Priority Seats: Controversy or Bigotry? – 2159期

 

   In Taiwan, you can see priority seats(博愛座)on most public transportations, such as buses, trains, MRT and so on. Most people would yield their seats for those in need, which is a good thing to do. However, it also causes many problems. For example, passengers, whether in need or not, would not want to sit on the priority seats, because these seats imply the person sitting on them is physically disabled. That’s why people would rather stand than to use the seats. There are many controversies of yielding seats to the elderly or those in need in Taiwan. The majority of people do not want to use the priority seats because they are worried about the moral condemns from other passengers. However, people have diverse attitudes towards the priority seat in other countries.

 

Disputed Priority Seats

     Recently, the debates on priority seats have appeared often. The original purposes of having the priority seats in MRT were to provide special seats to the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and children, but some cases showed otherwise. “ Priority seats are preserved for the elderly , pregnant women , and all those in need,” said Jeng-rung Liu(劉崢嶸), a Taipei MRT passenger. All passengers are expected to yield priority seats to the people with disabilities, seniors, and expecting parents. However, what if the passengers who happened to sit on the priority seats actually suffer from the hidden disability, such as an invisible illness? Who should be the ones that get to take the seats? “One should not force others to yield the seats. Who knows? Maybe the passengers need the seats more than you do,” a passenger said. “Those who are willing to yield the seats would have done so actively, and you would not have to force them. It is the public perception that distorted the original intentions of priority seats.” Passenger You Yeh(葉佑), said.

 

The Establishment and Public Reception

   The concept of “Priority Seating” is believed to have originated from northern Europe, with the intention to reserve seats for the passengers in need on mass transportations. In 2008, Taiwan Government enacted the Regulations for Establishment of Accessibility Facilities of Public Transportations(大眾運輸工具無障礙設施設置辦法),which was drawn up in accordance with Article 53 of the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act (身心障礙者權益保障法),pointing out that public transportation facilities without reserved seats shall set priority seats for the disabled, elderly, expectant mothers and passengers carrying infant or children. Though ordinary people can still use it, they are expected to yield their seats to passengers with disability.

   After the dissemination of the concept to the public for almost eight years, it seems that the original meaning of priority seats has turned into the idea that the seats are preserved for those with the special needs only. “No matter how tired I am, I will not use the priority seats even if there were no elderly, disabled, or pregnant women on the MRT carriage,” said Jing-xuan Yan(顏靖軒), a passenger who studied in Yuan Ze University(元智大學). Using priority seats makes him feel guilty since people tend to despise him for doing this, Yan added. Another passenger, Hong-chih Tsao(曹鴻誌), who is a student of Tamkang University(淡江大學), shared the same opinion as Yan did. “It felt like I am morally condemned,” Tsao said.

   On the other hand, some still hold a positive view that we all have the rights to use the priority seats. According to passenger Wei-ting Lin(林威廷),a junior from Yuan Ze University, as long as people follow the rules, it is completely fine for passengers to use the seats. Bo-sheng Pan(潘柏升),a staff of Kung Hua Bus(光華巴士),pointed out that people follow the regulations well on public transportation. However, priority seats are still needed since few people do not yield their seats.

 

Controversy: A Reflection of Culture

   In Japan, the priority seats in public transportations are reserved for passengers with special needs. “We can see priority seats in amount of transportations in Japan. My aunt, who has been living in Japan for over thirty years, told me that passengers thought these seats are designated for special group. However, the situation and public perception has changed. At the beginning of setting up the priority seats, Japanese regarded them as the special seats. Nowadays, the majority do not care about whether these seats are used by passengers with special needs,” said Ying Wang(汪瀛), who has been studying in Japan nearly two years.

   “As the United States is a nation of multicultural elements, Americans have diverse behaviors towards the use of priority seats,” Zhao-ru Chen(陳昭汝), who has been living in Illinois about three years, shared her experience and thoughts. Chen said, “In Illinois, plenty of priority seats were set for the disabled. And there are special space and seats for them to adjust their wheelchairs. Especially worth mentioning, passengers are always forwardly concerned with person who sits on the priority seat.

   Compared to Japan and America, public’s perception on the use of priority seats in Taiwan is quite different. To resolve this problem, mutual understanding is the key. People should not judge passengers using the priority seats simply by his or her appearance, instead, show more empathy to those in need. Also, those who have been offered seats should be grateful as well, not taking others' generosity for granted.