Unlicensed Mobility Print
Written by Jenni Person, BT Contributor   
July 2017

Why not teach your kids to use Miami’s public transit?

IPix_FamilyMatters_7-17n 2008 the writer Lenore Skenazy left her nine-year-old son at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan with the task of getting himself home to Queens using public transit across the city’s boroughs. This sparked a huge controversy when she shared it in a New York Sun column. The Mommy Wars devoured her.

I very clearly remember that I was ten years old, in fourth grade, when I started riding the New York City subway unaccompanied by an adult. I was always with friends at that age but we had free rein in our travels. Like Skenazy’s son -- but 30 years earlier -- Bloomingdale’s was also central, as my earliest experience of riding the rails with friends was to the iconic store at 59th and Lexington from the Brooklyn Heights Borough Hall station of the R train. I bought a chunky eyeliner pencil in gold (it was 1978).

So when my daughter, Goldi, pointed out to me how much better I had it growing up with that kind of access to mobility, I was struck by an enormous dose of empathy. She was right! So around that time, my partner decided to meet me at Aventura Mall with the kids by bus and show them the ropes, or at least the possibility. After all, fostering independence is one of our most important jobs as parents, is it not? And how bad could a bus straight up Biscayne Boulevard be?

It was pretty bad. They waited an inordinately long time for the irregularly timed bus to arrive, and then it took more than two hours to get from the 40s to the mall at 195th Street. I don’t want to whine too much about our decidedly inefficient buses in Miami, as my complaining about a rare occasion of using the bus, and by choice, is extremely First World, compared to all of the Miamians who have no choice but take it for hours daily to get to and from jobs.

Then one day while meeting with someone from Freebee, the company that runs no-fee (except for tip) small electric vehicles in South Beach, Key Biscayne, and the lower portion of the Biscayne Corridor, it suddenly occurred to me that Freebee might be the perfect option for Miami teens.

In large part, Freebee exists to avoid a lot of drunk driving. So I figured that if drunken adults can take Freebees between clubs, giggling teens can use it too. With little other agency over their own mobility until they drive at 16, my daughter and her friends can request a Freebee and get themselves around a bit.

With encouragement to walk to destinations in our neighborhood or to Freebee it a little further, our daughter developed a routine of gatherings with friends around these activities. I quickly ran into the problem of other parents. Given the long lead I give my kids, I simply can’t relate to a generation of helicopter parents who hold their kids so close to home, controlling their every move and doing everything for them. After all, fostering independence is one of our most important jobs as parents, isn’t it?

I’m not sure how those other kids are going to learn independence and responsibility, and that certainly infringes on us. When your kids’ peers are limited, your own efforts to ensure that she learns how to navigate the world around her become equally limited.

My 14-year-old daughter was born with a suitcase in her hand but has friends who still are not allowed to spend the night at their friends’ homes. One mom told me that she didn’t want her daughter walking with her group of friends from our home in Buena Vista to Midtown Miami. That’s ten blocks through a quiet residential neighborhood. She told me she didn’t think her daughter “knows how” to do that, so she was concerned. When she was finally persuaded by her daughter to allow it, my shocked daughter reported to me that the mom was right: this kid didn’t know to stop at every corner and several times friends had to jump in and hold her back from walking in front of oncoming traffic.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, my kid is spending her summer traipsing around Miami with the few friends who are allowed to traipse with her. And I’m so proud of them as they bring our city’s public (and private) transit to life -- and to their lives. They’re taking Freebees to Metromovers to trollies to buses, and ending up in Key Biscayne for a sleepover followed by a day of biking all over the Key.

What they’re learning is the power of locomotion and the responsibility that comes with it. They have to be prepared and always have their house keys, cash, phone chargers, and critical thinking skills. The one thing they still need to learn: sunscreen.


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