Take the Rude Train

BART riders won't give up their seats for a pregnant woman.

If you're looking for chivalry, search elsewhere than on the 8:05 a.m. BART to Millbrae. With the recent birth of her first child, a Bay Area blogger completed something of a rapid transit experiment: Over the nine months of her pregnancy — and three months of being obviously pregnant — not one fellow BART rider offered her a seat.

While it's Muni that has the reputation for being stocked with rude and belligerent riders as it slowly hauls people and urine about the city, it appears the men in the gray flannel suits boarding BART in the suburbs could use a refresher course in manners as well.

"Being a daily BART commuter, you observe a lot of things. I often see college-age students pretending they're asleep while an older woman is struggling to balance in front of them," says 33-year-old Sandy, who writes the Bart Musings blog and last month gave birth to a 6-pound, 14-ounce boy. "I've seen well-dressed young professionals doing the exact same thing."

While the notion of giving up one's seat for a pregnant woman traces back to when the Flintstones rode the dinosaur bus to work, it's always been something one should rather than must do. It's legally mandated to surrender your place to elderly or disabled riders, but giving a seat to a pregnant woman is simply "common decency," according to Linton Johnson, BART's chief spokesman.

In case you're wondering if riders wanted to avoid the nightmare scenario of offering their seats to a woman who was not pregnant but just overweight, consider that Sandy (who insisted we not use her last name) gained only 20 pounds during her pregnancy and described herself as "extremely petite," rail-thin with a giant belly. And while the blogger feels it reflects poorly on our society that no one would offer a seat to a pregnant woman, one of the terms of her "experiment" was that she would not ask for one. But if she had, chances are she'd have been given a seat in a jiffy — even if she were not pregnant.

In a series of intriguing psychological experiments inaugurated in the 1970s, psychology professor Stanley Milgram sent his City University of New York graduate students onto the subway — the very same place where Bernie Goetz would shoot four teenagers who asked him for a quarter — to ask riders for their seats. Close to 70 percent complied, no questions asked. In fact, it was much harder for the students to bring themselves to ask for the seat than for riders to give it up.

In any event, Sandy promises she'll raise her son so he won't have to be asked before giving up his seat. And, now that she's toting an infant onto the train, she can help BART amass another substance more closely associated with Muni: Vomit.

 
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