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How Young’s Too Young for Public Transit Solo?

A TransLink bus (Photo by Arnold C.)

Vancouver blogger and father of five Adrian Cook has been ordered not to allow his children to take the bus by themselves — a ruling that could have implications for the future of family-friendly cities.

Cook, who writes about parenting and urbanism on his blog 5 Kids 1 Condo, has been car-free for two years. His four oldest children (ages 11, 9, 8 and 7) used to take the city bus to school, a daily routine for which Cook trained them excessively, according to his blog.

“I’ve happily invested countless hours riding the bus with them, coaching them and answering their questions to ensure they’re capable transit riders,” he writes. “I’ve done this not because I’m too lazy to drive them or too cheap to own a car (we’ve been car-free for two years now), but because I aim to raise capable, independent humans who prioritize sustainability and safety above the perceived convenience of cars.”

This year, however, he’ll be riding the bus with them at the command of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (Canada’s version of Child Protective Services). The ministry has ruled that children under 10 can’t be unsupervised “in the community, at home, or on transit” according to the Globe and Mail.

“MCFD (or ‘the Ministry,’ as they’re more imposingly known) received an anonymous report from someone concerned about my kids taking the bus on their own,” Cook wrote. “As a result, they launched an investigation that included visiting my home and interviewing me and all the children — separately — to assess the situation.”

Cook actually looked into the minimum age that children are allowed to ride the bus in 2015, and his regional transit operator, TransLink, informed him that there was no minimum age — it was up to the parent.

Brent Toderian, an urbanism consultant and former chief planner for the city of Vancouver, told the paper that the public policy implications of the ruling were significant.

“We have transportation problems in cities that connect to our irrational fears of letting our kids walk, bike and take transit to school. It’s surprising how much of our traffic in peak hours is related to parents thinking they have no other option but to drive kids to school,” he said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Ministry said the department examines all reports concerning children’s safety. Cook says he hopes to challenge the order.