Are pregnant women entitled to a seat on public transport?
Pregnant mothers-to-be who travel on public buses and trains appreciate getting to sit down for the bumpy journey ahead -- but are you entitled to a seat and should you expect other commuters to automatically offer you theirs?
When pregnant mum-to-be, Maria Louise Dass, was making her way back home on the MRT and was about to sit in a priority seat which was empty, she was stopped by another commuter who pointed out the reserved seating signage to her.
After she told him that she was indeed expecting, he then asked her for proof of her pregnancy, to which Maria replied, “Who the hell are you to ask me for proof? Do you want to see my medical bills? My baby’s ultrasound [pictures]??”.
He retorted that she was not dressed in typical maternity clothes, told her to “shut up and sit down”, then stuck out his tongue at her and mocked the pregnant mum about her prenatal stress.
After a heated exchange, he made a finger gun gesture with his hand and pointed it directly at Maria’s face before making his exit.
Although this is not the first reported case of a public dispute over priority seats on the public transport system in Singapore, according to the Minister of Transport, Khaw Boon Wan, in a perception survey conducted by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), there has actually been an increase in percentage from 42% in 2012, up to 63% in 2014 of bus and train commuters noticing that other people are offering their seats to those who need it more.
So why are there still many unpleasant incidents encountered by expectant mums when travelling via public transport?
Are pregnant women really entitled to a seat on buses and trains?
And are other commuters expected to automatically give up their seat to you because you’re pregnant?
Why pregnant women need that seat
Pregnancy is not a walk in the park for all women and many will experience uncomfortable physical symptoms which include:
- Body aches
- Leg cramps
- Numb/ tingling hands
- Swelling (of face, hands and ankles)
As a woman’s pregnancy progresses, her ever-expanding belly will shift her centre of gravity, which makes it difficult for her to stay upright.
A certain pregnancy hormone (relaxin) also causes an expectant mum’s joints to loosen as her body slowly prepares for childbirth, which can make her become a little clumsy and unstable when she is standing.
Travelling on a public bus or train can prove to be a bumpy ride even for some able-bodied commuters, so a pregnant woman could possibly be more at risk of falling and injuring herself and her unborn child should she lose her balance.
If an expectant mum does suffer a bad fall, this could possibly lead to health complications such as vaginal bleeding, trauma to the abdomen, leaking of amniotic, uterine contractions, placenta damage, or even premature delivery of the baby.
Not expected but certainly appreciated
When the reserved seat designs on the mrt were introduced in December 2013, it was an initiative by the LTA to help encourage train commuters to offer their seats to those who may need it more, such as pregnant women or the elderly, and hopefully “to improve commuting experience”.
But different mums in Singapore have mixed opinions about getting priority seats on buses and trains:
“I think some people should be more courteous and offer their seat to pregnant women and senior citizens, instead of pretending to fall asleep or just blatantly ignoring us” – Angie W., beautician and currently expecting her first child.
“I honestly did not expect people to give up their seat on the mrt for me, even though I was already 7 months pregnant and had a huge tummy. I’m sure other people are tired after work too. But it was nice to encounter kind people who did offer it me” – Sarimah M., real estate agent and mother of three.
“Regardless of whether it is a reserved seat or not, I hope to see more gracious commuters on the mrt who will offer their seat to a pregnant woman or a small child” – Shulin T., kindergarten teacher and mother of one.
“When I was pregnant, I would always hope to be able to sit down on the bus or mrt, but I definitely wouldn’t say that I felt entitled to a seat. If someone offered [one] to me, I’d gladly accept, but I dared not ask in case they refused, because that would be so embarrassing!” – Sheila S., coffee barista and mother of one.
“Of course able-bodied people should give up their seats to pregnant mums — we are carrying another life inside us! It annoys me when I see rude people on the public transport who pretend not to notice those who need the seat more than they do. Come on, have a heart!” Veena S., make-up artist and mother of two.
“Being pregnant does not necessarily entitle me to special privileges, but it is nice and polite of people to extend gestures of kindness by holding the door open for me when I’m struggling with heavy bags, or giving me their seat on the train during rush hour when I look like my water is about to break” – Amy D., stay at home mom and mother of two.
Stop the seat-shaming
Are the cases of supposedly ungracious commuters not giving up their seats to pregnant ladies really on the rise here in Singapore?
Or is it becoming more prominent in the public eye due to the trend of “seat-shaming” those who do wrong by uploading their photos or video footage onto the internet with the intention of making their story go viral?
