Parents push for side-by-side strollers on Halifax buses

Rebekkah Hyams became stranded by the side of a road on a blisteringly hot July day in Halifax when her twin boys, sitting side by side in their stroller, started to fuss.

She never ran into issues taking the stroller on public transit when she lived in Montreal.

Halifax's website states "double wide strollers will not be allowed" on buses and the "transit operator will have ultimate discretion based on the size of the stroller or the amount of room available."

"I literally had to beg the bus driver just to take us across the Macdonald Bridge," she said. "It is very humiliating, it doesn't make you feel like you're part of the community when something as simple as public transit doesn't allow you access."

The experience has stayed with Hyams. She and Jenna Hopson are among a group of parents in the Halifax area, many of whom have twins or multiple young children, who are pushing for the municipality to allow larger strollers onto city buses.

Within their online parenting community, people have been sharing stories about getting stuck halfway through a multi-bus trip or being denied a bus after waiting at a stop. Hopson said her child's daycare has had to scale back some plans when two children were in a specific type of stroller.

Robert Short/CBC

"When you have small children, getting out of the house is an enormous feat in itself — getting them dressed in warm clothing, bundling them up, walking to the bus stop, waiting to get on and then being forced to find another way to get to where you need to go is a huge burden placed on people," she said.

"You could have plans like a doctor's appointment or getting your groceries or just getting out. Because we know with small children at home, it is very isolating."

The city is in the midst of a pilot project where it's free for children to take public transit.

Hopson and other parents drafted an email to city councillors asking for a policy change to accommodate side-by-side strollers, provided they don't block aisles or create a safety risk for other passengers.

Currently, only strollers 107 centimetres by 57 centimetres (42 inches by 22.5 inches) or smaller are allowed on city buses. The parents are asking for that to be increased to 122 centimetres by 76 centimetres (48 inches by 30 inches), in line with the dimensions allowed for wheelchairs.

Robert Short/CBC

"This is huge for people to overcome that isolation and be able to participate in their community. So maybe by this change, we would have lifted a bit of the burden placed on families who may be experiencing a bit of that isolation," Hopson said.

She said it can be easier to put children in side-by-side strollers and they are sometimes more affordable to families. While some older models will be too large for a bus, she said there are numerous types that could fit in the front of the bus and are no wider than a wheelchair.

Brynn Budden, who speaks for the city, said side-by-side strollers may be allowed on buses, if they're within the size limits. It's up to individual drivers to make the call depending on the number of passengers on board and the accessibility of the aisle.

"In some cases, strollers that are larger than the recommended size are permitted on buses. However, that would only be in a case where there are no customers with mobility challenges," she said. "Safety is always a priority and the aisle of the bus needs to remain fairly clear if there was ever an emergency and people needed to evacuate."

Hyams said leaving whether a stroller can board up to a driver's discretion is particularly stressful for people who don't have a vehicle.

Robert Short/CBC

"[It] leaves a lot of insecurity for parents who depend on public transit to get to places, because they could be refused."

Budden said the section on the website stating the double wide strollers are not permitted will be removed as Halifax Transit's site is updated to reflect route changes that went into effect this week. The new guidelines suggest strollers be "small, lightweight and foldable."

Hopson said she'd like to see something communicated to transit users and bus drivers that side-by-side strollers are permitted, as well as a new size limit accepted. Hopson hopes to have the opportunity to discuss the concerns with the city's transportation standing committee.