Will suburbanites use "granny" grocery carts?

First version: 1/29/05. Updated 7/3/07.














King County, WA






Shuttle Bus

Trip Chaining





James G

Tad W







Cities21 is conducting preliminary research, attempting to develop an understanding of how to reduce short (up to two-mile) home-to-grocery store suburban car trips (and other activities where items are collected and brought home). The study assumes high level-of-service circulator/shuttle transit and expects to couple this with a bit of walking. The target audience is suburban folks, many of who have been exposed solely to auto-centric suburban ways.

How will people transport goods? With their favorite duffle bag? With sturdy,
reusable shopping bags? With a large, special-purpose backpack? Or how about a foldable Versacart shopping cart that folds like a baby stroller? In order to transport smaller weight and volume of groceries, will folks shop more frequently?

Thanks to
CUTR's transp-tdm list serve for terrific discussion on this topic. Some posts were made back to the list serve. Others were made directly to C21. We've collected all these posts, organized them, partially anonymized them, and created this "work in progress" web page.


  • By "high level-of-service circulator,' the intent is provide door-to-door trip times within 30% of car trip times. In addition, the high level-of-service circulator will support trip chaining (leaving home and stopping at multiple retail stores), assuming the circulator operates in a high-density suburban area and serves multiple retail and residential destinations.

  • The term "granny cart" is derogatory towards senior citizens. C21 used this provocative terminology to point out some of the psychological resistance that dwells under the surface in suburbia. The terminology was intended to produce a dialog with more creative solutions (seems to have worked quite well).

Cities21 has procured a Versacart (with Luv-Handles) and a vinyl shopping cart. We will be conducting some "immersive" suburban interviews in mid-February, tagging along with suburbanites on their shopping trips.


Solutions: Carts

Versacart Rolling Cart - Collapsible Grocery Cart. A stylish foldable shopping cart that works like a modern baby stroller. Measures 37" H x 18"D x 17"W. Tall folks will need an extension. Costs about $50. 3.72 cubic foot capacity. Cart up to 100 pounds. It has a top to protect groceries. Folds up like an umbrella. Available at: Stacks and Stacks, 1800luggage.com, ThatsIt!. "The Versacart has very small wheels. (Compare them to the traditional large wheels of a granny cart). Would they hold the weight of 4 bags of groceries which is what the cart looks like it would hold? And would it withstand terrain other than smooth concrete as it is pulled towards home?" - Karen S., Multi-modal/Planning Unit, WisDOT. The manufacturer, Versacart, Inc., has the following contact information: 50 Colonial Dr., Piscataway, NJ 08854, (877) 317-7077, versacart@aol.com. (See "Adventures with Versacart," below.)

If you're tall, try these baby stroller handle extenders: http://mbsolutionsinc.com/.  Previously I tried out the "Luv-Handles" extenders (shown in image to the right), but these do not seem to be made anymore. 


Hook & Go. Hook up to 12 plastic shopping bags full of groceries onto the 8 hooks. Maximum load is 70 lbs. Weighs 7.6 lbs, and folds nicely. 18"L x 21.5"W x 42"H. These are quite popular at the SF Farmers' Market at the Ferry Terminal. (Contributed by Yoriko K., City of Palo Alto Councilmember.)

Recent Hook & Go photo shoot (12 pictures)at the Ferry Building in San Francisco: http://gallery.me.com/bevhomchong/100265:  

There are many traditional "granny carts." These are a bit heavier than a Versacart and don't fold as nicely. Available from many stores, including: Stacks and Stacks and Target. These are very popular in NYC. You might be able to find a cart liner that fits. This protects your groceries and adds some style.

The CanCart. Very rugged. Weights 18 lbs. A bicycle cart that works as a handcart for pedestrians. It is great on short trips to the grocery store - the CanCart can go up and down aisles and through cashier counters easily. You can also bring the CanCart to the bus stop and lock it to a bike rack. When you return, just pile all of your groceries into it and head on home. "The TDM Offices at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario both loan CanCarts -- bike trailers that double as handcarts. Manufactured in BC by Bike Cartage, they are remarkably easy to handle and are even pretty easy to get on and off of uncrowded low-floor buses." - Andrew C, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Jogging strollers. "With young kids, I just hang my grocery bags off the back of my jog stroller. A better design would have hooks on the back handle. Ofcourse, you'd eventually have issues with tipping over when the kids suddenly jump out. With a 3-year-old, I bring the stroller into the store, put a small plastic grocery basket in the stroller, and have my son walk while inside the store." - David M, Transit Advocate.

