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Take His Seat, Please

I could write a book on all of the absurdities of riding the public transportation on a daily basis, but a particular circumstance keeps coming up that I would like some guidance on.

Both on buses and commuter trains in our city there are designated seats near the doorways for elderly, expectant mothers, and children. Often times on my train, there are enough seats for those in need to have a seat, regardless of whether or not those particular seats are where they sit. The issue mainly comes up at the 5 o’clock rush hour, when all seats are filled and the aisles are filled with people standing. Those designated seats are filled with normal commuters, as people are piling in and out of the trains. Whenever I am on the train, I try to look out for those that may need a seat and try to give it up whenever possible, but not everyone does the same.

The circumstance that I question is when I am standing and unable to give a seat and someone comes up that needs one. Last week an obviously pregnant woman got on our crowded train and squeezed in front of the designated seating area, that of which a younger man and woman were seated in. It is possible that they didn’t notice that she was standing in front of them, but no one else did anything about it. My first instinct is to ask these people to get up and let her have a seat, as I did not have a seat to give to her. Is this my request to ask, or am I imposing my sense of justice too much onto strangers? 0608-12

You cannot give away what you do not own nor direct people to give up what is theirs either.  Second, one does not know if the reason why those seats are taken is due to the person’s hidden handicaps.    About the most you can do is clear your throat to get attention shifted towards the standing person.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Susan T-O June 12, 2012, 8:13 am

    Just a word to those who are “in their own world” in public: that’s violating the #1 rule of not becoming a victim of crime. You should always be aware of your surroundings, who is around you, and what is going on, or you just may find your pocket has been picked, or worse.

  • Andie June 12, 2012, 9:48 am

    I really think we ought to break women of this habit of clearing their throats (like a Dolores Umbrage) and loudly talking about other people in an effort to get them to conform. It’s passive-aggressive, not polite. And it makes you look like a bigger jerk than the ladies with the nerve to just ask for what they want. You are allowed to ask for things you need.

  • Calliope June 12, 2012, 11:14 am

    I guess I don’t understand how giving up a seat for someone who is frail or on crutches or enormously pregnant can be equated to being a busybody or inviting “confrontation,” but perhaps that’s because I’m a hopeless yokel or something. Where I come from (which is a city large enough to have several options for public transportation, including the train I used to take to and from work every day) it’s not seen as rude to glance up from your book every once in a while to take note of your surroundings. Similarly, it’s not considered excessively forward to glance up from your phone while you’re walking so you don’t smack into others on the sidewalk.

  • Shannon June 12, 2012, 11:34 am

    I’ve spent the last dozen years in large cities, in DC in particular, and have always lived among heaps of people in large apartment buildings. I’m also claustrophobic and hate crowds. And yet, I’m able to get outside my own world and see if others need a seat, or for me to budge over a foot so they can reach something on a supermarket shelf, and to hold open a door.

    It’s not being a busybody, and I find amyasleigh’s assertion ludicrous. It’s simply about understanding that there are billions of other people in the world and I’m no more special than any of them. I am not entitled to my own personal Universe, particularly to the detriment of others. If anything, being in a city means we are more obligated to be aware of each other and our surroundings, not less.

    I do understand wanting the commute to be quiet time – I adore the Metro Cone of Silence. Frankly, half the time my earbuds are in there isn’t even music playing. I just want to tune out inane conversations, jostling, sighing, people selling essential oils, etc. But I can still raise up my eyes and see if someone needs a seat – because common courtesy costs nothing, but callow selfishness (and couching it as some sort of childish urban survival mechanism) costs me my character, one ignored fellow human being at a time.

  • Claire June 12, 2012, 1:12 pm

    There is a saying which I adhere to – “Better see a pregnant woman standing than a fat girl crying”. Ok so it’s tongue in cheek but is a gentle reminder that we should never make assumptions about who needs/deserves the seats.

    If I saw someone obviously struggling to retain their balance for whatever reason, I would probably make a comment at those seated nearby along the lines of “Excuse me would one of you mind offering your seat?” . The other consideration being, this kind of intervention can be particularly embarrassing to British elderly folk and others who hate to “make a scene” or draw attention top themselves.

