Throughout the past few years, major cities have developed new ways to encourage their subway riders to give up seats to pregnant people. Most recently, in May 2017, New York City introduced "Baby on Board" buttons for pregnant subway riders to wear, a component of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's “Courtesy Counts, Manners Make a Better Ride” campaign, according to The Cut. If that effort sounds a little too low-tech for you and even a tad awkward, you might be interested to learn that Tokyo's metro system is trying an out an app that helps pregnant people find subway seats. The app provides an innovative and more socially comfortable method for pregnant people to advocate for their needs.
If you have trouble asking for what you need like I do, then the prospect of asking a stranger on the subway to give up their seat for you probably sounds horrifying. I'd rather stand for hours, to be honest.
Of course, standing for hours on end or for even 20 minutes isn't always doable for a pregnant person. Standing for a prolonged amount of time while pregnant can cause issues like lower back pain and high blood pressure, according to Mom Junction, and it's just something many parents-to-be would rather avoid. Why stand if you can sit, right?
The good news is Tokyo is addressing the emotional and physical needs of pregnant subway riders with a chat app designed by the Tokyo Metro Co., Line Corp. and Dai Nippon Printing Co., according to Japan Times. The app, which launched on Monday, allows pregnant people to ask subway riders for a seat before they get on the train.
Essentially, it works like this: a pregnant person sends out a message on the app to pre-registered riders known as their "supporters" (a label which I love, by the way), and once a "supporter" accepts their request, they're directed to their "supporter's" location upon boarding the train. This process takes away the pressure and potentially awkward scenario of a pregnant person having to ask a stranger to give up their seat, and also saves a stranger from trying to guess whether a person is pregnant. It also promotes a sense of community in a big city, which I think is really neat.
As for why Tokyo's metro system decided to develop an app as opposed to something like "Baby on Board," buttons, for example, officials said it's easy to get a person's attention via a cellphone, according to Kyodo News. Sometimes people are so busy checking out their phones that they don't even realize that a pregnant person is in need of a place to sit down, a problem that this app seems to solve.
Following the news of the app, some people took to Twitter to bring up the argument that people shouldn't need an app to encourage them to give up their seat to a pregnant person. One person wrote: "Why is an app needed for that?" Another added: "... God forbid passengers look up from their phones and yield their seats!"
I think the counterargument here is that the app isn't pressuring people who would otherwise not give up their seats — it's just making it easier and more convenient for people to do.
Until Friday, the test app will be in effect on the Ginza Line, the oldest subway line in Tokyo, according to Japan Visitor. If the test run is successful, officials might expand it to also include elderly riders and people with disabilities.
A Dai Nippon official said, according to the Daily Mail:
By putting the service into practical use, we are aiming to create a system that is helpful not only for pregnant women, but also for disabled and elderly people.
I'm personally interested to see if this app ends up succeeding. Even if it doesn't work out, it's still commendable that Tokyo's metro system is trying new things to better accommodate its pregnant passengers.
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