People in priority seats should be willing to rise to the occasion

Metro riders should let courtesy be their guide instead of guessing who qualifies for priority seating.
Metro riders should let courtesy be their guide instead of guessing who qualifies for priority seating.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011

A tired and frustrated Metrorail rider wrote about her long trip on a weekday last month.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

This morning, Metrorail was backed up because of single tracking on the Red Line. It took almost an hour of standing for me to get downtown from my stop at Grosvenor to Judiciary Square.

A sturdy-looking 20-something was sitting in the senior/disabled seats. I was standing, and being squished, right next to her. Shouldn't she have offered her seat to this 59-year-old who looks 59? I sure wish she had.

Susan Stein, North Bethesda

DG: We're talking about the priority seating for seniors and people with disabilities, the specially marked seats near the center doors in each rail car.

The transit authority has improved the visibility of the priority designations on those seats, so they should be visible to riders before they plunk down in them. Metro and other public transit agencies are required by the Americans With Disabilities Act to maintain priority seats. A young, able-bodied person should give up one of these seats for a senior citizen or someone who is disabled.

That part is easy and clear. But the letter writer's question gets into a murkier area of Metro etiquette, a topic we have discussed more often as Metro gets more crowded. Tired and squished as she was, she doesn't quite fit the rules for the use of priority seats. Should the young woman have gotten up?

I say yes. Anyone taking those seats incurs an obligation to look up and be aware of who is standing nearby. The seated person shouldn't be looking at the standing rider and thinking, "Hmm, you look old, but are you old enough? And, you, you look distressed, but are you disabled? And this woman over here looks pregnant, but is pregnancy a disability?"

Don't analyze their qualifications. Just offer the seat.

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