Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Readers (and riders) respond to a recent CityLab essay about who deserves to sit.
When grown-up subway riders hop up from their seats to make space for kids, are we doing the younger riders a disservice? Does cowing to the littlest commuters rob them of the chance to learn how to stand on their own feet, both literally and metaphorically?
They’re questions Stephanie Fairyington posed in a recent op-ed for CityLab, in which she advocated for adults keeping their butts in the seats. Readers had a lot to say.
In the comments, Lisa Schweitzer argued that standing kids could slow the process of disembarking.
“I'm torn between ‘let's socialize kids to use the bus properly’ and ‘they never get out of the way when they stand in the aisle, and that costs us a lot of dwell time’ at bus stops. (Buses in LA have long routes, so seconds per stop really matter.) I get that mom or dad has told them to stay near, but honestly, you get kids hanging off mom right by the door, the kid never moves, the parent never tells them to move, and they ignore you when you ask to get by. And it's always a mess. And if you don't give your seat to a person trying to manage a small baby I am soooooo judging you into the ‘raised by wolves’ category.”
David Forgue wrote that there’s no single standard for assessing who needs to sit:
“You don't ever roll your eyes at someone for not giving up their seat, since just as you may not see their disability, they might not see yours. … Kids should be socialized to ride public transit as soon as practicable, but practicable depends on the kid, the frequency of the ridership, and other factors.”
“Students’ bus tickets in Greece are explicitly standing-only.”
On our Facebook page, a reader named Victoria Olausson noted that it might be scary for kids to feel dwarfed by taller riders:
“In a crowded public transport, breathing can be difficult when everybody around you is 50 to 60 cm taller. Not to talk about having people's bags right in your face. In my opinion it is inconsiderate not to let the small ones sit.”
On The Atlantic’s Facebook page, Katelyn Lloyd spoke from the perspective of a mother just looking for a smidgen of empathy:
“My view, generally, is to offer help to, and make concessions for, those who are struggling more than I am. As a single mother who used public transportation daily until recently, I can assure everyone that holding a toddler and a railing on a crowded, rush-hour bus is a hellacious shitstorm, and I greatly appreciated strangers who showed kindness and understanding, whether that meant offering a seat or saying, ‘He's adorable,’ when it was apparent that I was at my wit's end.”
Yesterday, following up on CityLab’s piece, the radio station WNYC posed the question to riders shuttling around the subway.
“It depends on how tired the child looks,” one rider explained to the reporter, Shumita Basu. Other straphangers echoed Fairyington’s tough-love stance. The youngest passengers “need to build up their strength,” one woman argued.
That’s a refrain we saw in our comments section, too, where a reader named Gwinny wrote:
“Nothing is more frustrating than getting on a crowded train during rush hour to find that half the seats are taken by kids looking at screens. They have all the energy in the world, whereas I certainly do not at the end of a long workday.”
Listen to WNYC's story below, and tell us what you think.