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On the button: a nudge to mass transit civility

The MTA launched a pilot program earlier this

The MTA launched a pilot program earlier this month to allow New Yorkers to order free buttons that declare: "Baby on Board" or "Please Offer Me a Seat." Credit: MTA

Maybe we all just needed the reminder.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched a pilot program in May to allow New Yorkers to order free buttons that declare: “Baby on Board” or “Please Offer Me a Seat.” The point of the courtesy awareness program is to encourage commuters to give up their seats to pregnant, elderly or disabled riders, including those who might not seem visibly needy. It applies to riders of the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and NYC Transit. Some 13,500 orders for buttons had been placed as of Monday.

See something (someone wearing the button), do something (get up).

It violates federal regulations and the MTA’s code of conduct to fail to give up seats reserved for disabled riders upon request, yet enforcement is understandably limited. The MTA has long tried to give riders a little encouragement to do the right thing through years of courtesy programming. Maybe the buttons, which have been used in London for a decade with mixed results, will scare up some seats. In a delay-plagued system, that would come as some small relief at least.

Maybe the buttons nudge commuter nature in a more positive direction. Maybe the day will finally come when backpacks don’t take up a seat, when those fortunate enough to have extra room leave their feet on the floor. Maybe someone will make eye contact for once in this brief existence and say, this individual needs the seat more than I do. Maybe no one will abuse the button system even though the MTA won’t be checking that you are indeed pregnant, elderly or disabled. (Come on, you were thinking it, too.) Maybe someday we’ll all be kinder travelers.

That would be great, and deserve a standing ovation.