  • Kim June 12, 2012, 2:31 pm

    About the “situational awareness” or “in my own little world” thing: I think that the rudeness or otherwise of tuning out other people in public is very much dependent on the details of one’s situation.

    I agree that if you’re standing near the front of a crowded bus or seated in a “disability seating” area or walking through a revolving door, good manners require that you keep some awareness of other people around you so you’re not inadvertently planting yourself in somebody’s way. But if you’re “parked off to the side”, so to speak, then I don’t think it’s rude to zone out.

    I’m a confirmed zoner-outer on public transport, whether reading, dozing or just thinking. So if I’m planning to do that, I make sure I get a seat next to the window in the back of the bus or train car, well away from the doors or handicapped seating or the aisles or racks where the strollers go. I ensure that all my baggage is either on my lap or under my feet so that I’m not taking up more than a single seat. Then, and only then, I consider myself entitled to lapse into a blissful trance of obliviousness from which I emerge only when I need to start thinking about getting off the vehicle, or if somebody directly addresses me.

  • Eugenia June 12, 2012, 4:13 pm

    Like a lot of PPs have said, I look outwardly *extremely* healthy, but I have back troubles. When I don’t have back troubles, I seriously lift weights (I can do 6 full pull-ups at a time, & I’m a woman), and do aerial silks, as well as rollerblade. So I look very muscular and quite healthy – which I usually am.

    Unfortunately, those back issues have flared up & been really bad lately, so I’ve been benched on all my activities while I work them out. Standing on the subway is one of the hardest things for me, unless I can lean against a wall, because the jerking motion going in all different unexpected directions is *exactly* the thing that could screw up my back even more, while I work on fixing it. So right now, I go after seats like a hound & I won’t give them up for anybody.

    I’ve absolutely been given dirty looks for this. Nobody has said anything to me yet. If they did so politely, I’d be willing to politely explain that my current back issues make standing in the subway something that could really hurt me further. If someone was rude to me, I’d be inclined to ignore them or, if they pushed, be quite rude back.

  • Selphie Trabia June 12, 2012, 11:22 pm

    I admit that I don’t mind when people direct me to give up my seat as I’m often preoccupied enough not to notice that there is someone in need standing, particularly if the bus is extremely crowded and all I can see is an endless sea of legs and/or torsos. I don’t even mind it when people direct me to help other people that I didn’t notice need help.

    What I don’t like is the inevitable gloating or nagging that occurs afterwards as a result of me giving up my seat or helping. When a person gets all high and mighty and proceeds to berate me for whatever reason, or just plain glares at me until I get off the bus. I have given up my seat, there is no need to be so aggressive towards me.

  • amyasleigh June 13, 2012, 2:10 am

    Susan T-O (51): as regards the danger of becoming a victim of crime — that’s a risk that I choose to take (OK, I have the good luck to live in a fairly low-crime city). If I do become a crime victim because of inattention to my surroundings, I promise not to whinge about it.

    Shannon (54): I was, in all directions, “overstating for the sake of effect” — giving the envisaged most extreme “takes” on both positions.

  • The Elf June 13, 2012, 7:55 am

    Susan T-O, yes being “zoned out” in public puts one more at risk to be a victim of a crime. But I’ve been using public transportation since the 90s, and zoned out (or even asleep!) more often than not. Haven’t been a victim yet. I’ll take my chances.

  • Susan June 13, 2012, 12:00 pm

    I don’t commute to the city, but I do go to NYC several times a year (25 miles away). I don’t have any disabilities so I offer to give up my seat when I think someone who could use it boards the train/bus/subway. I know how to act in the city – it’s not as if I am a hick who is wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the big city sights, but I am still enough of a small midwestern town girl to notice others who board mass transit. IOW, I haven’t mastered the “zoned out” thing.
    The last time I did offer my seat was when 2 elderly women boarded the subway. They looked surprised at my offer, but gratefully accepted. I’m not perfect by any means, but that’s one part of myself that I hope never changes.

    FTR, I’m 51, not exactly a youngster.

  • Margaret June 13, 2012, 3:15 pm

    This attitude (Chris) that “a woman chooses to be pregnant so therefore is not deserving of a seat” when she might be having blood pressure problems, back problems, swollen feet, dizziness, etc., is very disturbing to me.

