With her knees slightly bent, and her right foot a few centimeters ahead of her left, Liu Ying-mei (劉英妹) stood in the perfect position to tackle a big wave.
But instead of bracing herself for a giant breaker on a sandy beach, the 67-year-old former teacher from Beitou held on for dear life while riding Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system.
“The young people nowadays are not so well-mannered. They see it as their right to sit in any empty seat, no matter who is left standing,” Liu said as she wrapped her sun-spotted hands tightly around a metal support pole while a young couple appeared to be sound asleep in the blue seats reserved for people with special needs.
The scene became more ironic when the announcement, repeated in Mandarin, Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), Hakka and English, calling for people to give up seats for those in need sounded throughout the carriage. Still, no one got up.
Now retired, the silver-haired Liu depends on the MRT, taking it at least four times a day to go shopping at the traditional market or visiting friends.
“Some people do give up their seats when they see an elderly person, but many just wait for others to get up or pretend they are asleep,” she said.
The Taipei Rapid Transit Co (TRTC) is not oblivious to the problem.
Since 1995, the company has held 10 large-scale campaigns to promote MRT etiquette, such as lining up in an orderly manner and yielding seats to those in need, as well as safety on the escalators, TRTC vice-president and spokesman Chao Hsiung-fei (趙雄飛) said.
Last year, the company launched a program in which senior citizens and physically disabled passengers can obtain a pink sticker at the information booths in each station. The aim was that other passengers would give up their seats whenever they see someone wearing the heart-shaped sticker without having to be asked.
Many cars have also been plastered with four-frame comic strips, submitted by ordinary citizens, on the topic of showing deference to the elderly and infirm.
“We have seen major progress in people’s conduct on the MRT over the last few years. Many passengers would now rather stand than sit in the priority seating,” he said, adding many bus passengers have also caught the “courtesy fever” that TRTC started.
However, there is still much work to be done on improving people’s riding habits, he said.
Sung Hsiao-dai (宋曉黛), the mother of a wheelchair-bound boy who suffers from cerebral palsy, said although her son does not need a priority seat, “I often wish other passengers would yield their seat to me because I get very tired from pushing his wheelchair.”
Jack Hsu (許玉源), president of the parents’ association for the Huakuang Center for the Disabled in Hsinchu County, said that while the situation has definitely improved, many parents still complain about having to compete with “normal people” for seats for their special needs children.
“Sometimes parents are too shy to ask other passengers to yield. But the fact is, they should remind them, because they are in the perfect position to educate such passengers,” he said, asking why the public needed to be “taught” about such basic manners in a country that prides itself on its warm hospitality.
Taipei City Education Bureau Chief Wu Ching-shan (吳清山) attributed waning courtesy levels over the last few years to capitalism and the fact that people are having fewer children.