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High-tech alarm helps pregnant women get a seat on public transit

South Korea is trying out a new system to help expecting women get a seat on its light rail system. But does it go too far?

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

When I was pregnant with my first son back in 2008, I took public transit to work daily—first a 15-minute bus ride, then a 10-minute ride on the subway. Because the journeys were relatively short, I didn’t mind standing if I couldn’t get a seat. But I was nonetheless shocked when almost nobody ever gave me one. All my friends and colleagues report the same thing: Pregnant women are rarely offered a seat on public transit. It’s easy to blame smartphones, but in 2008, most people weren’t glued to them yet (if they even had one), so what was our excuse back then?

Some cities are trying to fix this problem. In London, England, pregnant mamas can order a free “Baby on Board” pin which lets fellow riders know, in no uncertain terms, that they’re expecting, in the hopes that they’ll be offered a seat. (Kate Middleton sported one when she was pregnant with Prince George.) But some women say wearing the pin is embarrassing. To those women, I say: At least you don’t live in Busan, South Korea!

The city of Busan (in collaboration with a local PR company) is trying out a new, high-tech approach to the problem. A bluetooth (i.e., wireless) system alerts subway riders that a pregnant woman is on board by way of a pink light. The pregnant woman wears a sensor that activates small lights attached to the hand-rails on subway cars.

I kind of like the idea—in theory. But I feel like it would be embarrassing. It’s really not much different than announcing loudly, “Hey, random strangers on the subway, I’m pregnant, so give me a seat!” Not that there’s anything wrong with saying that (politely). I know I asked for a seat a few times in my final month of pregnancy, when my lower back pain and sciatica were out of control. But plenty of women would rather suffer in silence than garner that kind of attention.

It’s really a shame that this system even had to be invented in the first place. Maybe we just need to shift our thinking. When you ride public transit, you might get a seat and you might not. Perhaps if you get one, you should consider it not a right that comes with paying your fare, but a privilege, and a temporary privilege at that—like, it’s only yours unless someone else comes along who needs it more than you do. Then, you offer it up. Yes, we’re all entranced by our phones these days, but is it a lot to ask to glance up every little while and assess the needs of our fellow humans?

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