Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mandating civility: Give up your seat, or else

An interesting article came up on the New York Post's City Room blog, about the city's law regarding offering your seat to disabled passengers. The article reported on the (perceived or real) diminishing levels of civility on public transit, and how an "abled" individual (however you'd like to define it) may be levelled with a $50 fine if they refuse to give up their seat.

From the article:

There was a time — who knows if it really existed — when such civility was assumed. However, the new posters on subways and buses give riders an extra prod: “It’s not only polite, it’s the law.”

“It’s the first time we’ve really stressed this,” said Paul J. Fleuranges, vice president for corporate communications at New York City Transit, the largest arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Those who decline to give up a seat on request face up to a $50 fine, he said. (The new campaign also warns that “not all disabilities
are visible.”)
OC Transpo in Ottawa does have a 'priority seating' section, but I don't believe there are any mandated give-up-your-seat regulations within out city's transit utility.

Do any readers think our city needs to consider such a measure? Are there horror stories out there about your experienced difficulty in finding a seat while in need? Feel free to post your thoughts and feelings in the comments.


Charles A-M said...

Do we have to go from "common courtesy not being followed" to "by-law enforced with a ticket"?

Bus drivers have the power to ask someone to get off the bus, for whatever reason. A simple OC Transpo policy allowing (or defending) drivers to kick people off if they don't listen to the driver's request to cede their seat should be sufficient.

I have heard many people say that they're sick and tired of asking people to give them a seat, and they're embarrassed to do so. I also know people who have to sit while taking the bus, but their condition isn't obvious by sight. I, for one, usually have my bike with me when I ride the bus, so I'm expected to stay near the front to keep an eye on my bike (though I usually stand if priority seating is scarce).

There's also the question of how much we should expect our bus drivers to do, which you raised in a recent post. Whether there's a policy or a by-law, the driver is going to have to get involved at some point.

I think that bus drivers should not leave the stop until their passengers have had a chance to sit down, and that people who require priority seating should notify the driver as they're getting on the bus, so that the driver can keep watch to make sure they get a seat.

I don't see why we need to ticket people just for being stupid and self-centred. Ask them first, and if they don't move, kick them off the bus. That's punishment enough, and doesn't require waiting for a special constable to arrive.

Dean said...

Some days I get on the bus and I see seniors blocking seats with a cart or have all their bags spread out and refusing to move anything. I also see students take up seats at the front and do not move for seniors.

I really don't see a special constable handing out fines for the first group. Or bus drivers kicking off seniors who fail to comply. A bylaw that is unfairly enforced will only cause problems.

I do see however drivers understandably not wanting to enforce the bylaw after several drivers get attacked for doing so.

Maybe we should get a policy dealing with strollers and carts before we worry about more bylaws on the bus.

Thall said...

This just seems a bit difficult to enforce. How do you know what someone suffers from? For instance, I am 26 years old and I jog fairly regularly. However, I also suffer from arthritis in my hips and knees (not regularly thankfully!). Some days, however, the pain is just awful and I can barely walk or stand, but if you were to look at me, I look like a fit young man in my mid 20s. Now, I still generally always give up my seat to someone who is clearly in need and avoid the priority seating. However, I think this just goes to show the extreme difficulty in enforcing something like this. Should someone lie me be ticketed just because they don't look disabled and have no proof? I think this is something that the law should stay away from in as much as it is possible simply because it just won't work.

Anonymous said...

One of last year's Canadian "best sellers" , an action screenplay/book by Howard Shrier entitled "Buffalo Jump" (and this is not a recommendation for the book) has an opening scene wherein the "hero", a rather dispicable and unlovable jerk, rides a TTC streetcar and harasses and then assaults a patron because he does not give up his seat to an elderly woman. I guess we are supposed to admire the hero for standing up for justice, but to me he just demonstrates incivility and bullying (the "hero" is a professional martial arts instructor, the victim a teen male). I mention this as an example of "pop culture" glorifying vigilante action on public transit to enforce what should be a courtesy. Maybe filing a complaint and having the TTC issue the violator with a ticket would not have made such a dramatic, if cheap, opening scene.

Eric Darwin

WJM said...


Similar boat here. I busted a knee quite badly last year. It healed up, but it is prone to "giving out" and buckling my leg out from under me, without much warning.

One of the biggest triggers: standing on a moving bus, or, more to the point, a bus that's trying to overcome inertia. It simply isn't safe for me to stand; if I fell, it would likely be onto another passenger, standing or seated. And that wouldn't be good, especially if their mass was much smaller than mine.

I've already been knocked to the floor or into a door a couple of times during braking or acceleration. Thankfully, I haven't landed on anyone. Yet.

Anonymous said...

Ok it is common courtesy to give up your seat on the bus to an elderly or handicaped person, but this morning I was on the bus, and for no reason I deceide to sit in the front today. I began to read my book 1984 which completly consumed all of my attention. which is why i didn't notice the elderly man standing next to me and i wouldn't have though about him wanting my seat because there was a seat right next to me open. so sudenley this older woman just starts shouting at me that next time i needed to get up because thoses seats are for handicaped and elderly people and i need to learn to be curteous. This infuriated me because one I felt targetd because there were 3 other kids my age s
itting in the same part on the bus as me yet she only came to me. So immediatley without thinking I began to argue back with her that I didn't have been to give my seat up for anyone because I paid just like everyone else and that if she had a problem with it she could get the f**** up and he'd take her seat. We contiued to argue, and when she finaly got off the bus I felt very emmbaresed and stupid. I knew that i had disrespectfull for calling her out of her name and acting in such a matter, but i still fell I was right. I don't have a problem giving up my seat, but i hadn't noticed he was there. So now I want to know if i was worng and should I have gotten up as soon as the lady addressed me.

Me said...


I don't think you were wrong for arguing back with the elderly lady, but you could have probably been more diplomatic about it. By that I mean avoiding the profanity. You could have just explained to the lady that you didn't even notice the elderly man standing there and, why should you? Seeing as how there was an available seat right next to you for him to sit in. I just love how elderly women are usually the first to speak up and defend the "priority seating" rule. I am 6 months pregnant and last week I was rudely asked by an elderly woman to give up my seat for her when she was sitting in the priority seating right across from me. Did I mention I also had about 6 bags of groceries with me? Also, I've noticed that a lot of heavy set people tend to not give up their seat for those who require priority seating. Last time I checked priority seating didn't include those who can't fit into one seat.