It seems that debates about priority seats on public transportation are stirred up every few years, whenever a video clip or post about confrontation over priority seats goes viral online and sparks social media uproar, but even as many policies aimed to resolve the issue are implemented, the controversy goes on.
On Wednesday, 71-year-old novelist Li Ang (李昂) posted on Facebook that she had asked three young people sitting on Taipei MRT priority seats if they could yield their seat to her, but a man refused by saying he did not feel well, and two women “showed a very bad attitude” and “kept rolling their eyes” at her.
Posting two photos of the three people, she wrote that she is “certainly older,” and was feeling unwell while busily preparing for a book launch in Paris, so she called on Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) to give clearer guidelines for priority seating.
She later elaborated on the incident in another post, saying that the man showed an expression as if saying “you can’t do anything to me” when he refused, but she was offended by the two women, who looked like high-school students, as they “rolled their eyes despisingly.”
Li added that some netizens commented on her previous post that the young women might have been pregnant and needed to sit down, but she sarcastically replied “Pregnant high-school students? With Taiwan’s low birth rate, then congratulations! But do they look like they are pregnant in the photo? They could have told me if they are.”
The novelist’s posts sparked heated discussions on social media, including whether priority seats are exclusively for or prioritized for elderly people, people with disabilities, pregnant women and children, whether the seats should be abolished, if asking people to yield their seat is considered “emotional blackmail,” and if it is appropriate for public figures to enforce “online public shaming” against strangers.
A netizen who claimed to be one of the young women posted on the Dcard online forum that she woke up at 6am and got off work at 5pm, so she is often exhausted and dozing off on the MRT train, and during the incident Li looked in good spirits and did not tell her she was feeling unwell, but only murmured to herself “I’m going to try again and see if anyone will yield a seat to me” and “This is a priority seat. Who will yield their seat to me? No one?” and that she looked up at Li but did not roll her eyes.
Another netizen commented that he was in the same cabin and heard Li murmuring to herself, and that another passenger had offered her seat to Li, but she refused and said she intended to post about the incident on Facebook.
As the Ministry of Health and Welfare said it has proposed amending regulations to add “people with actual need” to the priority groups for the seats, the Taipei City Government urged people to “have mutual respect and understand each other’s needs.” The Taipei MRT reminded the public that it has free stickers for pregnant women and people who are feeling unwell to indicate their need to sit down.
However, Li’s case once again highlighted that the well-intentioned system for encouraging altruism, kindness and goodwill has become abused by some into a system of fear and constant appearance scrutiny, as some may feel “entitled” to the priority seats due to their age, regardless of their actual need, while young and visibly “healthy” people dare not sit even if they are feeling ill or feel pressured to explain their illness, for fear they would be glared at and judged based on their appearance.
The city government and MRT stations should not only encourage people to yield seats out of courtesy and kindness, it should also put more emphasis on encouraging those with special needs to politely ask for a seat or use the free sticker for a more subtle expression.
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