Back to school on transit (part 3); now that you’ve decided to let your kid use transit…

In the part one of this series, I discussed why I think kids should take public transit to school and I shared some of my own experiences as a parent. In part two I discussed some things to help you make the decision for you and your family.

So you’ve made it this far and you think that, maybe, you’re willing to let your kid give it a try. But, public transit is somewhat unfamiliar to you and to them.  Now what?

Learn the schedule and route:  If you don’t know, please go to our trip planner at or try Google Transit. You probably also want to get or print out a timetable for the lines involved – you can find them all on the Metro timetable page.

Everybody should carry a copy of the timetable and know how to read it. Make sure they know when the bus or train is supposed to come and that they should be there a bit early.  It may be late but it won’t wait for them. It also helps if everyone knows when the next bus or train will come if they miss it or it’s full.

Another great service is our Nextrip feature that provides real-time bus and rail arrival information.  You can access Nextrip at, by calling 511 and saying “Nextrip,” or on a smart phone by downloading and using the “Go Metro Los Angeles” app.  Speaking of apps, the Metro Mobile Resources page offers over 40 amazing web and mobile tools that use Metro bus and rail information in a variety of ways.

And make sure they know the route.  What are some milestones along the way? When will they know they’re almost at their destination? When should they ring the bell to let the bus operator know they want to exit at the next stop? How will they know if they’ve gone too far and what should they do then?

Fares:  If you’re child is going to ride Metro frequently, you should probably sign up for a reduced fare Student TAP car.  Student passes are $24/month for K-12. TAP cards can hold passes or cash to ride.  And with balance protection, a student can lose the card and the full balance will be replaced for a $5 card replacement fee.  Even if a K-12 student has nothing loaded on the card, the child will still be allowed to ride for the reduced fare by tapping the card on the farebox and inserting one dollar.  You can find out more about how to get a student pass here.

You can find out more about fares on the fare page on Metro’s website. Remember, there are no free or discounted transfers between Metro-operated services. If your kid transfers to another Metro bus or rail line, they have to pay again and a day pass may be a better option. It will be different if they are using another operator for some or all of their trip.

Cell phones and other electronics: Yes, they all are talking on the phone or listening to music or texting these days. And, I do think that it’s important that your kid have a way to get in touch with you or others while they’re traveling. That said, problems at stops and on the bus or train with school kids often involve a kid who is distracted by the electronics or because the electronics themselves create an attractive target. So, talk to your kid about limiting their use while traveling and keeping aware of what is going on around them. I know, I know. But, tell them anyway.

Behavior: Again, talk to your kid. You expect them to be polite and treat other people with respect and that’s no different when they’re riding transit or waiting at the stop.  So whether it’s another student riding with them, another transit rider, the bus operator or anyone, let them know your expectations.

Being safe while waiting: As I said in part two, those stops can be crowded when school gets out. Pushing and shoving close to the curb and train platform is obviously unsafe and your kid has to understand unacceptable behavior. We all know that teens are rambunctious and impulsive, especially in groups. Talk to them anyway – it’s your sacred duty to nag the obvious!

Riding safely and smartly:  Once they’ve boarded, they should take a seat. They should keep their backpacks and other equipment on their lap or at their feet. Do not put it on the seat next to them or in the aisle. If the bus or train is full, they should move back, away from the door to allow others to board and fill the vehicle. If they have to stand, make sure they have a handhold. They will also probably need to keep their things at their feet. Be considerate and make way for others needing to get on or off the bus or train. And, yes, that means learning to surrender their seat to someone who is elderly or disabled.

Kids also need to know there is no eating or drinking on Metro buses or trains. And to keep the noise down.

Note that number on the vehicle. All Metro buses are identified with a four-digit number that is painted in a few places on the outside and inside of the coach. Train cars also have identification numbers. Why should your kid note this?  Because, I promise, they will get off the bus one day without their backpack, lunch, iPod, cell phone, clarinet, sports gear, flash drive or textbook. Hopefully a friend will recover it for them. It may not turn up in our lost and found but the more information provided to Metro – and the sooner it’s provided – the better..

It also helps to have a back-up plan: Actually have some flexible plans. You’ll likely never need them all but having them will give you and your kid some peace of mind. If they have to get off the bus or train for any reason, where can they wait? Is there a convenient public library, Starbucks, friend’s house or somewhere else along the line?  Who can they call? You’re far away at work but is there a friend or relative that’s closer?  Do they have those numbers programmed in to their phone?

Do a test run:  I actually did this with both of my kids before they began riding transit solo. We walked to the bus stop and waited. We talked about being safe at the stop, how to wave to the bus as it approached and what to look for on the head sign on the bus. Then we rode to school talking more about safe and polite behavior on the bus, the number on the vehicle, and things to look for along the way before ringing the bell to get off the bus.  Then we walked from the bus to their school, walked around school a bit, walked back to the bus stop for the return trip, having the same discussion along the way.

All this said, the very worst thing that ever happened while my kids were riding transit was they got stuck in traffic on the bus. Hey, it’s LA. It happens. And, that’s why we stay in touch.

I wish you and your children the best of luck and success in the 2010-11 school year and beyond. And, happy traveling into the future.

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