Kids Riding the Bus
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Kids Riding the Bus
We are considering having our 5th Grade son ride BART from El Cerrito plaza, connect
to the 51B from Center/Shattuck and end up at his ballet class at Julia Morgan
(College and Derby). Both lines run very frequently and there would be no
intersections to cross. My biggest concern is during the winter months he would be
arriving after dark around 5:45.
The latest posts on kids on AC transit were all very positive, but from over 12
Hoping some of you might have recent experiences you would be willing share.
My daughter started riding the 51B line in fifth grade (she just started 6th
grade). I feel it is safe. She probably sees and hear things that I would
prefer she would not, but at the same time it prepares her to be part of the
larger world in a safe environment. I always tell her that the number one rule
is to remember that no ''normal'' and well intentioned grownup would ever ask
ANYTHING of a child that he/she does not know. So no directions, no help with
puppies, nothing at all. If they need help, they should ask another grownup.
Also, to go to the driver if she feels unsafe. I think overall it teaches her
great lessons in independence. She does carry a cell phone.
My son started taking AC Transit and BART last year (age 11/6th grade); he
takes the 51B from 3rd Street to the Rockridge BART station and then takes BART
to Orinda to see his grandmother. He also takes public transportation from
school (walks 10 blocks to the Rockridge BART station and catches the 51B to
our apartment). The one thing that has kept me sane is the CELL PHONE! He calls
me when he leaves school, then when he reaches the bus stop, and then when he
gets home. I think your son would be safe on BART and catching the 51B at
Center and Shattuck and then getting off at the Julia Morgan Theatre. There are
so many people around--safety in numbers.
If you haven't already, practice with him at least twice (first you show him
everything and second you stand next to him as he makes all the decisions) and
then have him do it on his own, with you on phone stand-by. Be sure to point
out landmarks (e.g., after you pass the Underhill Playing field on College
Avenue, you only have 2 (3?) more stops before you get off). My son is kind of
spacey, and the second time he took a round-trip bus alone, he forgot to go
across the street from where he got off, and he didn't double check the bus
number and got on the wrong bus. Trust me, we had gone over these important
nuances several times! He called me, and I had him walk up to the bus driver
and explain the situation. The driver stopped and showed him where to catch the
bus back. We were talking on the phone the whole time, and I went and picked
him up where he was dropped off (in a not so nice area of Oakland). Needless to
say, he's never made those mistakes again! Sometimes there are crazy people on
the bus who talk to him, but now he knows not to sit next to people wearing pjs
and mismatching slippers or super messy hair or who smell! (Try to sit next to
a female college student, is my advice.)
Yay for AC Transit and BART!
My daughter took BART and AC transit in late middle school. In my opinion 5th
grade is too young. But that is my opinion. Things work well until they don't,
and if you son does this on a regular basis, he is likely to be noticed. I do
not think daylight or darkness makes a difference if someone targets a child
My advice would be to post a notice at BBT and talk to the teachers and look
for a ride from another parent. My daughter took class at BBT from preschool
thru middle school and we were almost always able to find a car pool option.
The teachers have the lists of where the students live. It may be he gets a
ride from a girl's parent, but that is better than waiting on a corner in the
rain after ballet during the winter. The kids are often very sweaty after their
classes and that is not a good thing either.
It might be good to have BART /AC as a back up, but make an effort to connect
with another parent. You can offer some gas money as taking public transport
costs money too.
Former BBT Mom
Our son attends high school which is a 10 minute walk from BART (our home is 10
minute walk to BART.) One of us thinks that we should drive our son to school to
help him be there on time. The other person thinks that encouraging him to get
himself to school is a good way to teach responsibility. I'm guessing it's six of
one and half a dozen of the other, but I would be interested in hearing pros and
cons from the community.
Parent of high schooler
If your only concerns are responsibility vs. making sure he's at school on
time, absolutely have him take BART. Do you want him to learn to be
responsible now, or later on, when he's away at college, getting his first
job, etc.? The stakes only get higher. It is our job as parents to step back
and let our kids take responsibility for their own lives.
