"It was a pretty scary thought to know that my daughter got up and left home all by herself at eight years old,"
-- Shelby McMullen, daughter disappeared and rode alone on CATA bus
An eight-year-old riding solo on a bus didn't raise any eyebrows with the bus driver or CATA.
But it had the little girl's mother worried sick when her family couldn't figure out where she went after disappearing Monday afternoon.
"It was a pretty scary thought to know that my daughter got up and left home all by herself at eight years old," said Shelby McMullen of Holt.
The family lives just a few doors down from the CATA stop on Holt Rd., so McMullen said her daughter decided to hop on an take a solo ride.
"Her grandmother thought she was playing in the backyard and she wanted to ride her bike out front so she came out front to ride her bike for awhile and I guess decided to stop at the bus stop," she said.
McMullen's daughter, Harley, told her she took the bus all the way downtown to CATA's transfer station all without having to pay a fare or have any questions asked from the driver.
"That angered me to know she didn't have the money, didn't have a bus pass, she obviously looks eight years old, not old enough to be riding the CATA bus," McMullen said.
Once at the station, the little girl managed to figure out how to take the bus all the way back to Holt and again wasn't questioned by anyone. She said she was too scared to ask for help.
Meanwhile, Harley's mother says the family has learned a good lesson and ultimately she's just grateful nothing serious happened.
"Oh my goodness, just all kinds of thoughts run through your mind, somebody could've taken her, she could've just been lost somewhere downtown," she said. "Because I know a lot of kids who leave home don't make it back."
WILX reached out to CATA who told us it doesn't have an age limit for riding unattended and that children who are eight and even younger ride by themselves frequently. Also, if a child looks shorter than four feet, or 42 inches, the driver doesn't attempt to collect a fare if it appears the child knows where they're going and what they're doing.
In a statement, CATA spokesperson Laurie Robison said:
"More so than a policy issue, the concern at hand is a matter of practice and procedure. We have reviewed both and, in the spirit of continuous improvement, will do so on an ongoing basis, taking into account industry best practices, customer experiences and, of course, common sense. We do believe that our current practice is sound; that our existing procedures effectively ensure the safety of all our passengers."
Robison added that the bus driver handled the situation appropriately and as far as they're aware in the 42-year history of CATA, the company has never once had a complaint of this kind.
Even so, McMullen still wants to see CATA re-evaluate their age limit policy.
"If my kid could do it then others could too," she said. "I hope the bus system can put in some more rules and I hope there's some more stipulations for how young children are to get on the bus and if they have any money or not to get on that bus."