Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Prague is unveiling subway cars for singles. Is this something people really want?
Prague transportation officials have suggested a novel way to help combat big city loneliness: introducing singles cars on the Prague metro. Mooted for later this year, the idea is to set aside one car per train (probably the last one) for single people for a fixed period each week (though apparently you wouldn’t have to be single to get on). According to Prague transit spokesman Filip Drápal, the plan is designed to help time-poor singles lacking opportunities to meet others. He commented in Czech weekly Týden that, "People today have no place to meet ... Here they have the opportunity."
So far, the reaction seems largely positive. An online poll by Týden found 51 percent in favor, but the concept still throws up some tricky questions. Could attached people entering the cars be accused of infidelity? Might riders choosing the cars by accident feel unable to complain about leering or other unwanted advances? Many women dread the occasional rogue roving hands of subway crowds as it is, and the thought of cranking up sexual tension further by turning a crowded subway car into an ambulant hook-up shack clearly has its problems.
What the plan touches on, nonetheless is the strange intensity many of us feel entering a packed train full of strangers we're not really supposed to acknowledge or engage. Nowhere else beyond a city’s transit system do we come into close proximity with such a volume of strangers. Nowhere is there a stronger taboo against actually talking to them. This taboo is there for a reason – no one’s going underground to socialize, let alone be pestered– but it often gives rise to a nagging sense of "what if?", a worry that your ideal mate might be always speeding past you in the third car along from yours.
Finding ways to break through this barrier has become an international obsession. The United States has its Craigslist missed connections columns, while London free paper Metro’s hugely popular rush hour crush column has even sparked the odd proposal of marriage. The francophone world likewise has its own transit dating counterpart in the website croisedanslemetro.com, covering Paris, Brussels, Montreal, and five other French cities. For Parisians who are really determined to find love underground, there’s even the metro-mapping site Dataparis.io, which details the Paris metro stops that have the most singles (there’s apparently a slight concentration in Central Paris' eastern section). For voyeurs there’s also Tubecrush, the slightly creepy site dedicated to London transit candids of passengers that contributors deem hot, now with offshoots in Boston and New York. No doubt these attempts to re-link failed connections showcase the romantic and sexual potential of big city life. Then again, they also demonstrate that, just because you live among millions of other potentially eligible partners, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any easier to meet.