Teaching your kids school bus safety is something you’ve probably been focusing on for much of their life, but if you live in an urban area, there’s something else to think about. 

When should you let your kids use public transportation alone?

This is quite a bit different than your kids taking a school bus because there are many more potential safety variables at play with public transportation. Anyone can ride public transportation, and there aren’t the watchful eyes of a bus driver. 

At the same time, kids, especially when they live in big cities, often get a lot of benefits out of the public transportation experience. It gives them freedom, independence, and a sense of responsibility, but not every kid is ready for these things. 

The following are some things know before you let your kids use public transportation alone. 

Every Child Is Different

The first thing to realize when it comes to a public transportation discussion is that every child is different. Some kids may be ready to navigate public transportation on their own well before other kids. 

A lot of the decisions that you should make come from how responsible and mature your child is. 

A mature, independent child might be able to use public transit at 12 or 13 to go to school, but they shouldn’t go to unfamiliar places. 

Go With Them

If you have a specific route in mind—for example, in many cities, kids use public transportation to get to and from school—do it with them at least several times before they go on their own. Help them get comfortable not just with riding public transportation, but the things they need to do before and after. 

Show them how to get on the train or bus and how to use their transit card. 

Help them understand schedules and maps, and go over areas of the city you might want them to avoid. 

Eventually, your child will develop the confidence that will have them leading you rather than the other way around. 

Use a Buddy System

While we talk about having kids ride public transportation alone, they shouldn’t actually be alone. 

You should arrange for a buddy system anytime your child is going anywhere on their own, and in particular when they’re going to use public transportation. 

For example, you might get together a group of neighborhood kids. 

It’s not until your child is a much older teen that you should consider having them actually go alone. 

A group is always safer and can help your child feel more confident. 

Go Digital

First, if your child is going to be navigating public transit on their own, they should have a phone. 

In addition, you should use an app for their tickets if possible. Otherwise, kids could lose money or have it stolen. Most transit systems do have apps so you can buy and keep up with tickets, and they’ll also have maps and update features within the app itself. 

Have Defined Rules and Guidelines

Start slow when your child is using public transportation, and make sure you have specific rules and guidelines in place. For example, give your child specific times to be home, and let them know what they can’t do when they’re out and about using public transit. 

Also, make it a rule that your child is always alert and aware. They shouldn’t use headphones or earbuds because this can make them vulnerable if they aren’t paying attention. 

A few general safety tips that you should go over with your child include:

  • Your child should have their train or bus pass ready at the entrance, so they don’t have to go through their backpack trying to find it. 
  • Kids and teens should try to stay as close to the operator or driver as possible. 
  • Always wait for public transportation at a central place where there will be a lot of other people. Avoid isolated stops. 
  • Stay away from the edges of the train or subway platform until it comes to a full-stop, and do the same on the sidewalk when waiting for the bus. 

Have an Emergency Plan

Finally, there are unknown variables that come with using public transit, so have a plan you’ll follow and that your child is fully aware of. 

For example, what if there’s an accident and your child is stuck on the train? Go over everything they should do and know. 

What if a stranger approaches them? It’s scary to think about these situations, but your child needs to be prepared.