Are you wondering if your kids can go on public transport by themselves?
The thought may seem daunting but the best way to go is to take one step at a time – all the while assessing whether your kids are ready or not yet.
Many people would argue that parents today tend to be pretty cautious and typically wait longer to allow their children some freedoms and responsibilities. Helicopter parent anyone? But you may be surprised just how responsible they can be when you loosen that apron string just a little bit. Go on mum, you can do it!
Is there a magic age?
Firstly, it depends if your child is going to and from a specific destination or just wandering around the city. (If they are just going on an outing then a group of mates is highly recommended.)
Secondly, you know your child better than anyone else does. If you think they are mature enough and can handle a stressful situation (if they miss the bus for example), and are street smart to find their way around then they are most likely ready.
Kidsafe NSW says “Public transport will be relied on more when your child enters high school. However, using the service from a young age will establish good practices and instill confidence for both you and your child. Practice taking public transport together at first until your child gains familiarity and confidence.”
According to Care.com, the consensus seems to be that five-year-old are too young, six- and seven-year-olds should stay in a group, and that by age 10, many kids are ready.
Keeping in mind that a child under 10 should not cross the road unsupervised.
What is the legal age in Australia?
While the law does have guidelines in place as to the legal age children can be left unattended, there are no specific rules as to the legal age to use public transport or walk to school alone.
The age children can be left alone – and therefore, the legal age to walk to school alone or use public transport – varies from state to state.
For example, in Queensland laws explicitly state that children under the age of 12 cannot be left unsupervised.
A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum penalty — 3 years imprisonment.
In other states the law is not as specific and states:
As a parent, you need to use your own judgement based on your own family circumstances and the age and maturity of your children.
School bus transport available
Don’t forget School bus services are available for most primary schools and are an easy and achievable way for children to get to and from school.
Children in primary school may still need supervision by an adult whilst waiting for buses and when getting on and off. To find out more about school bus services, either contact your school or your state’s public transport authority.
Have a bus buddy
If your child is a bit on the younger side it is always a good idea to hook them up with someone a bit older (friend or family member) that can keep an eye on them (even from afar!) while they are on the bus/tram and let you know of any issues they may spot.
What the kids say
RACV chatted to a couple of school children to get their thoughts on using public transport.
Giving kids the freedom to try different things – even make mistakes – is essential in building problem-solving skills and preparing them for adulthood.
Ed Campbell, aged 13, said, “I feel pretty confident and excited about tramming to school because I get to be independent and there are a lot of other students going on the same tram. I’m a bit worried about safety with so many strangers in one space and having to carry a large amount home. I also worry a bit about what would happen if my tram was delayed and I got into trouble at school for being late.”
Chloe, 14, travels to and from school using trams and trains, and also uses them on weekends. “I love public transport. It’s so easy to use and I get to be with my friends. I feel safe because there are so many people around, and if I know I’m going to be delayed, I can just text someone,” she says.
How can you help prepare your child?
1. Do a trial run
If your child is going to start taking the bus or train to and from school, you need to make sure they’re familiar with the bus route and the stops, especially if they need to catch more than one bus or train.
2. Travel in groups
There is safety in numbers, so it’s always better to travel with other people that you know and trust—see if your child can join up with friends and travel together.
3. Always have a plan B
As anyone who uses public transport regularly knows, it’s not always reliable – timetables can change due to weather and work along the route.
4. Give them a phone to contact you
If your child is going to be on public transport alone, you’ll want to make sure they’re safe – so often that means having a phone so they can contact you if there’s an emergency or if they have missed their stop.
5. Use automatic top-ups
Ensure they’re never caught out with an expired or zero-balance travel card by using the card top up system, which is usually available online when you register the card.
Most important of all, remember to breathe and stay calm! Don’t forget kids pick up on our anxiety and if mum is stressed then they will be too.
I recall the first time my eldest caught the bus I actually stuck around near the bus stop to make sure he got on OK.
Much to his embarrassment!