    Yes, women, for the most part, choose to be pregnant. Why is that annoying and not deserving of a seat when needed? When someone is disabled and needs a seat, I am not going to question them about whether their disability is self-inflicted. I could include knee injuries from playing football or from obesity, heart problems from smoking, bad backs from maybe a car crash from drunk driving – all “self-inflicted” injuries, no? Are these people less deserving of a seat because they “did this to themselves?”

  • Lacey June 13, 2012, 4:39 pm

    I also zone out on public transit, because, well, I hate public transit and have to zone out to be able to stand it. But I also don’t take the seats at the very front, unless the bus/train is full and nobody else needs them. I think the “give up your seat” rule should only be for the seats marked as priority seating, because really, there are lots of reasons that an officially able-bodied person would want to sit down. When I used to work retail, there were times that my feet were literally bleeding after a day of work. Should I not have had a seat on the bus because that’s not an official disability? What about horrific cramps, nausea, etc? This is why you can’t judge people who are not giving up their seat, because you can’t tell why just by looking at them.

  • Lucy June 13, 2012, 5:36 pm

    Let them ask for their own seats!

    Why is it my job to tell somebody else to give his or her seat to a third party? Let that third party ask for it themselves if they need it. If you’re old enough to be, well, old, or pregnant, or whatever, you’re old enough to ask for a seat without my help, and if you’re too timid to ask for a seat when you need one, now is a good time to start learning to stand up for yourself.

    Also, don’t snipe at me for tuning out a bit on public transport. I have to ride that bus every day. It’s not that interesting. It’s not worth my sanity to devote that much mental energy to paying attention to it.

  • Samantha June 13, 2012, 9:14 pm

    When I was 20, I tore my calf muscle very badly. It was during the winter, so you couldn’t see the brace I had on my lower leg. When I was sitting down, my limp was (obviously) invisible. While I could walk with a very heavy limp and stand still when leaning up against a building, standing on a moving bus, especially without a pole to lean on, was a study in pain. If the bus started moving too soon after I got on, I’d have to sit in one of the priority seats or risk re-injuring myself. If I could during later stops, I’d gradually move towards the back, but often the seats between the front and the very back were all taken and unless there was a long line getting on the bus, I couldn’t get all the way to the back in the short amount of time the bus was stopped.

    I can’t even begin to count the number of times in roughly one month that I got shouted or glared at or otherwise bullied into feeling guilty for not giving up my seat. Even when I explained that I was injured and therefore temporarily disabled, people would spend the rest of the ride glaring at me. Of course, when I stood and limped my way off, they would sometimes look contrite. However, there were still some people that looked at me as though I was faking it.

    End story is that you should never presume to know someone’s situation. If you really feel the need to help out, politely (or humorously) ask, but try not to put pressure on any specific person. If you’re presented with someone who refuses, back off. Even if you think they don’t look like they need the seat, they very well might.

  • Shannon June 14, 2012, 7:34 am

    I knew a pregnant woman who had serious swelling issues and difficulty standing. She got super tired of people blatantly averting their eyes and never giving her a seat on the Metro – so she would board, look around at the priority seats, and cheerfully say, “Could I please have an able-bodied volunteer?”

    It worked because she said it cheerfully, and not in a scolding way.

  • Green123 June 14, 2012, 7:51 am

    I have to add a second comment to this thread because just this very morning, sitting on the bus into work, I witnessed an encounter between a well-dressed middle-aged man, who was sitting about halfway back the bus next to me, and a very large (but not obviously pregnant) woman who I’d say was in her late 20s or so. She gets on later in the journey when the bus is full, and stands at the front along with a couple of other people. She’s holding on to the strap and is on her phone, texting, and she’s got her handbag on the floor between her feet. She’s clearly absolutely fine. Then the middle aged man gets up with a heavy sigh, walks to the front past all the other passengers tutting, and taps the woman on the shoulder. She looks at him and he says ‘I’m sorry no-one else has bothered to take any notice of your condition, you can have my seat if you like’. She gave him a very peculiar look, mumbled ‘er, thanks’ and then picked up her bag and came to sit down next to me. And then looked at me and said ‘That’s happened to me twice now. I’m not pregnant you know. I’m just bl**dy fat!’

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe!

