Get On The Bus! Public Transit For Families On The Move

Four kids getting on a public bus heading downtown: "Get on the Bus! Navigating Public Transit with Kids"

Various events throughout the year offer free Metro Transit passes to get to and from the event — St. Patrick’s Day, the August art fairs, the State Fair, several metro festivals and sporting events — just to name a few. This is a fun way to add a little extra adventure to a day out.

Because the Twin Cities has a pretty good public transit system, it is actually my preferred mode of transportation. When it is not completely inconvenient, I would rather leave my own cars at home and let someone else deal with the driving and parking details.

How do I do that with four kids?

Mostly, by the seat of my pants.

But if its going to be all day or involve meal time, it’s a good idea to have a plan.

Fares For Your Public Transit Day Trip

Free downloads are nice, but if you need to pay for your pass, fares are pretty reasonable if you travel weekends or between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays (off-peak hours). When possible, we advise traveling with kids during these down times, both for the lower fares and to avoid the possibility of a crowded bus.

I have a work-subsidized go-card for myself and keep a couple extra stored value cards loaded and on hand, so we’re not digging for change.

Metro Transit Fares

As of the summer of 2022, off-peak fares have remained the same for several years:

  • Children can ride free until the age of five.
  • Kids ages 6-12 are $1.00 during off-peak hours.
  • Adults are $2.00 for off-peak hours.

Remember, if you’ll be out for more than 2 1/2 hours, you’ll need to pay the same fare for your return ride.

Discounted Rides

  1. TAP: If you qualify for assistance programs, you qualify for reduced fare Transit Assistance Program (TAP) cards: $1.00 fare.
  2. Metro Transit now offers a 6-hour pass. Ride all day for one low price.  On weekends, adults are $4, Kids 6-12 are $2. (Weekdays $4.50/adult; $3.50/kids ages 6-12).

Trip Planning

Next, Plan Your Trip here. Put in your start address or bus stop and your destination; Metro Transit will give you your route options. Google Maps can do this for you, too, but Google is not always aware of re-routes. Because I do ride often, I keep my favorite stops bookmarked on my phone so I can always see when the next bus is coming. You can also download the app.

What Happens If We Miss Our Bus?

I like to have Uber or Lyft bookmarked on my phone just in case. If your kids are bigger, Nice Ride bicycles may be an option if the bus falls through. For the record, this has never happened on a bus trip for us, however, we have been stranded more than once when our car broke down. These same tactics work for those instances. We call unexpected breakdowns “adventures,” and no matter how stressed we might be, we try to keep it fun for the kids.

Packing For A Day Out

If you plan to be out all day, you will want to pack a good bag. Depending on the age of your kids, I found several good day-trip packing lists online. I think the essentials, no matter what the age are:

Our Day-Trip Backpack for Public Transit Outings
Our Day-Trip Backpack
  • Bus passes and/or correct change
  • Snacks
  • Picnic lunch or a meal plan
  • Appropriate clothing (diapers, sweaters, hats, rain ponchos?)
  • Baby wipes and hand sanitizer for quick clean ups
  • Camera (we always seem to forget this)
  • Charged cell phones (charged being the key word)
  • Lovey, bottle, binky, bear … (whatever favorite toys your child can’t live without when they get tired or overwhelmed)
  • Sun protection and bug spray as needed.
  • First Aid Kit (Good parents would probably do this. I might toss in some bandages because they don’t weigh much)

Strollers & Baby Carriers on Public Transit Systems

Think space-efficient here. Strollers are allowed on the bus, but they have to be folded while you ride so they are not blocking the aisles or exits. For this reason, we have found it easier to bring an umbrella stroller or two, but plenty of people ride with folding double strollers. Even a bigger style stroller usually fit folded under the side-facing seats at the front of the bus or you can sit all the way to the back and slide it behind the back side-facing seats. Also, if it is not busy and no one needs the wheelchair seats, the bus driver may let you keep your kids in the stroller and sit in the front.

The Best Way to Travel with Babies on the Bus

Babies may ride best in kangaroo-type carriers. This keeps them snuggled in close and will help them feel safer in a new experience. A car seat is unnecessary on buses and would just weigh you down during your fun day out.

6 Benefits of Traveling by Bus or Train With Kids

  1. Less hassle. No traffic or parking headaches.
  2. It is an adventure. This is a big reason to just do it. Kids will have so much fun exploring their community.
  3. Increased physical activity. Walking to and from the bus stop adds a little exercise to your day.
  4. Social Development. Public transportation allows kids a chance to interact with other people and work on social skills in a way that feels safe because parents are right there.
  5. It Can Be an Educational Experience. Apparently riding the bus supports positive cognitive development in children because it provides more interaction than the backseat of a car.
  6. Public Transit is safer than driving a private automobile. Passenger vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of death in children in the United States. Bus and rail travel is significantly safer.

The Downsides of A Day Trip by Bus or Train

There are downsides to consider when doing an outing by public transit.

  1. Less Flexibility. To begin with, you can’t just pull a tantrum-throwing child into your car and go home. You’ll have to wait for, and then ride on, a public bus. If you are just out for fun, give yourself a buffer and start home before your kids hit their wall.
  2. Emergencies could happen. Bring a phone. This is what 911 and ambulances are for. Also, see the paragraph about planning your trip and have some backup plans ready on your phone. I have an Uber app ready to go.
  3. Clueless People. While we love the increased social awareness that comes with interaction, there have been a couple of occasions when I’ve seen parents shamed by strangers (or once the bus driver) for normal child behaviors – crying babies or vocal toddlers. This is rare and the issue was with the complainer, not the parent or child. Yes strangers can be jerks. But, they can also occasionally be uncomfortably friendly. Sometimes you just have to roll your eyes and think, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

With all of that said, the vast majority of bus rides, even with a downtown bus change at night, are uneventful. Sometimes we even have nice conversations with interesting people.

With just a little pre-planning, the Twin Cities’ public transportation system can make a fun day out a little less stressful.  Give it a try and tell us how it goes for you.

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