Vinyl Shopping Cart for small grocery trips. Can be folded down to a small handbag - so when you're going to the store and don't have any groceries, it's great. Heavy duty water repellent Nylon with a sturdy base and collapsible wheels. 12" x 7" x 28." Average-height folks will need an extension - I attach a strap borrowed from a duffle bag. There is also a canvas version.

Small, stylish wheeled shopping bag. You may need to look for products that yuppies are going to find trendy, like this stylish "shopping trolley" from a local Melbourne producer. There are 10 different prints to chose from. - David M, TravelSmart Workplaces Manager, Melbourne

Rolling plastic crate, the Pack-n-Roll. $29.95. The plastic crate folds well. This cart is very popular with teachers, for carrying heavy school items back and forth to the car trunk. This folds up nicely to fit into the trunk. Only 39" high. Tall folks will need an extension.


Mesh shopping cart.



"Folding handcarts are an important part of urban living. If you live a 5-10 minute walk from the supermarket and the Laundromat, it's clearly wasteful to make a habit of driving there. But that doesn't mean that you can - or want to - carry a week's worth of groceries or laundry all that way by sheer brute force. Wheels are available on things other than cars. Which is why you see so many people in urban areas with handy little folding shopping carts. You would think this would be an environmentalist's wet dream." More at http://www.mjoy.org/shopping.html#carts . She recommends Versacart. There are many more bag options on ebay. - Miriam A., News Editor, Metroland.


Solutions: Cycling


The best non-auto shopping solution I have seen is more cycling oriented, the sports utility bicycle made by xtracycle. It can carry about 200 kg and is pretty cool, not a tri-cycle and apparently handles very well. - Susan S., City of Peterborough


Solutions: NYC behavior is different than suburbia


These carts are used in NYC simply because they are practical. If you live within a three to five block radius of a store which you pass on a regular basis you will use them because they are practical. In my view they are a benefit of smart growth planning not a solution to poor government land use policy. - James C, Ridewise.org

Yuppies do use these carts in NYC all the time. I have done my own field sightings on the Upper West Side (next time I will be using a tag and release program.) I can testify to broad cross cultural use. - James C, Ridewise.org


Solutions: Melbourne


We have a pilot program testing these alternatives currently underway along a shopping strip road right in a yuppie suburb in Melbourne. I've attached the successful application from the local council as a guide. We're expecting to report on its success or otherwise mid-year.

Of course, there is also the whole "green bag" movement here, replacing shopping bags, which we're using as well to get through. The other key seems to be using other messages, such as health (hence the use of pedometers) to get through to the target audience.

Project Description: 'Best Foot Forward for Malvern' will target the community living within a five-kilometer radius of the Glenferrie Road shopping strip, located between High Street and Dandenong Road, Malvern. The project aims to highlight the benefits of sustainable active transport in an effort to increase the number of residents walking or cycling to the shops rather than driving their cars. This will require accurate measurement of current levels of walking and cycling (known to be low) through a range of observational and consultation techniques, as well as identification of the barriers and enablers to choosing sustainable active transport modes for shopping trips.

Once these factors have been determined, it will be possible to set targets for mode shift and implement a range of strategies to increase knowledge and skills regarding active transport, as well as providing a local environment that is supportive of pedestrians and cyclists. Such strategies include dissemination of information regarding active transport (walking and cycling) to local residents through a range of local media, specific letterbox drops, local businesses and schools and community meetings. Council will also provide free bicycle safety workshops, shopping baskets for bikes and 'jeeps' for those shopping on foot, as well as prizes as part of the communication strategy. We will also implement the necessary infrastructure changes to ensure the local environment is as safe and supportive as possible for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages and abilities.
- David M, TravelSmart Workplaces Manager, Melbourne


Solutions: King County, WA


You might enjoy this non-commute oriented program we are trying at King County Metro Transit. Results coming in looks promising, that with better information, and some encouragement, not-driving to a regularly car-oriented use like the grocery store becomes an option.
http://www.metrokc.gov/kcdot/transit/inmotion/. We are also working on a report. Metro currently employs a mix of low floor buses and other handicap accessible buses that can accomodate carts.

