Living in the Northwest part of the city, we are very lucky to be within walking distance of not one, but two different SEPTA Regional Rail lines. We’re also within a stone’s throw of many bus routes, and I’m sure there are other public transportation options we don’t even know about.
This is amazingly convenient, and taking the train with kids is not just greener, it’s often simpler than loading up the car, dealing with traffic, and finding and paying for parking. My children still love taking the SEPTA train downtown.
But what about when those wide-eyed kids turn into tweens or teens who want to ride alone? Or (gasp) with friends? At what age do you say yes? Under what conditions?
Amazingly, SEPTA doesn’t have an unaccompanied minor policy. Children traveling without an adult must pay the full adult fare, but SEPTA offers no guidance as to minimum age for child riders. This puts the decision about when a child is ready solely in the hands of the family.
For parents, that’s a mixed bag. You know your child best, so you are able to match the freedom to ride without an adult to your child’s own readiness. But if your 12-year-old wants to ride downtown with friends, you can’t just point to SEPTA rules and say they’re not allowed. So do you say yes?
For many Philadelphia parents, having children jumping on and off the bus or train is a way of life. It’s their primary source of transportation, and they’ve ridden as a family since their children were small. Consequently, the age decision is not a “big decision” at all. My mother was riding public transportation in Philadelphia without an adult by the time she was in first grade.
For other parents, necessity leads the way. In order to get to school and activities, Philadelphia resident Jennifer Aldrich’s children ride SEPTA daily, starting in middle school. “Riding with friends by seventh grade is no problem, but since they take SEPTA to school, the novelty wears off. They’ve shown no interest in taking it anywhere else.”
In my family, we’re going on a case by case basis. My 14-year-old was allowed to take the R8 downtown at night to see a comedy show with friends shortly after he started high school, but that doesn’t mean that 14 is our “age of reason” for SEPTA riding. It will depend on the child in question, the company, the timing, and the destination.
One of the main reasons we moved from the suburbs to the city was the vision of our kids walking some places and taking public transportation to others. It’s been wonderful to have so much at or near our collective fingertips, but making “the call” as to when to let our kids use public transportation alone or with friends has been a bit more daunting in reality.
When are your children “of age” for SEPTA? How does your family decide when they’re ready?