By Michael Holtz, Chicago Tribune reporter
December 19, 2012
Chris Straney does what the CTA wants all its baby-toting passengers to do: He collapses his stroller and picks up his 8-month-old son before stepping onto a Red Line train.
As a new parent, Straney says he's acutely aware of how large strollers can obstruct movement on crowded trains and buses. He notices when they take up entire aisles or block the seats reserved for disabled, elderly and pregnant riders.
"I try to stay out of the way because it's generally crowded as it is," he said. "We have multiple strollers, but if I'm coming out on public transit then I'm going to be using a small one. I certainly pay more attention now that I'm a parent."
But not every parent does, which is why the CTA has launched a campaign to raise awareness about stroller etiquette and its priority seating rules. Bus drivers received training on the CTA's decade-old stroller policy and started passing out informational fliers to riders earlier this month. The CTA posted signs in buses and trains that feature a bullet-point version of the policy underneath the heading, "Be Stroller Savvy!" The signs encourage the use of compact "umbrella strollers" and remind passengers that priority seating is reserved for disabled and elderly riders. The policy says strollers may be parked in that area when the seats are empty.
As a wheelchair user and regular CTA rider, Carrie Kaufman says increased awareness could go a long way. But she doesn't hold anything against riders with strollers.
"No one's trying to be rude," she said. "There's just a lack of space."
The more crowded trains become, the less patience riders have with anything competing for space. CTA ridership reached a 20-year high last year when it had more than 531 million boardings. That's a 27 percent jump from 1997, when ridership hit a low of 417 million. And it's still increasing, having grown 2.9 percent in the first 10 months of this year.
Passengers say trains and buses are often crowded when they're filled only with people. When passengers can't board because there isn't room, and they see a three-foot-wide twin stroller on board, the stroller can become the focus of their frustration.
A recent YouTube video captures what can happen when those frustrations come to a head. The clip shows an elderly woman with a cane yelling at a man who's pushing a stroller onto a bus while she's trying to get off.
Another online video shows a shouting match between a bus driver and a woman who was reluctant to move her stroller for a passenger in a wheelchair. She finally did when the driver threatened to call the police.
Tammy Chase, a CTA spokeswoman, says a growing number of complaints and stories about similar conflicts provided the impetus for the "stroller savvy" campaign. She says the CTA doesn't have a set timetable for it, adding that it would likely last for the "foreseeable future."
Although some mom bloggers complain about the CTA policy — writing that drivers have refused to let them on when they're seen with a stroller — other moms accept it as part of city life.
With two children under 3, Leasa Navarro says she tries to be considerate of other passengers. She just wants them to show the same respect toward her when she's stepping on board.
"Sometimes folding my stroller isn't an option when I have both of my kids, unless someone helps me," she said. "I wish people were more aware on both sides."
Gary Arnold, a spokesman for the disability rights group Access Living, says he is encouraged by the awareness campaign. He appreciates every time the CTA makes an effort to remind riders of its priority seating rules and helps minimize potential conflicts between passengers.
"I don't know if it's logistically possible to create more room for riders," he said. "Until that time comes, we all need to do our part to share the ride and to accommodate each other."
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