- Rebecca L, Transportation Planner, King County Metro -- Market Development Group


Solutions: Delivery Service


Another option is better use of delivery services. - David R., carzac.com


Issues: Shuttle Bus Transit


How would you get a shopping cart into a shuttle? Load it at the store, unload it at the shuttle, fold the cart, unfold the cart, and reload before walking home? (hm.mmmm..) And if there were a couple of people with these carts getting into a shuttle, how would the shuttle handle that much cargo? - Karen S., Multi-modal/Planning Unit, WisDOT

I would add the problem of getting a loaded "granny cart" onto a bus. - Thomas R, Transportation Specialist, Bethesda Transportation Solutions, Bethesda, MD


What effect would alternate means of getting to and from shopping and other local sites have on one's willingness to devote time to travel? (i.e., would this require a larger daily travel budget (of time)? Note the roughly average 60 minutes per day people spend on travel ... Some a lot more; some a lot less.) If more trips and slower trips means more time spent traveling, the individuals will spend less time doing something else. How does this affect the value individuals place on non-auto travel for short trips? - Tad W., Parsons Brinckerhoff

Granny Carts should not be used on traditional Buses. Its a major hassle for everyone especially when granny tries to get on the bus at 5:00pm during the peak commute -which I have seen all to often in NYC. - James C, Ridewise.org


The real question might be this for the rest of the US - "How can we design buses and bus routes to make them more useful? Here are some answers: a) Run more buses on weekends when sales at grocery stores start. B) Install bar racks on buses so a regular shopping basket will fit into it. C) Make sure retailers have brown paper bags available for customers - the plastic type are totally useless for transport. D) Increase storage on buses. - James C, Ridewise.org

Issues: Trip Chaining


Shopping and other local trips can be part of trip-chaining. Some proportion of what appear to be short, neighborhood trips are really "one more stop" in a series of trips. It will be important to clarify what percentage of "short" trips are really only neighborhood scale trips. - Tad W., Parsons Brinckerhoff


Issues: Children: Isn't it harder when you have a child along on the trip?


What percentage of short trip makers do so alone or with others who can deal with a bus ride (with an adult carrying packages) or a bike ride or whatever mode or means may be workable? Clearly, small children can be in bike seats, backpacks, etc. and they can ride buses. It is worth understanding the trip-makers' views about how they prefer to or are willing to deal with their co-travelers' needs. ... i.e., Why will it be in the self interest of the shopper with a child to travel differently? Clearly, it can be done and could save energy, cost, emissions, etc. but what are the behavioral and choice issues in this option?
- Tad W., Parsons Brinckerhoff


I do lots of shopping with the kids in the stroller, using that as a shopping cart. It's much easier to walk a little farther with a stroller than to fuss around with car seats and parking. - Amy F, Transit Advocate


Issues: Style


I have a cart that looks much less "shopping cart like". It is red with a fake-fur flap that closes the top. Its made out of canvas (sturdy and
doesn't lose groceries through the openings) & folds quickly and easily. I like that a lot more than my old "granny" cart.
-Heather A., Central Atlanta Progress, Downtown TMA, Atlanta


I think the "cool" factor is crucial. If we want yuppies to shop by bus, someone like REI needs to provide them w/ cool shopping "gear" that conveys that they're active, urban and hip. Imagine the granny cart equivalent of a tough jogging baby stroller with fat tires that can take the curbs - with a cup holder, of course. The current granny carts don't do it. I wish we didn't have to concern ourselves with cool. I wish we could just provide good service and people would drive less to reduce global warming. Unfortunately, cool counts in America. A benefit of promoting the hip, active lifestyle is you could promote the idea of "going the distance" and just walking to the dang grocery store. Most groceries are located to be within a mile of most of their customers. We can make it as cool for yuppies to bring their "sidewalk cruiser" to and from the store - maybe as they get in an evening jog. These are the same yuppies that are biking, jogging, hiking and climbing mountains on the weekends. Walking/jogging to the store fits their lifestyle better than driving a mile like a couch potato. - David A., Seattle Dept. of Transportation (SDOT)


The Versacart isn't very stylish. The Hook & Go is slick, but still lacking. What I like is the design put into modern baby strollers. Those same type of designers should work on the grocery cart problem. Something more stylish is needed. The Versacart wheels aren't as good as they could be. I like in-line skating wheels better. - Jeff T, transportation consultant.