This reminded me of the fact that when I was in first grade in San Francisco,
my mother let me walk to the school bus stop unsupervised each morning. I
picked up my friend from next door (same age, probably 6) and we walked the
block and a half together. We also walked home on our own. I am 46, so this is
not ancient history.
My daughter (now 22) had to take a street car to her SF public high school,
and that's always iffy because they're often not on time. Then her school
moved, and she had to take two buses. A good lesson on getting out the door
with enough margin to make it to school on time.
prepare them to leave the nest one day
I am also driving my daughter to high school. It takes us 10 minutes to drive
and it would take her 30-40 to get there any other way. I regret that she
isn't getting the added independence experience of getting to school on her
own (as I certainly did in high school) but the fact is that her getting to
sleep a half an hour longer is just more important to me, and to her
performance in school. She has always needed a lot of sleep to function well,
and i just think this is more important. She does have to get home on her own
Values teen's sleep
In my opinion a high school student is old enough to be in charge of getting
himself to school on time and to bear the consequences of being late. Of
course every teenager is different but I think this deprives your young person
of learning to take care of himself, which is crucial at this age. You are
doing him no favors by making sure he gets to school on time, that should be
on him, not on you.
You are in a perfect position to let your child take responsibility for
getting to and from school -- a 10 minute walk from BART on both ends of the
commute is very manageable. In high school, it's appropriate for a student to
be responsible in this way. It takes you out of the equation and puts it all
on him. If he gets there late a few times, then he'll learn what he needs to
do to get there on time.
In a few years, he'll be in college and will need to manage a much more
complex schedule on his own. Now is the time to help him learn how to do some
things on his own.
For our family, it's a trade-off between wanting our son to be on time,
wanting him to be responsible, not wanting to do a lot of nagging in the
morning, and not wanting to spend the time to drive him. We balance these
competing desires by (a) making sure he gets up 15 minutes earlier than would
be strictly necessary (this helps two ways, by improving his chances of being
on time and reducing the need to nag him to speed up), by (b) nagging only a
small amount (this helps keep everyone's mood better, and gives him a chance
to prove he can get ready on his own), (c) being willing to drive
intermittently without making a big production of it when it happens (this
helps keep him on time, and not doing it too often keeps it from become
expected or the default way of getting to school), and (d) being willing to
say ''no'' to driving every once in a while even if it means he will be late
(this keeps him from using our desire to have him be on time as a trump card
to override our other desires.
So far this school year, I'd say we average driving him one day in 5, he
hasn't been late yet, there have been no fights/arguments in the morning
caused by nagging, and I haven't had any great frustration over either having
to nag or having to drive. So the balancing act seems to work for us.
The short version: It's not all-or-nothing. Find the balance that works for
Why not try both? I give my son a ride on days my work schedule allows, and
he either rides with a friend, bikes, or takes the bus on other days. See
what works best for you!
Please for the love a god (even though I am an atheist) let him take public
transportation. I'm begging you here. I'm actually on my knees right now.
Please DON'T drive him.
High school is plenty old enough to be responsible for getting oneself to and
from school. Our daughter started to take herself to school on transit in the
5th grade; I was in 2nd grade when I had to do the same. Perhaps your son can
ride his bike to/from BART; that could halve the time that would otherwise be
spent walking. In any event, this is a small step in learning to take
responsibility for oneself.
Preparing her chick to fly
Well, it would be a shame for it to turn into a big thing with your spouse. I
think your child should walk, but you could compromise and drive him 2 to 3
days a week and let him walk the other days. I think many of us do too much
for our children already. Let your kid be late and suffer the consequences
now rather than at college or for the first job!
How is your son ever going to get himself to work/college/whatever on time if
he doesn't start learning how?! As long as the walking route on both ends of
the BART ride are safe, I vote for starting now.