  • Calliope June 14, 2012, 12:30 pm

    I think it’s very funny that some people seem to think that they’re the only ones who don’t enjoy riding public transportation. They need to zone out and ignore their fellow passengers, who surely must love every second of being crammed on a bus with several dozen strangers. They are on their way to or from their grueling job, but everyone else is just riding the subway for fun. The truth is, nobody much likes riding buses and subways and trains, but for many people, it’s part of living in a city. Another part of living in a city is being aware of your surroundings so you’re not constantly stepping on other people’s toes. Ignoring other people isn’t a mark of urban sophistication; it’s a mark of self-centeredness.

  • Cordelia June 14, 2012, 7:22 pm

    Saying to a pregnant-appearing passenger “Ma’am, would you like to sit down?” does not bring her pregnancy (or lack of which) into the discussion. Neither does someone saying, “Excuse me, if you are able, could you possibly offer your seat to this lady?” Whether pregnant or simply hefty, a woman who appears pregnant may well be in need of a place to sit down, and it’s only polite to offer. You don’t have to phrase it in a way that suggests a pregnancy when there may not be one.

    Also, I find it contemptibly cold to say that a pregnant woman is not deserving of accommodation because her pregnancy is a result of “her decision”. One could use that principle to justify prying into the lives of the handicapped to find out whether or not their disability was the result of “decisions” they made and accommodate them accordingly. Maybe you wouldn’t want to accommodate someone who was paralyzed as a result of a drunken diving fiasco in a pool. Maybe I could justify not accommodating someone who volunteered to join the military, and was wounded in a war I didn’t happen to think was justified. Where do you draw the line?

    Just because the act that precipitates pregnancy is usually voluntary, that does not mean a pregnant woman has somehow chosen to suffer and deserves no courtesy. The fact that you’re here means some lady had to go through all that with you. Wouldn’t you want people to have shown her courtesy while she was carrying you?

  • Shannon June 15, 2012, 7:23 am

    Amen, Calliope.

  • The Elf June 15, 2012, 9:04 am

    Calliope, why would you think that those who “zone out” think that everyone else just loves that rush hour sardine can feeling? I assume they don’t like the long, crowded commute either. That’s why they also are zoning out! It’s a rather natural reaction to population density, and more the rule rather than the exception to it. Also, zoning out doesn’t mean “stepping on toes”. I’m not sure where you are getting that, other than by watching particularly clueless people. It just means that once I find my spot on the train/bus, away from the door, I mentally go inwards. My stuff is in my lap or at my feet, I’m taking up minimal space, and when it is my stop, I become more alert and pick my way to the door. That’s it. If you need my seat, speak up. It’s not rocket science. Shannon’s friend’s solution is perfect: A cheerful, non-accusatory announcement that will bring the problem to attention without singling out someone who perhaps has a hidden disability.

  • justme June 16, 2012, 12:21 pm

    @Andie: who’s to say that the OP is a woman? And who is to say that only women engage in this behavior (or that ALL women do so–which you’ve also implied)? I’ve seen plenty of men do it, too. And exactly who are you speaking to when you say “*We* need to break women of this habit”? The men of the internet? The internet as a whole? Other misogynists? I have a mental picture of you trying to rally all the men of planet Earth to start “training their women” like dogs, and “breaking them of bad habits” (like… what? peeing on the floor?) by smacking them with rolled up newspapers. And what is with your statement that women who try to prompt another person to offer something are “even worse than women who ask for things they want” (who, by implication, are also terrible because they are women… and because they… want things? Is that it?)
    Please try to restrict the scope of your comments to people who practice a certain behavior, not an entire gender.

  • Enna June 16, 2012, 2:28 pm

    I didn’t notice a woman was pregnant once on an underground train. A firend of hers was chating to her and asked if she was okay standing. His voice was normal conversation level and he wasn’t looking at anyone directly. I got up and offered her my seat. Because of the clothes she was wearing it was disgusing it a bit and I did feel bad. When we got off, I aplogogised and said she looked slim.

    If someone looks frail, tired or ill then give your seat up. Some people have hidden disabilities. My dad is partialy deaf and his balence isn’t too good as a result. He does drive and rarely uses public transport but if he could get a seat he would only give it up if he thought someone else’s need was greater then his.

