That day in August, Geneva Walker recalls, was “as hot as Hades.” And as a Metro bus that she wasn’t allowed to board drove away, leaving her standing on a Georgetown street with her 3-month-old son, Liam, she felt her eyes fill with tears.
Moments earlier she’d been excited. For a new mother who often feels alone, it was a rare day when she was going out to lunch with a friend — an adult.
But Liam screams in cars. “It’s a high-pitched scream accompanied sometimes with vomiting,” said Walker, 40.
“When it’s someone else’s baby, it’s just annoying,” she said. “But I’ve found there’s a direct correlation, when it’s my baby, between the crying and my blood pressure.”
So taking a Lyft wasn’t an option, and neither, as it would turn out, was a Metrobus.
For now, Metro allows strollers on buses, but they must be folded while on board.
Liam, though, can’t sit up yet, and so he lies in a bassinet stroller — “which is like a long bed that doesn’t collapse, and sits in a stroller frame, and doesn’t fold,” Walker said.
So when the 38B bus came, the driver wouldn’t let her and Liam on, leaving them to bake on the street.
Metro could someday join the DC Circulator and transit agencies in some other cities in allowing open strollers on buses.
As recently as last December, Metro said in response to a petition drive to allow open strollers that it was not considering a change. The agency told Fox 5 that unfolded strollers would “block the aisle, posing a safety/tripping hazard and delaying the boarding/alighting process.”
But in an email this week, Metro spokesman Ron Holzer confirmed “internally, there has been some preliminary discussion around whether it may be possible to relax this policy in the future due to recent improvements in bus design.”
Also driving a possible change is Metro’s attempt to reverse a sharp, 20 percent drop in bus and train ridership since around 2015. An internal Metro staff report in May laying out options for increasing ridership said allowing strollers, as Chicago, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and Houston have done, would be “customer-friendly" and would cost the agency nothing. And it would encourage families to ride more often.
Metro watchdog @MetroReasons also noted on Twitter that the agency in September asked customers in one of its online surveys how they’d feel about allowing the strollers.
Some riders will balk at the idea of letting open strollers on buses, especially when riders on crowded rush-hour buses are already pressed against each other.
Walker said she gets that. She wasn’t always a mom. But, she said, transit agencies have rightly decided to make room for wheelchairs. And she thinks it’s about time Metro did more to help families by easing its stroller policy.
Since that August day, Walker has learned that she can take the DC Circulator to some places, but not to nearly as many as on Metrobuses, nor quickly enough to fit in her baby’s nap schedule. For her, the issue isn’t about ridership numbers, but about making it easier for new moms to get around and to not feel as isolated.
Walker laughs now, a little embarrassed at having stood on a corner fighting back tears.
When she was 17, she traveled alone around India. She doesn’t cry easily at having to figure out how to get around.
But she’s from Colorado, and her husband is from Mexico, so they have no family around to help. On the weekdays when her husband is at work, her friends are also at work.
And even if they weren’t, “who wants to be around a screaming baby all day, or me talking about how the Metro isn’t family-friendly?" she said. "I know I wouldn’t.”
She hadn’t realized before becoming a mother all that’s involved in going out to lunch with a newborn. Planning to go to a restaurant means not only figuring out how to get there, but timing it just so, “so that you don’t arrive when the babies need to nap," she said. "Otherwise they will scream and make everyone sad.”
On that August day she’d planned all this out. But the bus came, and it drove away.
She looked at Liam and said, “That driver wasn’t nice." And then, she said, she took some deep breaths.
Read more DC Rider: