Car-Free Game Changers

Car Free Game Changer: Getting a Lyft With Kids

Lyft Chicago

Little guy is obsessed with mustaches, and drivers are friendly enough to pose for and take pictures (thank you, Donald!)

I rode in a cab last night- a minivan- and I was terrified.  This post is overdue.  There are times where we need to use a car to get around, though it’s rare… but sometimes kids are sleeping, or it’s sleeting, or really cold, or you forgot you’re supposed to be at the dentist’s office in 15 minutes, and you gotta go.

I promised I’d talk a bit more about Lyft awhile ago.  We strap our kids in using the Ride Safer Travel Vest and the Bubble Bum booster seat, so they are 100% street legal, which is important.  These aren’t the options I’d choose if we were a more regular car-riding family, but they are AWESOME for occasional trips by car combined with walking/biking/transit.

Lyft drivers are paid, but riders don’t pay a fee- they give a suggested donation (or more, or less) so it manages to get around the whole medallion thing.  Taxis are run by only a few large companies in Chicago because the medallions, or licenses, are limited.  The last few conversations and Google searches I did when curious about this a few months ago indicated the average going price of one in our city is $80,000 over $300,000 (OMG!) Independent cab drivers usually rent a car from a larger company since the expense is so great.

With Lyft, people drive their own cars.  Yes, this seems like a major loophole.  I know cab drivers don’t like it- here they are forced to shell out for renting the car, and Lyft drivers are just pocketing “donations.”  I see the issue.  But I can’t help but feel the system needed to evolve.  I know NOTHING about the folks who manage the service and how the money flows through the app, but I do know I prefer ‘Lyfting.’

Experience reserving/calling a cab: I live about a half mile from a pretty reliable pickup point near the train station, and might get lucky on occasion and hail a cab on the street near my house.  I’ve tried Uber, and almost always get a message that there are no cars available, unless I’m getting a town car.  And I don’t like their prices.  I’ve had several occasions where I called for a cab at the last minute, and they never showed up. I’d call the dispatch again to check on their location, and they’d say they were still trying to get one to me. This makes me nuts.

Lyft has an app where you can see the location of the drivers nearby, their picture, and rating.  You reserve your ride then and get their number.  You can watch them on a friendly little map.  I have mixed feelings about the phone in the car thing, but I have twice called a driver on the way to tell them about a “secret shortcut” that was helpful in picking me up…  also, I’ve so far always been able to get a ride.  I haven’t done rush hour, though.



We hailed a minivan last night from Ogilvie to get a few blocks home in the rain at rush hour.  Our driver spun his bald tires at every green light, made sudden stops that threw us forward (in our seatbelts,) cut off other drivers, and nearly hit several pedestrians.  All while talking on his cellphone.  Then he acted annoyed when we asked to use a debit card to pay.  It was just Mr. M and I, thank goodness.

Lyft drivers feel like people you catch a ride with.  I’ve gone this route with and without the kids, and it’s consistently good.  There’s usually a fair amount of conversation, which I always enjoy.  I like hearing what people do otherwise- I’ve met several guys in film/animation, wait staff, teachers, after-school program organizers…  Everyone has been super polite.  They drive like normal, cautious people.  They reassure me that it’s fine to take my time to get the kids buckled into their respective boosters/vests. It feels friendly and relaxed.



Lyft is cheaper.  In my experience, it costs about $5 less even with suggested tip included than I’d pay by cab.  A trip to the zoo sets us back $14 something in a taxi pre-tip, and is $12 with Lyft.  The app saves your payment information, just like Uber, and you get a text and a notification after you’ve been dropped off.  You can tip more or less depending on your experience, and you rate your driver.  They’ll also rate you- though I’m afraid you don’t get to see it (so be nice!)  I LOVE this since for us using a car means we’re in a hurry for something and I’ve been able to settle the tab right after checking in for a Dr’s appointment.


Update: Drafted this post over a week ago on my flight to Boston.  Used Lyft multiple times there over the weekend.  Used again today.  Still awesome, and my little guy is now obsessed with mustaches…  I had to go rescue husband’s bike in the freezing rain tonight at 9:30, as I was supposed to pick it up on my way home from a thing and ran out of phone battery so had to stop at home to ask where the bike was- for the first time ever, got the dreaded “all drivers are busy” message. :(  On the upside, got a very friendly and cautious cabbie, so there you go.

Car-Free Game Changer #2: Yuba Mundo

Our Yuba Mundo, coming home!
Bringing the Yuba Mundo home from J.C. Lind- an exciting day!

Bringing the Yuba Mundo home from J.C. Lind- an exciting day!

The Mundo is like a big friendly dog in that it helps us make friends at the park.  People ask us frequently if it’s 1) a custom build, 2) motorized, 3) a tandem or something.  This really ought to be game changer #1, but I was excited about our travel vest and had a photo ready to share…

We started biking (and blogging) early this summer when our wheels were a Target Schwinn (now locked as back-up bike in our apartment’s bike room) and a Craigslist Burley D’Lite.  The good news was, we fell in love with using the bike to get around.  The bad news was that the trailer was sometimes difficult to pull (at a stoplight on a slope I was really struggling) big to store, and difficult to get in and out of our apartment. I had researched several options for getting around with two bigger kids, and it seemed like we were too big for the kid in front/kid in back combo (little guy was in the upper 30 pound range) and too small to be trusted on our own.  I started to read about longtail bikes and was thinking they were awesome- but expensive.

I posted awhile ago about paying for more expensive items- I have learned to justify this at times knowing that some things resell very well on Craigslist (I’m talking about Burley trailers in this case) and are more safe and durable than lower cost options, like InStep or others.  But a bike for over $1000 seemed LUDICROUS.  A bike?

It seems like a lot- unless you are replacing a car.  Once the car is out of the picture, it seems a whole lot more reasonable.  The car was super expensive, looking back on it.  The bike is mostly one up-front expense, with a little maintenance here and there.  And since there’s no WAY I’d dream of getting rid of it right now, I don’t care what it’s resale would be on CL.  I ran into a lady the first week we had the bike near 12th Street Beach who had an “El Mundo” (electric-assist Yuba Mundo) and an odometer- she had something like 2000 miles on her bike, and she’d only had it a few months.

I quickly got lazy about logging miles despite trying several websites, including Map My Ride (eats battery, shows our exact locations- which I find to be a bit much) and Drive Less, Live More (which is GREAT.) It would have come in handy for calculating and comparing our cost per mile, but anyhow, I’ve decided there’s no need to break it down.  I have no buyer’s remorse. None.  And if you can’t tell, I feel crazy paying “full price” for just about anything- thanks, Mom, you bargain hunter, you. 😉

So this is what we love about our bike:

1) It holds two kids, and me, and lots of stuff.  That’s obvious. Which might be why Mr. M isn’t keen on being seen riding it… Ha!  He can keep his feather-light fixie road bike, which was his choice when we put car money toward bikes- Yuba Mundo is to Honda Odyssey as Bianchi Pista is to Porsche Boxter.

2) It lends itself very well to customization- and can be adapted to suit your needs, which is a must when you have growing kids. You must check out Jarrod’s posts at 8 legs 2 wheels to see some customizations.  I’m including just a few of my own as well in the photos here.

3) The Yuba is comfortable.  I love the saddle.  I love the angle- I’m just about upright, and can see all around.  The grips are wide, like a mountain bike, just the way I like them.  The gearing is perfection.  Chicago isn’t hilly, but I struggled like crazy pulling a trailer, and I think it was mostly due to the Schwinn hybid.  Cargo bikes are made to haul loads and have a generous helping of “granny gears” for taking on inclines, and I’m able to do it all in my middle gear.  It is also HEAVY which is both good and bad- but I’ve come to like the feel of a substantial bike under us.

4)  It’s made in the U.S. by a company that has a good reputation.  I say this because I haven’t heard any complaints about Yuba, and anyone I know with one of their bikes loves it.  (Many are compelled to blog about how much they love it, actually!)  I posted a comment on their Facebook page– after they put up a pic of the monkey bars on their wall, and they responded by tagging a photo of the bike standing on end with the bars attached.  Thanks! Oh- which reminds me…

5) It stands on end.  This is how the bike lives in our living room.  Because we wouldn’t dream of making it sleep on the balcony, or in the bike room.

6) Yuba accessories are pretty good.  We have the soft spot, leg up, running boards, de-flopinator, stoker bars, and Go-Getter bag.  That bag is AWESOME for grocery runs.  And I have a feeling Yuba will continue taking care of us.  Oh!  And the kickstand…

7)  The kickstand is great.  It is like one you’d find on a scooter or motorcycle, and it can almost handle the kids climbing up on it alone.  But they shouldn’t climb on it- Little Guy did manage to tip it over at one point, pulling himself into the seat.  I still feel bad about this- but he learned and was unscathed.

8)  It seats another adult.  Not that I’ve frequently brought grown people out on rides, but I think the option is pretty cool.

That’s what I can think of for now… but I’m sure there are lots of other things I could list that I love.


Car-Free Game Changer #1: Ride Safer Travel Vest

toddler in travel vest

Little guy models his “astronaut vest” while riding home on the Metra.

This is one of my game-changers.  I couldn’t imagine dragging around a car seat on the off chance that we need a cab, but this… this, my friends, is a miracle.  I knew they produced a vest for safe airplane travel, but didn’t dream that they had something safe and legal for cars.  This “astronaut vest”, as the kids call it, can be put on in advance, and then the kids get buckled into the back seat with the lap and shoulder belt.

I am so excited about this product, I decided to become an affiliate!  Please contact me with any questions- you can read more specifics, reviews, and purchase here.  (your purchase helps me earn another vest in a bigger size!)

I’m now able to carry legal child restraint systems (for 2 kids!!) in our pannier or in a backpack. Knowing we can easily catch a ride if something unforeseen happens or just call a cab and ride with two kids has made life in the city way more convenient.

It’s best to put them in the middle of the back seat, as there’s no side-impact protection.  The vest is for older toddlers- 3 and up, at least 30 pounds.  The small goes up to 60 pounds, and the large can be used for kids 50-80 pounds.  That means for now, both of my kiddos can use the small.  According to what I’ve read, it crash tests as safe as a high-back booster, and serves essentially the same purpose by using clips to reposition the belt, but it also has a dense foam that helps distribute pressure over the torso in the event of a crash.

We’ve recently been using the service “Lyft”, you know, the pink mustache ride-sharing app.  I have had such good experiences so far.  My first ride was on the day I sprained my foot, and we’ve used it a few times a week since.

When we  sold the car- we just needed to go one way and ride a train home, then walk back from the train station…  It worked well, but honestly, the vest works best for situations where you have an older passenger in the backseat.  Since we mainly get rides,  that’s usually the case, and it’s been a great solution.

We purchased our vest on Amazon, the small blue cost us about $120, similar to many car seats.  I was going to get a second one, but opted for an inflatable booster seat for Nina instead, based on cost.  (I did watch Ebay for a few days, but lost patience.  There were a few to be had, but were either Gen. 1 or Large, so I used my Amazon reward points.)  The good news is- I’m pretty certain this will resell just fine on Craigslist as well.