Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Signals near priority seating light up when an expectant mother approaches.
If you ride the subway, you’ve probably seen this far too many times: A pregnant woman stands in a crowded car trying to balance herself while the commuters seated in front of her pretend to not notice. They look down at their phones, furiously scrolling and tapping away, or they simply close their eyes.
In the U.S. and abroad, there’s plenty of bad etiquette aboard trains, prompting courtesy campaigns from transit agencies and frustrated riders, as well as a detailed “Idiot's Guide to How and When to Sit on the Subway” from CityLab.
But not everyone who doesn’t give up their seat is a jerk. Sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious that a woman is pregnant, and wrongly assuming so can make for an awkward situation. So the South Korean city of Busan is hoping a touch of technology might clear up the confusion.
The BBC reported last week that the city, working with a Korean ad agency, tested the Pink Light Campaign on the Busan-Gimhae light rail. Five hundred pregnant women were given sensors that activate pink lights installed near priority seats. The idea is that when the pink light goes off, the rider seated will surrender the seat to the expectant mother. Once she sits, the light goes off.
Women can apply online, have their pregnancies confirmed, and pick up sensors from various offices and stations in Busan. The sensor works best hung outside a woman’s bag, and its batteries last up to six months.
In fact, it’s as old and simple a solution as using bluetooth technology, though one journalist pointed out to the BBC that it may be embarrassing for some women to have a light go off every time they board a train. But an idea like this can help more than just mothers, particularly those with hidden or invisible disabilities like chronic fatigue syndrome—an issue that courtesy campaigns like ones in Washington, D.C. and New York City have tried to address.
It would be wonderful to live in a society where campaigns like these aren’t necessary at all, where visibly pregnant women or the elderly don’t have to plead with their fellow passengers for a seat. And where we have enough empathy for our fellow commuters that if a rider sincerely asks for our seat (which, by the way, isn’t always easy), we’d happily surrender that spot.