Issues: Anti-pedestrian & anti-biking laws

I live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and we have an interesting bylaw on the books. You cannot push, pull or propel, bicycle, tricycle, wagon or cart on city sidewalks or boulevards. It is usually only enforced on bicycles; however, occasionally you see an article in the paper showing a poor child tricyclist being warned by police to stay off the sidewalks. Our bylaw enforcement only responds if it receives a complaint. You don't want to encourage granny grocery carts in print if they are illegal. Our cycling group has put out several cycling maps and each time we have to make sure that we don't include pedestrian only pathways (as per bylaw) even though they are used heavily by cyclists and have signs "Cyclists yield to pedestrians"
- Ross T., Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Interviews: James G

Lunch conversation with James G, Intel Senior Market Researcher, SOV commuter who hates SOV.

  • You should interview more women than men. They'll provide more subtle insight, details, and objections. You should be sure that some of your immersive interviews include trips with children tagging along.

Circulator Transit Items:

  • If your high level-of-service transit system requires stations with elevator access, these elevators must be reliable, unlike the infamous BART station elevators and escalators that are often undergoing repairs.

  • If your high level-of-service transit system is going to have formal stations and elevators, the ambiance should be inviting and clean. BART stations have dark, gloomy sections. This should be avoided. Transparent glass elevators are good. High visibility is good.

  • If your high level-of-service transit has elevated stations, I'll carry my empty Versacart up the stairs when I'm traveling to the grocery store. On my way out of the grocery store with 50 lbs of groceries, I'll use the elevator to access the station.

  • If your high level-of-service transit has elevated station platforms and shopping cart-based shopping becomes popular on your system, then your platforms should be scaled up accordingly. This will increase the need for a gated platform that keeps shoppers from falling into the path of the transit.

Shopping Carts & Personal Shopping Policy:

  • Shopping carts should have durable wheels.

  • Your high level-of-service transit system must provide a sufficiently smooth ride so that the shopping cart (with 50 lbs of groceries and a carton of eggs ontop) will stay in one place (and not tip over). To avoid tipping and moving about within the transit, will these shopping carts need locking wheels like a baby stroller? I don't like the locking mechanism on some of the strollers; I want something that locks more easily/rapidly. "Or, the high LOS transit vehicle could provide a hook in the front." - David M, PRT software engineer.

  • Does the Versacart hang on my Safeway grocery cart? IE how do I easily transport the Versacart around during my grocery shopping? Or would I shop with the Versacart. It has only 1 deep pocket, that's worse than a normal in-store shopping cart, where I don't have to bend way down to put in my items.

  • Some of my friends shop at Costco warehouse grocery once-a-month. They would take a car because they buy too much volume and weight of groceries for a folding shopping cart.

Interviews: Tad W

E-mail interaction with Tad W., Parsons Brinckerhoff

TW: Identification of products, technologies, etc. that can help reduce auto use for short, neighborhood scale trips will be useful. Having helped one of my daughters learn the art of shopping in Manhattan (using a granny cart), it is clear that when it is in the self-interest of the individual, reduced auto usage is a natural phenomenon. To the extent, individuals can see how they will benefit from use of the products, more will be willing to do so.
C21: What were the important details of NYC granny cart shopping? What distance was your daughter willing to pull a full cart of groceries in the cart?
TW: about 6 to 8 blocks
C21: Did she consciously consider resultant cart weight in her purchasing, IE did she stop buying heavy things to keep the weight down?
TW: no she lugged stuff in the cart, in a backpack, in my arms when I was with her, etc. She bought what she wanted (within limits -- no appliances but a couple bottles of wine, 1/2 gallon of milk, etc. were all fine). Our first trip, though, we were overloaded so she did become more selective and made more trips.
C21: What was the rain and snow experience like?
TW: It just became background "noise." Umbrellas and plastic sheets became normal.
C21: How was taking the cart over curbs, etc.?
TW: when the cart was loaded, the curbs just slowed her down but didn't change much.
C21: What would your daughter think of a "hipper" cart?
TW: I think she'd think it awkward.