  • alana June 16, 2012, 5:38 pm

    My 2 cents: I try to always be aware on public transportation, and considerate of those who may need seats more than I do, but it’s also true that I space out. And an example that happened to me, that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned so far: I was riding a bus and a girl gets in via the side door, who is using crutches. I offered my seat, as did someone else. She didn’t want to sit, she preferred to prop in the open area where people normally have strollers/wheelchairs/etc. Fair enough, maybe she’s been sitting a lot that day. After that most of us siting near her got nothing but dirty looks from other people hopping on the bus, who would look at her than at us. Hard to explain this situation to everyone, and I would hope that should she change her mind she would just come to one of us who originally offered. A case where everything was done right, but still somehow “wrong” in people’s eyes.

  • alana June 16, 2012, 5:39 pm

    *then* at us.

  • Gilraen June 17, 2012, 6:57 am

    I remember one time on the bus. My then BF got on a few stops earlier than me and when I entered the bus he got up and gave me his seat. Was he being chivalrous? Well in a way. He knew that I had had an operation on my legs a few weeks prior. I was wearing an invisible support and the thing with those is that they are invisible. He knew that I could walk and stand only for short periods of time, but nobody else would have known. Still we got some strange looks that day.

  • Brockwest June 19, 2012, 9:54 am

    It has become very important in today’s world not to assume someone is not disabled just because you don’t seen crutches or the like. My wife and I both have serious illnesses that are not visible. It is quite distressing to be verbally assaulted for sitting or parking in a handicapped space when they haven’t taken the time to look at the handicapped sticker, because they assume at our young age we aren’t disabled. One woman literally shouted at my wife that my wife “must be mentally handicapped” to park in that spot….until my wife pointed at the sticker.
    There are just too many non-visible diabilities…heart, lung, back, cancer, that nobody should ever confront someone for sitting or parking in a handicapped space.

  • justme June 21, 2012, 6:10 pm

    @Brockwest: My friend’s grandfather used to do that–he’d walk up to a person getting out of a car parked in a handicapped space (handicapped sticker, or not), look them up and down, then say “must be a mental handicap”. He also used to approach heavier people in grocery stores, and say “You don’t look like you need those cookies”. I’m surprised he never got punched. I wonder if it’s the same person who yelled at your wife? Sadly, there’s probably more than one.

  • missminute June 21, 2012, 11:00 pm

    While plenty of boors take those seats when they do not need them and leave others standing who do, it’s really not up to you to decide who should and should not have a seat. I am 35 years old and outwardly seem perfectly capable of standing. However I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, which affects primarily my hands and secondly my feet. Standing hurts, and holding on to the overhead bars is not only painful, but the weakness in my joints means I go flying to-and-fro with each jolt. I have been rudely forced out my seat by people on behalf of others, only to endure grunts of horror when I go flying into them in the aisle. Don’t assume young means able bodied.

  • Sean June 30, 2012, 5:24 pm

    I have untreatable fibrocitis of the plantar fascia – big painful fibrous bumps on the bottom of my feet that make it painful to stand or walk. It’s like I’m walking barefoot on coarse gravel all the time. I also have aspergers syndrome, and tend to avoid eye contact. Confrontations give me instant panic attacks. Otherwise, I look like a healthy 50 year old.

    I’ve had several confrontations on public transit where folks simply didn’t believe me. Confrontations that left me shaken for days. When someone says they’re disabled, just ask someone else. Don’t get in the autistic person’s face and threaten them.

    I’ve taken to carrying my diagnosis with me all the time just because of this. And it’s really stressful.

    I wish people could just be kind and not force a confrontation when I say it’s very painful to stand. It should be illegal. It’s caused me many panic attacks and a general fear of riding public transportation.


  • Liz July 3, 2012, 7:03 am

    Pregnant women are adults who can ask for their own seats politely.

    Besides, pregnancy isn’t always obvious for several months, yet the woman may still need a seat. I had to catch public transport with in a week of having my appendix removed – as a young other wise fit and healthy young woman, of course no one offered me a seat! I explained my condition and asked for one, and low and behold I got given one! It’s amazing what asking nicely for something you need can do. Who’d have thunk it.