- Cutting the Apron String
Our son started elementary school at Washington in
Berkeley today. The school is a bit of a trek and we have
another child who needs to be dropped off at preschool a
ways a way. I am contemplating putting him on the school
bus. I always thought 5 was too young but after trying to
do the drop off and pick up today and parking blocks away
and lugging my 3 year old in tow I think I may revisit the
idea. I would love to hear any experiences good or bad
you have had with the BUSD bus system. Are the little
guys taken care of well enough to get them from the bus
and to class and vice versa? My biggest fear is them not
putting him on the right bus (or a bus) and getting him
back to our home. Do the buses service multiple schools
at the same time? or do they just drop off and pick up at
I am right there with you-- my daughter is 5 and just
started at Washington, too. The whole system is very
confusing. I ended up meeting the bus driver directly, to
check in with her and have my daughter meet her b/c I wasn't
getting anywhere with the Transportation Dept. The driver's
name (I believe) is Cecilia, and she is very nice-- she is
the regular bus driver, and on all days but Wed (when the
whole school lets out at 1:30p), she drives a small yellow
van that doesn't feel too intimidating. I brought my
daughter up on the van to show her around, to meet Cecilia,
and to let the driver know my daughter would start taking
the bus only after school starting the day after Labor Day.
My daughter seemed fairly excited about it. I would love
for my daughter to take the bus in the morning, but our stop
is the first stop, so she would literally be on the bus for
1 hr b/c our pick-up time is 7:18a. SO, we declined the AM
pick-up and are hoping we can find a family to carpool with.
(any chance you live in North Berkeley? We are by the Rose
I was in your shoes a couple years ago when my daughter
started kindergarten... she was the one who really wanted to
take the bus and I was apprehensive. So glad I let go and
let her do it because it was such a wonderful experience and
really one of the highlights of her first year at elementary
The kindergartners get out earlier than the bigger kids, so
the bus she took was just kindergartners. It was so nice
because she sat with a group of kids who live in our
neighborhood and they all had fun together on the ride home
(she only took the bus home from school).
The bus drivers I've met have been wonderful. Very caring
and sweet with the little kids....
Both of my kids have always ridden the WA bus home from
school, and if there was a later pick up time in our
neighborhood I'd have them take it to school as well. The K
kids get out early so they have their own bus. I get a bit
sentimental when I think back to the days of meeting the K
bus as the spirits within it were always riding high. When K
kids ride on the larger bus, they sit in the seats up front
so that the bus driver can keep an eye on them. The bus
drivers don't tolerate kids getting out of their seats or
fighting, and if your kid is misbehaving they'll let you know.
Your kid needs to be on the driver's list, and be sure to
communicate the new plan to your K teacher the first day
this is supposed to happen. The teachers do a good job of
getting kids on the bus, but make sure your teacher has your
cell phone number. On that note be sure to have the BUSD
transportation department phone number (644-6182) in your
cell phone and carry your phone with you to the bus stop as
you might have to use it if the bus doesn't come. BUSD
usually answers calls or responds to messages left by
parents. They were helpful when I had to track down my kids
because a new driver missed my stop.
I want to heartily endorse having your Kindergartener take
the bus. The bus is totally safe, the driver keeps good
order on the bus, the kids enjoy it and it is extremely
convenient for parents. We live in the hills and attend
Berkeley Arts Magnet. My second grade daughter has taken the
bus since Kindergarten. Call the BUSD Transportation Office
to get the procedure and find out your bus stop and pickup
time if you did not get something in the mail.
In the morning you put your child on the bus at your stop.
If you are new, a parent can ride down in the bus with their
child to see how it all works. When the kids arrive at
school, an adult (teacher or driver) escorts the
Kindergarteners to their yard. Coming home, four days a week
Kindergarteners are on the bus without any older kids, since
they get out earlier all days except Wed. A teacher brings
the K kids to the bus once school lets out. You meet the bus
at your stop, since the young kids must have an adult meet
The driver and the bus for your route should stay the same,
unless there is a substitute driver, so you and your child
will become familiar with the driver and which bus. Two
tips: have your child know the name of his bus stop, and
program the number of the Transportation Office into your
cell phone and always bring your phone to the bus stop.
Sometimes the bus is late (happens more coming home than
going to school) so you can call and find out what is
The only downsides to the bus that I can think of are that
some pickup times in the morning are fairly early as the bus
winds around its route picking everyone up. Also, sometimes
the bus is randomly late, then you need a plan B for getting
your child to school or you end up waiting a long time for
you child to come home. This happens occasionally. You'll be
glad your child takes the bus.
