Twin Stroller Users Face Difficulty Boarding Buses, Trains

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Minami Yamamoto strokes her baby’s head after he started crying while running errands in Tokyo.

A recent post on social media has started a public conversation about how hard it is to use public transportation with twins in a double stroller. To get perspective on the issue, this writer decided to accompany a mother raising twin babies as she went shopping with them.

In late January, I accompanied Minami Yamamoto when she went shopping in Tokyo. The 28-year-old company employee is raising 10-month-old twin boys, named Shinshi and Uou.

With the baby boys strapped in, I followed Yamamoto as she pushed her double stroller toward a subway station. The stroller is 71.5 centimeters wide, slightly wider than an electric wheelchair. It weighs more than 30 kilograms including essential baby supplies, which is too heavy for many parents to lift by themselves.

Getting on the train, she chose a car with an area for wheelchair users and others. But in the car we boarded, there were already one wheelchair and two single strollers, so Yamamoto had no choice but to park her stroller in the center of the car. I felt like everyone was staring at us, and the five minutes we were on the train seemed like an eternity.

When we got off the train at the destination, the elevator was not available due to maintenance, so we had to wait. Because Uou had started crying, Yamamoto held him in her arms. But what if she had carried one baby in a single stroller and held the other on her own? If the baby in the stroller had started crying, she would not have been able to hold him. I understood why she needed a twin stroller.

Usually, Yamamoto lets her babies wear themselves out playing at a children’s hall or other such places. When they fall asleep, it’s easier to take them along for her errands using the double stroller.

“I need a careful plan just to go to the supermarket. If they start to cry at the same time, I have to cancel the shopping. I try not to use a bus as much as possible and ask my husband to drive me to the supermarket on weekends to make bulk purchases,” she said.

The issue became a topic of conversation on social media after former national volleyball team member Kana Oyama posted in November that when she tried to get on a bus with a twin stroller, she could not board because the rear door was not opened.

In 2019, the nonprofit organization Florence, which supports child-rearing, conducted a survey on about 1,600 families with twins, triplets and other multiples. The Tokyo-based NPO asked parents and guardians about what made them tired, with multiple answers allowed. The largest proportion, 89%, cited the difficulties of going out and traveling.

“The difficulty of traveling makes parents and guardians feel more isolated from society,” Kazuyo Ichikura of the NPO said.

Tetsuo Akiyama, a professor at Chuo University who specializes in urban transportation planning, said: “Everyone has the right to freedom of mobility, but providing assistance for people in need, such as those with disabilities, is left to the efforts of individual companies. It is an issue to be handled by society as a whole, such as by creating a law that stipulates rules like letting wheelchair and baby-stroller users board first.”

According to the Japan Multiple Births Association, based in Hyogo Prefecture, multiple births account for only about 1% of all births. While the number is not large, this issue should be of wider concern.

By accompanying Yamamoto, I understood how difficult it is to recognize the perspectives of people in different positions. I would like to tell them that they can count on me.

Low-floor buses

Responses to Oyama’s post include many critical comments on social media such as, “Don’t expect you can get help when boarding a bus.”

Using public transportation with a stroller has become a resurfacing topic of conversation on the internet.

In 2014, the Land, Infrastructure Transport and Tourism Ministry and others announced that users of baby strollers could board buses, trains and elevators without folding their strollers, in principle. However, the national penetration rate of low-floor buses that ease stepping from the ground at one or more entrances was about 60% as of the end of fiscal 2020, according to the ministry.

The Tokyo metropolitan government’s Bureau of Transportation says that drivers or other staff are supposed to help users of double strollers if they have trouble getting on a metropolitan bus.

An official at the bureau said: “During the coronavirus pandemic, some wheelchair users and people with strollers told the crew not to touch them. So, if you need help, we would like you to ask us for help.”