Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Fear rules railway seating

It seems like every other week there is some uproar over priority seats on the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system or reserved seats on the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) trains.

This weekend, a man who bought tickets for a TRA train asked an elderly person to move out of his designated seat, only to be glared at by another passenger sitting in front of him, who then gave up her seat to the elderly person.

It turned out that the glarer had not purchased a reserved seat either, so the “glaree” was left to wonder why he deserved such a look. Perhaps he was being too sensitive, but his confusion highlights that the seating issue is getting out of hand.

Incidents such as this one are constantly being reported in the news, so they presumably occur on a regular basis. As a result, a system of fear has developed, where people are afraid to occupy empty MRT priority seats even though the carriage is packed and they are exhausted from working all day.

It is a system where people boarding TRA trains anticipate having to ask people to move and dread the possible ensuing conflict or glares from elderly non-reserved ticketholders. In August, a young woman with a reserved seat was scolded for not respecting old people by an older woman who was sitting in her seat and unwilling to move.

For MRT authorities, the idea of “priority” seats is a commonsense one that they are for people with special needs, but others can sit on them otherwise. However, judgement from other passengers is so harsh today that many passengers would rather stand than sit on a blue seat temporarily — or worse, young people with injuries or health problems are chastised for sitting on a blue seat. A young woman with severe menstrual cramps was last month scolded by another passenger for sitting on a blue seat.

Priority seats are a good idea, but clearly the idea is not working when it becomes a warped system where it is no longer about common courtesy or goodwill. The seats should promote the idea of taking the initiative to be kind, not promote a fear of being considered unkind.

It has gotten to the point where the MRT has been handing out stickers to passengers to signify that they need to occupy a blue seat — but even that is causing problems. What if someone suddenly feels ill on the train and does not have a sticker? If people cannot figure out who can sit where, then maybe black-and-white rules should be enforced.

For example, if the MRT mandates that nobody between the ages of five and 55 can sit on a priority seat unless they are sick, injured, pregnant or disabled, then maybe passengers would be less likely to judge a young person who is feeling sick and sits on one of them.

If the seats are empty, the authorities might as well reduce the stigma for those sitting in them.

The TRA issue is simpler — whoever pays for a reserved seat should be able to sit in their seat, no matter who they are asking to move. Nobody should be afraid to claim what they have paid for. The notion that they should give up their seat to someone who chose not to purchase a reserved seat is just ridiculous.

Perhaps priority seats could be set aside for elderly people who are unable to purchase reserved seats for whatever reason. Again, to prevent this becoming a system of fear, one would need to obtain permission from train staff beforehand or during travel to be able to sit in them.

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