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Taxis, carseats, and transit… oh my!

It’s another day as a car-free mother of a toddler and I’m standing on the corner with Zella Rose in her sling and a huge, toddler carseat at my side. I called a taxi but it never came. So, I’ve dragged the carseat, the baby, and all the baby’s stuff to the corner. Empty taxis are swooshing by me. Some slow down, but none of them stop.

I often run into this one neighbor while waiting for a bus or taxi on this particular corner. He is an attractive black man in his mid-30s. When I was pregnant, he once rushed out to hold an umbrella over my head in the rain. Today, he is standing on the concrete that serves as the apartment building’s front yard, and offering commentary, “You’ve heard, I suppose, of how hard it can be for a black man to catch a cab,” he says and I smile knowingly. I step further into the street, waving harder. Two more empty taxis keep on driving. “Well, I guess it’s worse being a woman with a baby,” he continues. We both laugh. He tries his luck in the street waving down taxis for me. No luck. I feel like together we set the scene for some sort of bad joke. (“Have you heard the one about the black guy, the mama, and the baby trying to catch a cab?”)

We’re still laughing when a taxi finally stops.

It takes me five full minutes to get the carseat into the taxi and still it doesn’t seem secure. And then we’re off, a full hour and twenty minutes later than I’d hoped.

I like the expert’s opinion on these things, so I ask the taxi driver why no one else would stop for me. “It’s the baby,” he says. “They probably didn’t see the car seat. You gotta’ have one. The law, you know,” he says and puts his cell phone up to his ear to answer a call.

I didn’t actually know and, well, it didn’t seem quite right. I know lots of people who take their babies in taxis without carseats, like everyone in New York City just for starters. Later that night, I got on the computer and started trying to figure out this quandary: if you are legally required to use a carseat in a taxi how come I know so many people who don’t?

Well, the taxi driver was right. My friends in New York who “Always take cabs without carseats, I’m sure it’s fine,” are also right. In most states, such as in New York, children aren’t required to be in carseats while in taxis as well as other forms of public transit. This was also true for Illinois, until 2004, when the state passed the Booster Law. I still can’t figure out all of the details of this law, but I read page after page of legalese, before giving in and calling a Chicago cop. (I love 3-1-1, the city’s information line.)

The cop confirmed that children do have to be restrained while riding in a taxi in Illinois. Indeed, he explained, that a taxi driver can be fined and lose his license if he is caught carrying a child as a passenger without an appropriate carseat.

Now, I find this incredibly irritating. I don’t mind the state telling me I have to put my kid in a carseat in my car, but when using public transit, this just seems wrong. And, yes, I am lumping taxis in with public transit! This is because I am far more likely to take my child on the bus somewhere if I know that we can take a taxi if we have to. Come on, we’ve all had transit horror stories, and what makes them great stories and not just horrible, is that you have a way out. Imagine being trapped for hours on a broken down train where you can get off the train but your choices are to either walk 10 miles back home with your crying baby or break the law and get in a taxi without the carseat. Not to mention, it doesn’t seem like the taxi driver should be help accountable, but rather the parent.

Do other people get this upset about these kinds of laws?

We all have stories about what our parents did. My friend just told me how her parents used to put them to bed in their sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon and then LEAVE them sleeping outside until, early in the morning, the parents would sneak into the car and drive them to their grandparents in Indiana.

What are our stories? How does our generation balance the laws, demands of parenting, and the desire to be either car-free or less dependent on personal car ownership?

Should young children be required to be in carseats in taxis? Should they wear seatbelts while on a school bus? Does it upset you that you can go without a carseat in a taxi in New York or Minneapolis, but not in Chicago? What do you do when you leave the house intending to ride public transit? Do you take a just-in-case carseat? Have you ever found it nearly impossible to get a taxi to stop with you and your baby? Share your stories!

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