Transportation is vitally important to parents and other caregivers. It’s no good to have awesome child care and a fabulous job if you can’t get there. Make the best decision by evaluating your lifestyle, budget, and preferences. Consider these questions when planning your transportation strategy:
- Where do you go and at what time(s)?
- Do you make frequent short trips, or organize errands and do them all in one or two days a week?
- What safety features are most important to you?
- What other expenses do you have, and which ones are non-negotiable?
- Do you need the financial flexibility to switch to another form of transportation if circumstances change?
The answers to these questions will help determine what type of transportation will work best for you. The next step is to get as much information as you can about the available options.
Exercise Your Right to Be Here
Consider walking or biking if your job, child care, and essential services are close to you, and if weather and traffic density make it a realistic option. If walking isn’t feasible as a primary mode of transportation, consider it as an alternative for errands and recreational outings. Telecommute if you can, and look for job and educational opportunities to telecommute.
If your child still uses a stroller, one that’s designed especially for walking, running, or biking will help tremendously. These can be pricey, though, so shop carefully. Strollers.com has a wide selection of strollers. Browse the site to find the style of stroller best for you, and then search for one that’s gently used on Craigslist or eBay. If you are part of a parents’ group, consider asking other members if you can buy or borrow a stroller from them. For babies and younger toddlers, strap-on baby carriers such as the Baby Bjorn are convenient and much easier to deal with than a stroller. They can be found on many online websites and in almost all baby stores. While some can be pricey, you can easily find a quality used carrier for a very reasonable price.
Go with the Masses
Buses, subways, and other forms of mass transit eliminate the stress of driving in traffic and free up time you can use to work, sleep, or mentally prepare for your day. The American Public Transportation Association (http://www.apta.com) has a listing of local transit authorities and departments of transportation that you can contact for schedules, costs, and availability in your area. Be sure to look into local community resources such as religious congregations and charities that may offer discounted (or even free) public transportation passes.
Share the Ride
If you are concerned about rising fuel and parking costs or about pollution, carpooling and ridesharing might be a good choice. Websites such as eRideshare.com, AlterNetRides.com, and RideSearch.com give loads of tips on everything from finding a good carpooling match to safety guidelines for traveling with car mates. For occasional car needs, many urban areas have car-share programs (www.carsharing.net).
Owning or Leasing a Vehicle
Before investing in a car, make sure you understand how the buying and leasing processes work, then crunch the numbers to see how much it will cost you. Refer to Lease.com to help you fully understand how leasing and financing work.
Think outside the box during your search for a vehicle. In addition to classified ads, car dealerships, credit unions, charities, pregnancy resource centers, religious congregations, and related organizations sometimes have cars to sell or donate. Check your employer’s online bulletin board. Contact car rental agencies for deals on used cars. Scour the paper for local auctions. You could consider an agreement with another parent to jointly purchase a car and share it. If using an online source (e.g., www.cars.com) to search for a car, consider broadening your geographic area. You are likely to get more to choose from, and a good deal on a car can be worth a 25-mile drive. Don’t forget to ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for referrals and ideas.
Regarding cost, it’s important to consider expenses for insurance, maintenance, fuel, and repairs. Edmunds.com offers “True Cost to Own®” (TCO), a tool that lets you calculate real ownership costs for specific makes and models. The website also features some easy-to-understand analysis and comparison of the costs involved for buying a new car, leasing a car, or buying a used car. Over a five-year period, buying a used car is the most cost-effective choice, followed by buying a new car. A new vehicle loses some of its resale value immediately. The Kelley Blue Book (http://www.kbb.com) and the NADA Official Used Car Guide (http://www.nada.com) are helpful in determining used-car prices. Leasing is the most expensive option, because of the lower value of the car at the end of the lease.
Baby on Board
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that three of every four car seats are installed improperly. Federal and state laws require a car seat that is installed properly and fits your child. The NHTSA website (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) has a wealth of information about car-seat safety. It provides guidelines for the type of seat needed for your child’s age and size, as well as instructional videos discussing LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). LATCH is a child-restraint system that eliminates the need to use seatbelts to install a car seat. The majority of car seats and vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system. The NHTSA website also provides a tool that shows local agencies, based on your ZIP code, that will inspect your car seat and assist you if you need help installing it. If you can’t afford to buy a car seat, contact local hospitals, birthing centers, fire stations, or your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. They may provide a free car seat or help defray the cost for a new one. Your local branch of Easter Seals (http://www.easterseals.com) may be able to assist with a car seat if you have a child with a disability.
The Long Haul
When traveling longer distances to visit family and friends, it becomes necessary to look into buses, trains, and airplanes. In these cases, plan ahead as much as possible. Cheap travel prices (especially bus and train tickets) can often be found by simply purchasing far in advance of your trip. Another easy way to avoid spiked travel prices is to plan visits during “off” times of the year. Travel between holidays if possible—or leave early and return later than the masses.
If you must fly somewhere, use sites such as Priceline or Expedia to look at multiple different airline prices at once. You can also reach out to friends and family who may have frequent flyer or Amtrak miles (as well as hotel points) they are willing to share. Most major cities have bike rentals including tandem attachments and trailers, but be sure to have a helmet! Amtrak allows bikes on board. Check with Amtrak.com If you are traveling to care for an ill child. Some hospitals can help with airfare and provide accommodations such as a Ronald McDonald House. The Southwest Airlines Medical Transportation Grant Program provides complimentary, round-trip tickets to nonprofit hospitals and medical transportation organizations (link provided under “resources”).
Hit The Road
Sometimes, the prices to travel long distances are just too outrageous. With new technology, however, it is easy to remain in touch with family and friends through video-chatting applications such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or Face Time (on Apple devices). Still, finding and obtaining transportation will always be necessary to support a lifestyle that includes children, and it can be done with a little perseverance and creativity.
Updated by Caroline Zody. Original article by Chandra White-Cummings in the 2009/10 issue of
The American Feminist, “Raising Kids on a Shoestring” published by Feminists for Life of America.
Alternate Rides, http://www.alternetrides.com
The American Public Transportation Association, http://www.apta.com
Car Sharing, http://www.carsharing.net
Kelley Blue Book, http://www.kbb.com
Lease Guide, http://www.leaseguide.com
NADA Guides, http://www.nadaguides.com
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, http://www.nhtsa.gov
Ride Search, http://www.ridesearch.com
Southwest Airlines Medical Transportation Grant Program, https://www.southwest.com/html/southwest-difference/community-involvement/charities/medical_transportation.html#charities
What You Can Do
- If possible, set up a carpool with your co-workers to get to and from work. This is especially helpful in large cities where the commute to work can take hours each way. You can also set up a carpool schedule for your children to get them to and from school, music or dance lessons, practice, etc.
- Unless you are passing down a car seat or stroller to a younger child, donate these items for another parent in need.