Thursday, June 18, 2009

NY City ad campaign tells subway, bus riders they must not take the seats of disabled people

From the City Room blog of The New York Times:

It is the usual reminder, just a little firmer than in the past. This week, as it has done every couple of years, New York City Transit is starting an advertising campaign asking New Yorkers to remember to “please offer a seat” to disabled passengers on buses and subways.

There was a time — who knows if it really existed — when such civility was assumed. However, the new posters on subways and buses give riders an extra prod: “It’s not only polite, it’s the law.”

“It’s the first time we’ve really stressed this,” said Paul J. Fleuranges, vice president for corporate communications at New York City Transit, the largest arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Those who decline to give up a seat on request face up to a $50 fine, he said. (The new campaign also warns that “not all disabilities are visible.”)

As long as there has been public transportation, there has been grumbling about healthy young men taking a load off while the pregnant, the old and the infirm stand by.

Recently, some bloggers have chronicled their own troubles securing a seat while injured or pregnant.

“We’ve become less civil,” said Lawrence Carter-Long, executive director of the Disabilities Network of New York City, who has cerebral palsy and walks with a cane. “I don’t think it’s malice,” he said. “But in a city like New York, where you put your head down and just try to get from point A to point B, it’s even more of a problem.”

Then again, maybe instead of quietly fuming, those in need of a seat should simply ask for one. In 1972, the iconoclastic psychology professor Stanley Milgram used students to gauge the generosity of subway riders, finding that 68 percent of riders stood up when asked, “Excuse me, may I have your seat?” In 2004, 13 out of 15 riders stood up when two reporters from The New York Times replicated the exercise.

Mr. Fleuranges said it would be hard to gauge the effectiveness of the campaign. “We don’t have the staff to monitor that,” he said in an e-mail message. “Where we hope this campaign has an impact is in the area of customer education — in that our riders understand why these seats are made available and hope, if asked, they provide the seat to a fellow customer who requests it.”