the bus stop on the main street.  Our route to school goes the other way, and it’s been striking to me these last two years how much of the daily excitement of our neighborhood Nicholas misses by not hitting Murray Avenue every day!  (Sometimes I’ve taken him for a walk in the evening to see a digging machine, an antique storefront newly exposed during a renovation, or something else of interest that may vanish before the weekend.)  We’ll ride past a new apartment building every day and watch its construction. Read more…

A Family Vacation by Public Transit

We took our six-year-old son to visit New York City; Montclair, New Jersey; and Philadelphia, leaving our car at home in Pittsburgh and traveling by train or bus the whole way.  It was great!  We felt it was more relaxing than driving, more pleasant than going by airplane, and generally pretty easy to do.

I’m not claiming that we saved time or money by taking transit.  That’s not the point!  Leaving our car at home reduced pollution, made getting there part of the fun, and allowed us to go 10 full days without driving, which made it a real vacation for us! Read more…

How to Do Everything!

This article is linked to the greatest tips edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, where the hostess explains how to get a human on the phone when you call customer service, and more than 178 people have linked to their own helpful tips on how to do all sorts of things.  Here are my own greatest tips:

7 ways to eat less meat.

40 ways kids can help around the house.

13 ways to use less electricity for your lighting.

Toddler discipline in 3 easy steps!

7 product recommendations (NOT paid endorsements!). Read more…

This Crowded World

Today is the entertaining tips edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, but I don’t feel very well equipped to give advice on entertaining since we don’t have guests nearly as often as I’d like; I’m one of the people who needs to read the host’s article “Entertaining Even When You’re Reluctant” and possibly the book she mentioned, since its Commandment 7 really speaks to me!  I expect that many of this week’s WFMW posts will be about how to entertain beautifully in your home and the wonderful virtue of hospitality, and I certainly agree that this is an important thing and look forward to picking up some tips.  (Actually, a quick glance at the links shows me that a lot of people chose to write about other topics despite the theme.  Oh well, those are probably good tips, too!)

But the idea of hospitality has connected with something else I’ve been thinking about recently, so I’m going to write about hospitality as treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way outside our homes, and about how sharing public space has reduced the amount of private space I feel I truly need. Read more…

Mothering in transit

The distance from our home to our childcare center is less than three miles.  In rush-hour traffic, it’s a 20-minute drive.  But almost every day, Nicholas and I make the trip by public transit, taking two buses and at least 45 minutes in each direction.  I could walk that distance in that time!  Am I insane?!

No.  I’m convinced that public transit is a wonderful way to travel with a young child.  The conveniences more than make up for the inconveniences, that extra time is time we spend together, and the trip is full of learning experiences for my child and me. Read more…