Sometimes you can truly say of an idea that its time has come.
The New York Metropolitan Transport Authority this week announced plans to roll out a scheme whereby pregnant women riding the subway will be able to wear “Baby on Board” buttons to communicate their condition to their fellow passengers, who will hopefully then give up their seats to the expectant mothers.
The plan, reportedly part of an ongoing campaign to encourage politeness among commuters, will also feature buttons for the elderly and passengers with disabilities.
And it’s genius. Trains, like all segments of society, are full of selfish creeps who refuse to even consider vacating a seat for someone with greater need.
The button concept may not bring about a huge increase in the number of seats given up — after all, most people ignore the needs of the pregnant or infirm not because they don’t recognise the issue, but because they have no consideration for their fellow human beings.
But it will make sure that nobody has any excuse anymore. The buttons will not only mark out the seat-needy among us: they will even more starkly reveal who, in any given carriage, is a callous moral vacuum.
Meanwhile, in Australia…
It is hoped Australian transport networks introduce this scheme as quickly as possible so that our daily commute may soon become more civilised and more judgmental.
But in our usual national spirit of innovation, there’s a further opportunity to completely transform our very concept of public transport using only the power of buttons.
Imagine what a difference it would make if, the moment you entered a train carriage, you could quickly scan the various buttons being worn by its occupants, and get an idea of exactly what you were getting yourself into should you choose to sit next to them?
The Manspreader button
Obviously, the first to go into production would be the Manspreader button.
Men inclined to splay their legs widely on trains must wear a button saying so, or risk hefty fines. (Flickr: Richard Yeh / WNYC)
Before being allowed to purchase rail travel, every man would undergo stringent testing to determine whether he is inclined to splay his legs with gratuitous width across train seats.
If the test is positive, the man will be issued with a Manspreader button, and required to wear it on all trips or risk hefty fines.
The Dozer button
There should also be a Dozer button. Every traveller deserves to be forewarned if the person sitting next to them is in such an advanced state of drowsiness that could at any moment result in them slumping sideways and sleeping on you for the rest of the journey.
Surely it’s a simple endeavour to incorporate fatigue-analysis at every security gate?
The Headphone-less Youth button
And what of that most disruptive of commuters: the open-eared self-entertainer?
Too often the joy of rail travel is annihilated for dozens by a single youth and their phone: watching videos, playing games or listening to music, without wearing headphones.
Commuters with a history of headphoneless noise-production should be marked as such. (Pexels.com)
This is a nightmarish breach of both etiquette and basic decency, and anyone who does this is on a moral plane equivalent to those who throw bags of kittens into rivers.
Legislation will hopefully soon be tabled enabling lengthy prison sentences for them.
But in the meantime, we can at least force anyone with a history of headphoneless noise-production to be marked as such.
Then we’ll be able to either vacate that carriage or swiftly render the individual unconscious before taking our seat.
The ‘My Bag is Special’ button
Of course, one of the most awkward interactions you can have on a train is when you think there’s a spare seat to take, but it turns out it’s occupied by a passenger’s briefcase or backpack, and that passenger refuses to move it for a mere human being.
Such awkwardness can be avoided once we distribute buttons to anyone whose bags or other inanimate objects are of such an extreme sensitivity and vulnerability to emotional upset that they need a seat all to themselves.
Once we see the button, we can say to ourselves, “Ah. There is a piece of luggage of a rare and refined nature — I best leave it in peace”.
The New York button campaign follows a similar initiative launched last year in London. (Twitter: Transport for London)
We can produce buttons for every variety of rail-rider.
An “I am reading a book — please leave me alone” button.
An “I cannot help talking to strangers who are clearly trying to read a book — please do not sit next to me if you are reading a book” button.
An “I wish everyone in this carriage to hear every word of my personal phone calls” button.
An “I will never ever stop staring at you in this unnervingly hungry manner” button.
And perhaps most useful of all, a button to indicate who among us has boarded the train for the purpose of racially abusing others.
Following the noble example of the New York subway could change all our lives for the better. Indeed, transport can be revolutionised if we just make that little effort to accurately label each other.
Peace of mind on the train is only a button away.
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