Riding solo: What age should a child take transit alone?
A Vancouver father is no longer allowed to send his kids to school alone on a city bus.
Adrian Crook said he started allowing his four children (ages, 7, 8, 9 and 11) to take unsupervised trips on public transportation last spring. The family does not have a car and Crook said he wanted to teach his kids about independence and sustainability.
“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 said in his blog.
However, after receiving a complaint, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) got involved and his children are no longer allowed to take public transportation to school unsupervised.
A letter from a social worker told Crook that “until the children are 10 years old they cannot be unsupervised in the community, at home, or on transit.” And until that child is 12 years old, he or she cannot be responsible for the younger siblings.
“I’m more concerned about the precedent for other parents,” Crook said. “Before my kids used to cross the street to go to 7-Eleven and even that’s not allowed anymore.”
WATCH: How young is too young to leave kids alone at home?
Is there a legal age?
There are three provinces that have laws on the age when a child can be left unattended.
- Manitoba: 12 years old.
- New Brunswick: 12 years old.
- Ontario: 16 years old (this is again a very gray area, and it’s more about restrictions when being left alone).
British Columbia does not have a legal limit.
If there isn’t a law in place in B.C., then why did MCFD tell Crook he was no longer allowed to send his kids alone on a bus?
According to Toronto lawyer Jordan Donich it’s because legislation surrounding this issue is not black and white.
“If there isn’t a law in place, Children’s Aid Society (or in this case MCFD) can fill that void in legislation,” he said. “They can say ‘even though what you’re doing is legal, you are not a fit parent and we will take you to court.'”
Although many provinces don’t have legislation on this subject, there is still common sense when leaving kids alone, Donich added.
“Obviously allowing a four-year-old to ride a bus is wrong — even if there isn’t a law in place,” he said. “There are certain offenses you can be charged with for that, like abandoning your child.”
WATCH: How young is too young for kids to walk to school alone?
Can transportation companies make rules?
Transportation companies can make their own rules on when kids are allowed to ride without supervision, Donich said. But many leave it up to the parent or guardian.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) told Global News it does not have a policy and it’s up to the parent or guardian.
In Vancouver, Crook said he approached TransLink about sending his children alone.
“I asked our regional transit operator, Translink, what the minimum age is for kids to ride the bus alone. They informed me there wasn’t one; it was up to the parent,” he said.
Is there a safe age to allow kids to ride alone?
It depends on the child’s maturity, experience and parental discretion, according to Sara Dimerman, a psychologist, author and creator of helpmesara.com.
When a child is 12 or 13, they may be able to start taking public transportation alone — but ideally, it should at first be with a friend, she said.
“It depends on child’s level of readiness as some kids are more aware of their surroundings,” Dimerman added.
The Canadian Safety Council (CSC) says the general base age is usually 10 years old for taking care of yourself and 12 years old for taking care of yourself and other children.
“Independence in children is very important, but we want to set them up in situations where they can succeed,” Lewis Smith, manager of national projects at CSC said. “There are many factors to take into account like temperament and maturity level.”
Just because a child is a mature seven-year-old, it does not mean they can take the bus alone, he said.
WATCH: Mother charged after leaving 3 kids home alone to go on vacation
Where you live can also impact a child’s confidence in riding public transportation.
Children who live in the city may feel more comfortable riding a subway as they have been exposed to it growing up. But kids who grew up in the suburbs (without as much access to public transportation) may take more time getting comfortable with a subway or bus, she said.
“You should always make sure the child feels confident,” Dimerman said. “This can involve a weaning off process. So parents should go on the route with them at least once or twice to make sure the child know how to handle situations.”
*With files from Jon Azpiri
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