I’m relieved. Relieved that last week I took my last train commute before I have my baby. At eight and a half months pregnant, I dreaded the remote possibility of going into labour in the office, but most of my relief relates to finally finishing with the daily discomfort of crowded public transport.
First, getting a seat is helpful, and those of us in certain conditions do appreciate it. Reminders shouldn’t be necessary. Whilst the ‘Baby on Board’ badges are great if you’re feeling particularly sick in your first trimester or not benefiting from that second trimester boost, in the final trimester, especially in the summer, you’d usually have to be particularly clueless not to notice a woman is heavily pregnant or to worry that if you give her a seat, you’ll be insulting her weight. I had one bad experience on a train where male commuters worked hard to avoid noticing me before a woman kindly offered her seat. But that was my last pregnancy, so I’ll not hold grudges.
However, lack of seating is not the only discomfort to dread. There’s the heat and the so-called, though non-existent, air conditioning that prevents the windows from being opened. There’s the narrow aisles and inadequate luggage racks that no one uses. And there’s the seats that, quite simply, aren’t wide enough for many people and yet are installed in sets of three, negating any opportunity to angle oneself against the window or lean into the aisle when necessary. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded middle seat.
There have been many times in recent weeks when no one has offered me their seat because there was still a middle seat available. I’m a fairly small person and I can usually climb into and sit in a middle seat in more comfort than most. But at seven, eight and more months pregnant? The worst bit is climbing in. Few stand to let you into a middle seat the way they would if you were going for the window seat in a set of two. Some turn their legs towards the aisle to avoid you climbing over their lap, but far too many simply sit there and expect you to perform acrobatics. As I keep trying to explain to my not-quite-three-year-old, acrobatics when mummy has a baby in her tummy are at best awkward and uncomfortable, likely painful and at worst may result in injury. If they are even possible.
I may have to explain this to my daughter, but I believe a grown adult should know better. My only conclusion is that many of these people are quite simply rude. Which leads me to another point. If it is rude not to move to make it easier for a pregnant woman to access a seat no one else is sitting in, then surely it is also rude to block any fellow passenger from accessing a spare seat on a crowded train. To ignore that there are actually quite a lot of people standing in the aisles and lobby areas and your bag might actually fit in one of those silly luggage racks. Or perhaps under your feet or on your lap? To realise that you’re all in the same position vis-à-vis the non-existent air-conditioning and make some allowances.
Trains, buses, metros and more offer valuable services to society and individuals. Well-filled (crowded!) public transport is a particularly efficient way of moving people around the limited space available in our towns and cities. Yet for it to be a more comfortable and attractive means of travel, then a little more courtesy could go a long way. Courtesy should be for everyone, not just those sporting badges that might make the fit and able-bodied feel guilty.
I would add that other modes of travel, including driving, cycling and walking can also suffer from the collapse of common courtesy, but I think I’ll leave any commentary on road rage for another blog!