When my son was a kindergartener at Cragmont, I was stuck
waiting at his stop one day for over two hours, worried out
of my mind. Got a hold of the bus department on the cell and
was told by the clerk there that for some reason, children
had needed to be transferred to another bus that day and my
son did not transfer as he was supposed to have. Therefore,
he was still on the original bus when it returned to the
yard and they were transporting him to the stop as we spoke
on the phone. Apparently, the driver told the kids what to
do, but did no follow up to make sure everyone was where
they were supposed to be. As my son was asleep when the
transfer occurred, my feeling was that a grown-up probably
should have been responsible for making sure each kid was
where he or she needed to be, not a five-year-old child.
However, the busing folks felt that their policies were
adequate and the driver did no wrong, so later I wrote a
letter to the school district, which was completely ignored,
as far as I can tell from the lack of response. When my son
was finally dropped off, the driver just let him off and
said not one word to me; just closed the doors and drove
away. Needless to say, I drove him myself from then on.
Hi. my son started K at BAM last year. I too thought 5 was too young but he was
dying to take the bus. a month or so into the year we let him take it. he loved it!
the walk to the stop, feeling like a big kid, the whole shebang. a teacher meets
them at the school and takes them to the kindergarten area and in the afternoon
walks them to the bus. he takes the school bus nearly always now. sometimes
he's mad when he sees me in the yard to pick him up!
My daughter's been riding the bus since she was 5, and
she's 10 now, and rides with her 8 year old sister and 5
year old brother. The buses are very well managed, and in
the afternoons the Kindergarteners have their own buses,
since the big kids get out later. Just make sure you put a
nametag (and school, and cross streets of your home address)
on your son's shirt the first few days of riding, so
everyone remembers who he is and where he's supposed to
go. Also tell his teacher, since he/she will be
responsible for putting him on the afternoon bus. The
buses don't seem rowdy at all; the drivers keep good
control. My kids really enjoy riding the bus!
Last year we were also against our 5-year old taking the
bus to school. He was at Oxford and we had 2 other kids to
schlep along and it was a pain. Plus he really really
wanted to take the bus so in, I think, November we let him
start riding the bus there and in March we started letting
him ride the bus home.
Not sure what Washington's policy is like but at Oxford a
teacher meets the bus and escorts the kids to the
playground. We never had a problem with him going there.
We did have a couple of issues with him coming home though:
1. He didn't take the bus every day, and one day when he
wasn't scheduled to be on the bus, the transportation
office called me to go out to get him. It was someone
else's child they were trying to give me and they didn't
know who he was. (Luckily I did.)
2. The bus schedule was erratic. The earliest the bus ever
got there was 1:28; the latest was after 2. So you do some
waiting around which isn't fun when it is raining.
3. Once they forgot to put him on the bus home and no one
at the school could tell me where he was. I can still
taste the panic.
So I was pretty pleased with him taking the bus there but
not so much with him taking it home.
To get him used to it, we rode with our son the first few
times, then one of us drove up to meet the bus, then we
just let him do it.
My 5 yo is beginning bus service too. I have gathered lots of info on the subject
and for us, I think the bus is the way to go. The drivers are AWESOME--I have
met 3 of them. They are friendly, helpful, great with the kids and try to make the
ride fun and safe. The kids love the ride--seeing their friends, big yellow bus,
etc. By every possible metric, bus is the SAFEST way for a child to arrive at
school--this surprised me. Kindergarteners are escorted to and from bus by an
adult and released to the parent/guardian at dropoff. They are very protective of
the kindergarteners. I think they only drive one school's kids at a time.
Kindergarteners sit at the front near the driver and seem well cared for (I rode
the bus 3 times). On the ''cons'' side, the ride is longer than if you drove your
child. Although, I've been told he ride may be longer the first few weeks of
school as they figure out the route, and may get shorter as they eliminate stops
of families not using the bus.
no longer worried
My developmentally delayed 5yo rode the BUSD bus every day
of kindergarten. The system was just fine, no problems all
year. It was actually a very nice time for him to transition
I reviewed the discussion in UC Parents Advice about kids walking
about on their own, crossing the street etc. and there are some good
suggestions. What about when it is ok for kids to use AC Transit?
I'm interested in parents guidelines/ advice about waiting for the
bus, transfers, walking from the stop to home, how old were they, etc.
