Reserved Seats on the Bus

By Dmitri Prieto

Havana bus.  Photo: Caridad
Havana bus. Photo: Caridad

Every time I take the bus, I take a close look at the other passengers.  If I am seated, I try to see if there is an elderly person, someone with disabilities or a pregnant woman close by to give them my seat.  Sometimes I am tired and do it reluctantly.

I know that if there is someone close by who fits this description and I do not let them have my seat that my conscience will bother me during and after the journey.  Therefore, I prefer to follow the civic rules and my natural affection for people who have a life more difficult than mine. If I am standing, I try to place myself in a position that lets people by who need to take a seat.

And the problem is that buses in Cuba (as in other countries) have reserved seats, precisely for people with disabilities, pregnant women and people with children below the age of five. Sometimes the people who are trying to get a seat are forced to show their id cards that certifies them has having disabilities or being pregnant, because people often do not give up their seats so easily.

My father told me that before things were much different.  He said that the act of giving up a seat was spontaneous and also applied -as a rule of chivalry- to any women if the passenger that was seated was a younger man.

Today, there are often arguments, especially if the seats corresponding to the status of the person standing are already occupied.  If the seats for people with disabilities are full and an old man with a cane arrives, does he have the right to sit down in one of the seats allotted for pregnant women?

And if he is given the seat and sits down, what happens if a pregnant woman arrives and the other seat for pregnant women is being used?  It is sad to see those people standing, when the seats allotted for them are full.

I remembered that once, when talking about old times, my aunt and my father criticized the idea of reserved seats.  Well-mannered people should give up their seats regardless of established rules, they argued.  Later, I found out that this system of reserved seats exist in many countries, independently of their social and ideological systems.  It seems that the virus of formalism is not specific to Cuba, but is pandemic.

Amid the violence that characterizes our public transportation, I though of a radical but also formal solution.  What if we number all the seats on the bus, and the people who “meet” certain preferential conditions could one by one sit down? It would be like making common courtesy official, and no one could neglect a pregnant woman seat number 8 based on the argument that 1 to 7 were occupied, let’s say, by elderly people, people with disabilities and people with children…

It would maybe be easier to establish this rule than to create new campaigns of social marketing.

Anyway, in ancient Babylonia people were already convinced that “young people are lost…”  (Although those who cling to their seats, leaving the neediest passengers standing, are not always that young.)

2 thoughts on “Reserved Seats on the Bus

  • Well, it’s kind of nice to know that where I live is not the only place on earth where some people have no consideration for the elderly and disabled on public transit: same thing here in Montréal, Québec. And I thought we were a distinct society!

  • Here’s a possible solution: Have the city government take a leaf from places like Bologna, Italy. Have your bus system contracted out to a well-organized, employee-owned cooperative enterprise. Let the government lay down the rules and standards, and monitor, regulate and enforce. Let the engine of entrepreneurial incentive guide and encourage the owners of the enterprise–the drivers, maintenance staff and managers–to provide good service with plenty of seats for all.

    By combining direct cooperative ownership with city non-controlling partial ownership, two birds can be killed with one stone. Better bus service will be provided, and the city–along with the employees–will have a chance for quarterly profit dividends.

    What is needed is an understanding that people must combine moral and material incentives in the workplace. The Marxian concept that the two incentives are mutually exclusive is erroneous. It is what has brought Cuban socialism to its present state.

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