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. Public transit is actually my preferred way to travel. If its not completely inconvenient, I would rather leave the driving and parking to someone else.
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 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. As of October 1, 2017, Children 5 and under are still free; 6-12 are $1.00 and adults are $2.00. If you’ll be out for more than 2 1/2 hours, you’ll need to double that for your return ride. I have a work-subsidized go-card for myself and keep a couple extra stored value cards on hand, so we’re not digging for change. If you qualify for assistance programs, you qualify for reduced fare TAP cards: $1.00 fare.
The Northstar also offers a reasonably-priced round-trip Family Pass.
Planning Your Route
Next, Plan Your Trip. Put in your start address and your destination and Metro Transit can give you your routes. Google Maps can do it for you, too, but Google is not always aware of re-routes. Because I do ride a lot, 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.
Other frequent bus riders also keep Uber or other car services bookmarked. If your kids are bigger, Nice Ride may be an option if the bus falls through. This has never happened on a bus trip for us. Interestingly, we have been stranded when our car broke down more than once. These same tactics work for those instances. We call these unexpected breakdowns “adventures,” and no matter how stressed we might be, we try to keep it fun for the kids.
Packing For Your Day Trip
If you plan to be out all day, make sure you 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:
- Bus passes and/or correct change
- 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 it is your child can’t live without when they get tired or overwhelmed)
- Sunscreen (I don’t personally use sunscreen, but most people do, so I included it on this list)
- First Aid Kit (Good parents would probably do this. I might toss in some bandages because they don’t weigh much)
Strollers are allowed on the bus, but they have to be folded while you ride. We have found it easier to bring two umbrella strollers, but plenty of people ride with double strollers. Strollers usually fit folded under the front side-facing or you can sit all the way to the back and slide it behind the back side-facing seats. Also, if its 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. This is against the rules for safety reasons, but plenty of people do it.
The Downsides of A Day Trip by Bus or Train
There are downsides to consider when doing an outing by public transportation.
- To begin with, you can’t just pull a tantruming 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.
- 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.
- 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 or vocal toddlers – but it is rare and the issue was with the complainer, not the parent or child.
- Did I mention strangers can be jerks? They can also occasionally be uncomfortably friendly. Most bus rides, even with a downtown bus change at night, are uneventful. Sometimes we have nice conversations with interesting people.