Maybe we all just needed the reminder.
The MTA launched a pilot program earlier this month to allow New Yorkers to order free buttons that declare: “Baby on Board” or “Please Offer Me a Seat.” The point of the courtesy awareness program is to encourage straphangers to give up their seats to pregnant, elderly or disabled riders, including those who may not seem visibly needy. It applies to LIRR and Metro-North riders, too, and 13,300 orders had been placed for the buttons as of Friday. See something (someone wearing the button), do something (get up).
It violates federal law and the MTA’s code of conduct to sit in areas reserved for disabled riders, yet enforcement is understandably limited. The NYPD issued no summonses for forbidden sitters in 2016. The MTA has long tried to give New Yorkers a little encouragement to do the right thing and give up their seats. That includes years of courtesy programming imploring the inconsiderate to try something different. In the 1970s, a social experiment in NYC subways found that riders would often give up their seats when directly asked. Maybe the buttons, which have been used in London for a decade with mixed results, will scare up some seats. In a system plagued by delays, that would come as some small relief at least.
Maybe the buttons nudge human nature as we’ve all experienced it between the turnstiles in a more positive direction. Maybe the day will finally come when the backpack wearers shrug off their bulky burdens; when the onrushing impatients decide to, for once, let the good people of the subway car exit before barging in. Maybe the manspreaders will close their firmly angular legs. Maybe no one will fall asleep on your arm. Maybe the guy using two bus seats will offer some room. Maybe someone will make eye contact for once in this brief existence and say, this individual needs the seat more than I do. Maybe no one will abuse the button system even though the MTA won’t be checking that you are indeed pregnant, elderly, or disabled. (Come on, that was the first thing you thought of, too.) Maybe someday we’ll all be kinder commuters.
That would be great, and deserve a standing ovation.