I have a girl. She is too young right now, but wants and will want
and deserve the freedom to travel through our community. I am trying
to figure out when this will be reasonably safe for her to do. I am
particularly concerned about middle school and her getting to Willard
from North Berkeley safely since there are no school busses that make
this run and Willard would be her designated school. Do 6th graders
walk up Telegraph and across campus to get home??? Do 6th graders
transfer busses in downtown Berkeley to get home?? What have you
In response to riding the bus to Willard. We are also in the Willard
district and live in North Berkeley within walking distance of King. (It's
of course a completely gerrymandered zone having nothing to do with
reality.) When my daughter entered 6th grade, no one from our area took the
bus to Willard. There are no direct AC Transit routes. No one transferred
downtown or walked down Telegraph. I think 10 is too young to ask kids to go
through those areas and stand around downtown by themselves every day. There
are carpools and you could probably contact Willard about that. (You could
also contact school board members about instituting a bus for your area,
since they have artificially created zones that force your child to go to a
school across town.) Now that's she's 12, she does take the bus around town,
and manages fine.
We let our son start to ride the but in the 8th grade. We had him take
the bus near his school and not go near downtown Berkeley or Telegraph.
I thought that 8th grade was an appropriate age but I know of several
parents who have their children ride the bus at much younger ages. For
us, 8th grade was just right. The summer entering high school he began
taking the bus to go to activities and to visit friends. It has worked
well so far and he has been responsible.
You have to gauge your own child's readiness for Willard and bus travel.
However, If Willard is cross town for you I would throw a fit about sending
your child down Telegraph to get there, and insist that she be able to go to
school in her neighborhood. If enough parents fought it, the community could
get this changed. My son learned to buy pot on the avenue within weeks of
starting Willard, because yes, Indeed, even with a bus pass, he preferred to
walk home with his friends and wanted to be cool of course, and it began a
trying period in his scholastic career to say the least. My son was a top
student in elementary school and it crashed a bunch in Jr. High. Willard may
have academic potential, but it offered more temptation than he was ready for.
My daughter (now a BHS sophmore) took the #64 bus to Willard almost daily
for two years without any incident. She was a 7th grader to start, however,
so your experience may be slightly different.
A week or so before the start of school we took the bus together (I had her
"lead the way" to the bus stop, etc. to make sure she knew where she was
going-please don't go with her during school if you want to remain on
speaking terms!). Get your child a monthly bus pass so she doesn't have to
carry a pile of exact change every day. There were a group of kids who took
the bus every day (some who transferred from the #8). The bus had the same
driver for several months in a row, and s/he got to know the kids. Many of
the other bus riders were on their way to Merritt. On the way home, she
could take the same bus or one that let her off downtown (she'd walk from
there, but other kids did transfer), along with a very large number of
other Willard students.
Since I knew the bus schedule, I'd know about when to expect her, and she
knew to call (or let me know in advance) if she wanted to go to a friend's
house or stop on the way home at a store. There are lots of kids taking the
bus during school hours, and it won't be a scary experience if your child
is comfortable knowing where she is going. I do advise your going with her
on the route once so you will know exactly what her path will be and, if
necessary, discuss with her any concerns you have about it. Riding the bus
to school is a good step into independence without sacrificing either your
child's safety or your peace of mind. Good luck!
Although they were able to walk to school up to the 9th grade, my kids
were both riding AC Transit by themselves starting in the 6th grade.
They nearly always ride the 51, which I consider pretty OK. They rode
it from South Berkeley to the Marina for sailing lessons in the
summer, together and alone, and from South Berkeley to north shattuck
Ave. for summer camp. They also were riding BART by themselves by the
time they were 12 or 13, either walking or taking the bus to the
station. If they ever had any problems, they didn't tell me about them!
I want to respond to this parent's concern about allowing her daughter to
ride AC Transit alone. It brought back many memories of my young life
riding San Francisco public buses/streetcars in the '60's. I was 8 years
old when I began riding on buses alone (mostly with friends to movies).
