Family life

The unexpected perks of taking public transit

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk considers how foregoing a car and instead taking public transit has had a positive impact on her daughter's life.

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Four-year-old Anna is used to relying on public transit to get her around the city. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

“Beep, beep, beep, excuse me!” my four-year-old daughter, Anna, says, attempting to push me from my spot on the couch. “We have a wheelchair coming on and you need to change seats.” Although I’m slightly irritated at being asked to relocate, I’m glad that my kid’s bus driver game involves her driving a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

My daughter’s attempt at “playing bus” is pretty accurate, largely due to the fact that she’s spent a significant portion of her childhood riding them. She’ll notice when the seating arrangement on an older model isn’t what she’s used to and she knows which subway stops travel above ground for short stretches of time so she can gaze out the window. She has her preferred seating arrangements for longer and shorter trips, too—near the back doors after school so we can get off quickly, or by the window for the ideal view on longer trips.

Public transit, for better and worse, has played a huge role in my life as a parent. I don’t drive and, when I got pregnant, I was living in a college town. Part of my impetus to move back to Toronto was knowing how difficult it would be to live where I was currently without access to a car. Transit was irregular and awkwardly routed (mostly to serve students), there weren’t any large grocery stores in my vicinity and meeting day-to-day needs seemed too difficult, despite the overall cost of living being much lower.

Back in the city, I ordered many of my initial baby items from Craigslist and Kijiji to avoid the struggle of getting bigger purchases home from the store without a car. Carrying large or heavy items was out of the question, especially when I was also carrying Anna (although I did recently thrift-score a play kitchen set and managed to lug it home on the bus). My daughter has become increasingly aware of the time we spend going to ATMs and convenience stores to buy subway tokens or grab extra change.

However, our car-less life means not being able to attend events at places where transit can’t take us. When we do manage to get away, it’s ideally to other places with good public transit options. Not driving means my daughter knows the difference between a Greyhound bus and a Megabus, a GO train (our local commuter train system) and VIA Rail.

When it was announced that our local transit system, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), would be free for children 12 and under, people had lots of differing opinions about kids on transit. The announcement brought me relief, however, as paying for two fares on an almost daily basis has been difficult for me. 

Despite my complaints about the hassles of transit, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. My daughter is shaped socially by our transit riding interactions. She’s definitely seen a variety of people she likely wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. It’s on transit that my daughter meets grandmas and babies; it’s where she learns the geography of the city we live in and how places are connected. In some ways, after our experiences thus far, having a car would seem so isolating in many ways. The role that public transit has played in Anna’s life is something I’ve often taken for granted—and it’s something I’ll likely come back to and consider again and again.

However, I have to close my computer right now because I’ve been asked to move back another seat so that more people will be able to fit onto “the bus.”

How has public transit played a part in your parenting life?

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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