  • BigBlueBox August 20, 2012, 6:08 pm

    I’m jumping into this debate very late – and probably pointlessly – but I love this site, and I have to admit I’m horrified to see the number of comments with the thought process of “A pregnant woman is pregnant by choice. It’s her ‘fault’.” I was sexually assaulted and, because of my personal belief system (and how late I found out I was carrying) I felt I had no choice but to carry the baby to term. Is this my ‘fault’? Should I have chosen to stand on a crowded bus/tube when travelling, or stepped outside the comfort zone of someone with (professionally, not armchair) diagnosed anxiety and social disorders and asked people who could obviously see (by virtue of the fact that I not only huffed and puffed and had ankles an elephant would have been ashamed of, but looked like I was carrying a baby beluga whale) that I was pregnant for a seat? I, personally, feel it is a rather large breech of etiquette to simply assume that a pregnant woman is that way by choice and therefore it is her ‘problem’, and so therefore should be made to stand.

    Just my tuppenny’s worth on the subject. Sorry for arriving here so late!

  • erica September 9, 2012, 11:12 pm

    Chris June 12 at 7:36 am “The pregnancy was, allowing only an exception for sexual assault related pregnancies which are rare, her decision. I have to live with the consequences of my decisions and so should she.”

    So you are essentially saying that even though those seats are earmarked for the elderly and pregnant you STILL wouldn’t give up your seat. Which should rightfully be THEIR seat.
    Talk about rudeness! I bet you park in handicapped spots and those reserved for pregnant drivers too!

  • Jane Susanna Ennis November 6, 2012, 6:45 pm

    When I was younger and more able-bodied, I would sometimes stand up on public transport for older men – they sometimes thought it was a bit bizarre, but they never turned my offer down! Now I am old and disabled, I sometimes have real problems – e.g. the young man who not only pushed me out of the way when the bus we were waiting for came, but KICKED MY STICK OUT OF THE WAY. And the woman who shouted abuse at me when I asked her able-bodied son to stand up for me….
    I usually now just ask people to stand up for me, if no-one offers…..but a lot of people say they don’t dare….

  • embee January 23, 2013, 11:33 am

    Like several other posters here, I agree that 1) it is the person who is disabled/pregnant to ask for the seat. People may not want the seat (there was one poster who stated that she preferred standing when pregnant). And 2) While the expectation should be on the disabled person to request the seat, it is entirely upon the person sitting in the seat to be gracious and kind about it. Doing so will allow people needing the seat to be able to request it without fear or hesitation.

    I understand and appreciate that people want to look out for those who need assistance. I’m someone who needs assistance myself, though at 27, I hardly look it. I’m usually not able to stand for more than a few minutes without pain and without fainting. I think that where the real politeness comes in the manner of giving up the seat when requested of them.

    Though it has only happened a handful of times out of maybe a hundred, asking for someone’s seat can be almost anxiety-inducing because of some of the responses I’ve had in the past–usually a scoff or frown, but on a handful of occasionas, I’ve been asked for the name of my condition or my doctor as proof because “I sure didn’t look sick.” I think that if people were regularly more considerate in their duties (and I do say duties instead of “politeness” since–at least in the metro where I live, there are specific seats legally required by the ADA to be reserved for people like me), then people with disabilities or otherwise in need of a seat would not feel hesitant to ask.

    For those who are in positions similar to myself, and who are conscious of others who may also have “invisible” disabilities, I usually go up to the people sitting in the disabled seats and ask, “Excuse me–I am sorry to ask, but if you’re not disabled, could I have that seat?” I’ve always had success–except someone who told me they had an injury. In which case, I was glad to have phrased it like I did–it was not implying that I expected them to give the seat if they couldn’t…

  • megan March 29, 2013, 10:54 am

    I ride a bus full of college students. There have been several times when people have literally been turned away because there simply wasn’t room on the bus. So I end up standing most of the time. I’m 4’11. Standing in the middle, with just the overhead handles to hold onto, is seriously painful. I’ve gotten off the bus after 5 minutes almost crying. So I dash towards the first open seat I see. However, there are more strenuous conditions, and if I saw someone struggling, I’d offer up my seat quick. If I didn’t see someone (due to overcrowded bus), and someone asked for a volunteer (whether the person struggling, or a bystander), I’d stand without a problem. Hopefully finding something lower to hang onto.