Interviews: JH


JH, consumer product marketing research consultant

Regarding the Versacart:

  • Are you serious? It looks like you're pushing a walker. It looks "dorky." I associate it with either a) homeless people, or b) seniors. I wouldn't be seen with it.

  • It's not a good design, not a good use of space.

  • Within a grocery store, it won't work well with a six-year-old. They won't be easily able to help you shop, unlike some of the great new two-level shopping carts.

  • Too short for tall people. (C21: I'm 6'4 and can manipulate it with a fingertip and thumbtip hold, but this isn't ideal. Thus, the Luv-Handles.)

  • People at farmers' markets and in NYC just carry their bags of groceries. They don't use foldable shopping carts. Only seniors use these.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Provide a set of community grocery carts that get centrally managed? Once you're done with your cart, you deadhead it to the storage facility. - DM.

  • Some potential barriers I see: If people have to take the cart up or down any stairs, you will lose a lot of them right there. If you live in a climate with lots of snow, you need large wheels, like what's on the Cancart. I doubt many people would walk 2 miles to and from a transit station. 1/2 mile seems more reasonable. I frequently walk 2 miles for a shopping trip, but then I don't have to also fuss with transit. - Amy F, Transit Advocate.

  • The granny term may be a little demeaning, but I have good memories of tagging along with my grandmother on grocery runs where she used her granny cart. The grocery store was about 2 blocks from her house in beautiful downtown Burbank. She didn't drive a car.
    I live pretty close, maybe 1/4 mile from a shopping center. I occasionally see a granny cart user. More often I see the pedestrians just lugging the sacks. The one I see the most often is mom's with baby carriages going shopping for what appears to be a way to entertain the kid and get a little exercise.
    I can relate to the Manhattan scene. Spent a month in a mid-town apartment many years ago. One reason a cart was really handy was that there was one store for meat, another for bread, another for veggies, etc. It was close to a necessity in area I was in. Dennis M, Transit Advocate

  • I am thrilled with all of the info about "granny carts," very timely for me. I'm kicking off a program this spring called Midway in Motion that will encourage people to bike, walk, and bus for local non-commute trips. The program will feature a street map of the area showing bike routes, bus routes, pedestrian bridges, landmarks, and destinations such as parks/rec centers, schools, and grocery stores. On the back will be all sorts of info about pedestrian/bike safety, taking your bike on the bus, etc., and as a result of this back and forth about granny carts, I'm thinking of including info about them on the back of the map.
    Program participants will pledge to leave their car at home for as many trips as possible, will keep a travel diary/log for a week or two, receive a package of coupons for local businesses for participating, and then be surveyed over e-mail/web a couple of months after their pledge to measure travel behavior.
    Phase II will add neighborhood scale maps that will feature local businesses of all kinds, info about which ones have bike parking or other amenities for bikes/peds, and an on-line version of the maps that will allow you to click-on a given business and link to that business' website for info about hours of operation, products/services, etc. If anyone has tried anything like this, please let me know.
    - Russ S., Midway TMO, St. Paul, MN

Adventures with Versacart

  • It's wider than a baby stroller, so often gets in the way when navigating within a sandwich shop or Starbucks line.

  • Has large grocery capacity and carries weight gracefully. Folded, the Versacart cannot be easily attached to a grocery store's grocery cart. Thus, you should expect to pick and pack your groceries inside the store with your Versacart, unless there is some way to safely leave the Versacart at the front of the store.

  • When using the Versacart within a grocery store, you have to bend down far to place grocery items in the basket. For full family's weeks groceries, you should buy heavy items first, place them on the bottom, then buy lighter weight items last, placing them ontop (or else grocery items will be squished).

  • Thus for smaller volume shopping trips, the Versacart is overkill. "I invented my own solution for small shopping. I use a folding airplane lugage cart, and attach one of my bike paniers packs to it." Irvin D, Sierra Club Land Use Committee.

  • "I'm more intrigued by the Hook N Go than the Versacart. I already have many canvas shopping bags, so I suspect the H&G will work better for me." Irvin D, Sierra Club Land Use Committee.

  • C21" Needs a drink caddy for my coffee.

  • Works great for holding laundry

Versacart with Luv-Handles added