Having worked as a transport planner in variety of positions at Transport for London (TfL) for the past eight years, I have experience in different fields, from road safety and transport management to survey design and data analysis. I also studied for a Master's degree in Transport and Business Management, learning about accessible transport and freight among other things. However, while my academic learnings and on the job experience have put me in good stead, it has actually been my experience of being a parent for the first time that has really hit home the importance and impact that transport has on the urban realm and people's everyday lives. There is skill needed to negotiate travelling about the transport network in London, particularly with a baby in tow.
As a transport planner, I had a bit of a head-start – I knew, for example, that you can look at which stations are step-free in advance, which makes all the difference if you're planning to take a pram with you, as not all stations are built the same. At some stations, you are able to travel from the street onto the train smoothly, whereas at others you may need to take escalators or the gap between the platform and train into account. I soon picked up on some tips that made travelling with a pram less problematic. As well as realising that there are hundreds of models to choose from when making your initial purchase (there are lightweight and foldable ones that can be good for using on public transport), I discovered that when trying to get off the Tube, most buggies seem to be more manoeuvrable going backwards down a single big step. I also found using a sling (or carrier) the easiest way to travel with my baby, particularly until he was around 10 months old as it keeps your hands free and you can be more agile than with a pram. I had always been someone who chose to walk up and down escalators and arrive just in time for the train. Now I have to allow extra time to travel through stations, especially with a pushchair - rushing with a baby is not fun. Working out the location of the lifts and walking to them can add a couple of unforeseen minutes to your journey time - plus there's also always the potential of an urgent feed or nappy change en route...
It's also important to realise that it's not just parents who need to take advantage of step-free access, whether that's the lifts at a station or the priority section on a bus. You have to work with other customers to try and ensure everyone is able to travel comfortably – for example, patiently waiting for a lift rather than all trying to squash in.
Travelling with a baby has also made me see a more friendly side of Londoners. My baby loves looking at people on the Tube and it provides endless interest and distraction as well as a welcome chance for a chat in what can sometimes be a challenging journey, especially if my baby is tired. Lots of fellow customers offer to help me too, whether that's helping carry the pram on the stairs or distracting my son with games like peek-a-boo when I am struggling to do the straps up on the buggy because he's wriggling. Plenty of people told me I'd need a car once I have a baby, but, in fact, I disagree! I love the freedom that public transport and walking offers. You can stop whenever you need. You can stretch your legs, stand up, feed your baby, and change a nappy much more easily on a train than in a car. Plus you can pick up, cuddle, jiggle your baby and go for a walk in the aisle or look out of the window. That's not to mention the wonderful mix of people you meet whilst travelling, such as a fellow passenger who told me she had worked as an air hostess in the 1960s and had had to pretend her own son was in fact a nephew - otherwise she wouldn't have been allowed to keep her job!
Places to sit, green space and shade have been essential for my often long days out. I've got to know my local area so much better since having a baby – I've spent hours walking with him in the sling or buggy to rock him to sleep and I've often chosen to walk rather than fit onto a bus or Tube. I've found beautiful parks and playgrounds tucked away that I never knew were there. Having enough benches to sit on for a rest or to breastfeed my baby makes a big difference in how easy my job as a mum is at that point. Feeling comfortable and having space to feed in parks, at bus stops, on trains and buses has really helped to keep me and my baby happy. I know some mothers worry about feeding their baby in public, so are reluctant to travel too far from home. For the mental and physical well-being of new parents and their children, I think it's so important that our public space and the transport system provide usable space and a welcoming environment to feed babies.
When I return to work, I will use my experience as a parent to consider all of the different factors, such as good signage, that can help improve the journeys of those with mobility needs. We need to continue to work hard and provide as accessible a transport system as we can to ensure our network is user-friendly and welcoming to people of all ages and abilities. By utilising our own experiences and communicating with local people about their transport experiences and requirements, we can continue to improve our transport network, making our city an even better place to live and work.
Laura Putt started her career in transport after graduating from Oxford University. She completed a Masters in Transport & Business Management as part of Transport for London's transport planning graduate scheme. Laura has experience of a wide range of disciplines including road safety, research, and business case development. She worked as a Deputy Venue Transport Manager during the London 2012 Olympics. Laura is now a Principal Analyst in Transport for London's City Planning team, focusing on making best use of data and analysis to inform policy and understand travel behaviour. Laura is a Board Member for the Transport Planning Society and has recently been on the organising committee for the UK's first Transport Planning Camp - an 'unconference' in Leeds in November 2018.