Along the way, I encountered some bad situations: fights on buses,
perverts pawing young girls (including me on one occasion when I was 15),
stinky people, crazed people who get in your face. Good stuff that
happened: I sold all my Girl Scout cookies on one bus ride, learned how to
transfer from bus to bus and to get anywhere in SF, rode practically for
free, became friends with, and learned to talk with, some really "hip" and
nice bus drivers, learned to become savvy about where to sit to avoid
trouble, became savvy about what parts of the City to avoid, became savvy
about gauging the "mood of the bus" and when to sit close to the front of
the bus near the bus driver. I would even use the buses, as a teenager, to
hang out in and ride all night with friends and talk about our family
problems, our lives, really intimate stuff, etc. (those were days when bus
drivers didn't mind having you ride back and forth from one end of the line
to the other all night). All this experience made me feel very independent
and capable at a young age. From 5th grade, this was my only way to get to
school every day since my mother could not or would not drive me. With
this all said, I believe riding AC Transit today is not that different
from the days I rode in SF during the '60's--can be dangerous, can be quite
an adventure, and public transportation should be used by everyone--it's
the public and egalitarian thing to do--no chauffering by parents all the
time. This is a way to gauge a child's independence and ability to cope in
unknown situations. I think junior high is a good time to start giving
your daughter a sense of independence. Begin with small trips where you
know exactly what bus your daughter's riding and the to/from of the trip.
Pick-up bus schedules at the Berkeley TRIP store on Center Street (also has
BART tickets). If she's comfortable taking the bus to school, let her ride
every day to establish a schedule and she'll end up recognizing the same
people who ride at the same time and the same drivers. Happy Riding.
Our daughter, out of necessity, finally started taking the bus this past
summer right after graduation from middle school. We needed her to get from
one of her parent's houses to the other one so that she could be taken by
that parent to her violin lesson. She was reluctant but she did it. When I
picked her up after the lesson she said she felt so independent. I was
thrilled. I'd been waiting for this but never pushed it. Now as a BHS
freshman she has a bus pass and is on AC Transit 5 days a week including
getting to the violin lesson on her own. (She gets picked up afterward,
though.) I'm not sure any of us would have been ready for her to do this any
earlier than 8th grade. It'll probably be just fine in a couple of years but
6th grade seems young. Although, when our daughter was at Willard there were
lots of kids getting off and on the buses out front, so I guess it all
depends on your kid and their ability to navigate. Good luck.
I posed the question to Miriam Hawley, our elected representative to AC
Transit. Her response is below. My kids, 14 and 17 both ride AC Transit. My
17 yr old son knows all the local routes and has had a monthly pass for quite a
while. My daughter, now a freshman at BHS is a little more cautious, so I've
let her take the lead based on her comfort level. Funny tho' how the comfort
level adjusts to the need for both independence and convenience. She gets an
extra 10 or 15 minutes sleep if she takes the bus (vs. walking) and is now
taking the bus to school regularly. I take the bus occasionally and generally
feel quite comfortable and safe. I'd say, if your daughter feels confident then
she will exude that confidence and be fine. I think that the ability to take
public transportation is one of the things that makes our Berkeley kids
different from suburban kids---it offers a combination of freedom, independence,
and street smarts that sets them apart in a positive way.
Here's Miriam Hawley's response...
Thanks for your note. I've asked AC staff for some crime-on-bus
statistics. In fact, just this morning I spoke to Bob Hughes, our
safety guy, to nudge him into action. I forwarded your note to him
for his comments. He may get back to you directly with quotable
information. Meanwhile, I can assure you that crime is rare on buses.
When something does happen, it's almost invariably the bus driver who
gets attacked or threatened.
My own kids rode the bus from the time they were in about 5th grade,
and I can't recall a single incident. Both they and I felt it was a
big step toward their independence, and they loved the fact that they
could get around without having to wait for someone to drive them.
Our Deputy General Manager who lives in Berkeley says his children,
now 12 and 15, ride AC Transit buses regularly and have been bus
riders since the upper elementary school grades, often transferring
downtown from one bus to another. He recalls no incidents on buses.
Once his son felt harassed by someone at a bus stop, but this was at
Center and Shattuck where the crowds would have been a protection had
he needed it. But it turned out to be more annoying than threatening.
this page was last updated: Sep 21, 2013
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