In a letter to the Straits Times, Goh Chui Ling writes, “The concept of priority seats in Singapore’s public transport has developed a belief among locals that we are entitled to publicly shame those who do not give up these seats. If this culture of dishonour continues, people would be giving up their seats only for fear of being shamed. Do we want to be part of that kind of culture?”
She also goes by the first come, first served principle and feels that all commuters are entitled to a seat on the public transport system.
“But giving up one’s seat is part of honouring others. This can be cultivated but should never be forced”, she says.
According to Assistant Professor Natalie Pang, Wee Kim Kee School of Communication, Nanyang Technological University explains that due to modern technology and the public’s easy access to an online platform, this shines the spotlight on such incidents.
Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) also encourages the public to refrain from posting about such issues online and stand up to help the situation instead.
He says, “If we really care for the good in society, then you also need to be fair. And to be fair, I think it is best if you can take up courage and step up to help somebody do the right thing, rather than to do the easier thing [by] taking a picture and posting it.”
Show some graciousness
Although it certainly isn’t against the law in Singapore when a commuter does not give up his or her seat to someone else who needs it more, nor is there a penalty fine to pay, it is generally agreed that it is just good etiquette to do so.
Able-bodied people are expected to remember what they learned in school or were taught by their parents and perform this simple act of kindness out of pure compassion.
Some may argue that it is not their problem, or that they are tired too, or that pregnant women should take a taxi instead — but if you were walking along the street and someone fell down right in front of you and the contents of their bag gets scattered everywhere, would you just step around them and shrug, saying that it is “not your problem”?
If a woman asks you for your seat, do not scrutinise her appearance in order to determine whether she is really pregnant (and definitely do not ask her for proof!), as it could still be early in her pregnancy for her baby belly to show.
It doesn’t take much to show some graciousness and extend a helping hand to those in need, so hopefully able-bodied commuters could bear this in mind when travelling on the bus or mrt and keep a look out for those who may need your seat more than you do.
It works both ways
On the other hand, if you are a pregnant mum (or someone else who “qualifies” for a reserved seat), it is also important to remember that you are not entitled to a seat on the public transport.
When someone is kind enough to offer you one, then it is out of the goodness of their heart, not because they owe it to you or are less entitled to it than you are.
If you do ask someone politely for their seat on the bus or mrt and they refuse, there is no need to kick up a fuss or upload their picture onto social media to publicly shame them.
We may not know what other person is going through, whether they are suffering from a non-visible illness or recovering from an injury, so we cannot assume that all commuters who do not give up their seats are just plain rude and inconsiderate.
But even if they are in perfectly good health and still do not have the decency to show you some graciousness, that is just a reflection of their own poor etiquette and you should approach somebody else for help instead.
On the topic of giving up seats on the buses and trains to those who need it more, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, says, “It takes effort from each of us, but it is important and worthwhile. Our pace of life is fast, and we feel the pressures of living in a city. But all the more we should try harder to respect and help one another. It will make life more pleasant for us all”.
Just ask (politely)!
Even though we expect everyone around us to be kind and sensitive to our needs, often times commuters are either oblivious to their surroundings, too engrossed in scrolling through their mobile devices, or just unsure whether someone really needs the seat.
“Sometimes I don’t know whether a woman is pregnant or maybe just plus-sized. I’m scared to offer her a seat in case she gets offended and shouts at me or something!”, explains Malik K., an ITE college student.
If you really need a seat on the bus or mrt, instead of standing there scowling at everyone for not offering you one, the easiest thing to do is simply to ask politely.
Chances are that someone will be more than willing to give you their seat.
Dr William Wan points out that although the reserved seats are a visual reminder to all commuters to practice graciousness and be considerate, the way you ask for a seat is also quite important.
“I have been requesting for seats and, to date, nobody has turned me down. If I had demanded it as a right, I would probably get a different kind of response”, says Dr William Wan.
So if you’re a pregnant mum-to-be, the next time you are travelling on the public bus or mrt, just flash a smile and politely ask someone for a seat.
If you are an able-bodied commuter, then remember to be gracious and offer one to someone who may need it more than you.
They may not feel entitled to a seat, but they certainly will appreciate your act of kindness.
Do you think pregnant women are entitled to a seat on the public buses and trains? Should other commuters show a bit more kindness and willingly offer their seats? Share this article with all your friends who have encountered similar situations!