It’s the annual Priority Seating Week — an event that shouldn’t need to exist — to encourage London commuters to offer their seat when they see someone else is in need of it.

A survey of 1,000 customers found that around one in four passengers feels awkward about offering their seat to someone who might need it more. It could be the worry that someone isn’t actually pregnant, or that they are offering a seat only to have the offer declined.

As part of their refurbishment, bolder new designs on the fabric covering priority seats on the Jubilee line are being tested to see if they encourage people to offer their seat — or maybe avoid sitting in it in the first place when other empty seats are available.

Observing behaviour on the tube, and it’s interesting to watch how many people get on and sit in the priority seats, even when plenty of other seats are available. It may sound insignificant, but apart from being near the door, they also have the arm pole to help get up and down, and not all the other seats — which might be empty — will have that.

Last year when your correspondent was using a walking stick, he often walked past an occupied priority seat to get to another empty seat that was next to a pole just so he had the extra support when getting up again.

However, the TfL survey also found that almost a third of passengers only believe that they should offer their seat if they are in a ‘priority seat’. Maybe pregnant mums shouldn’t move down the carriage?

TfL’s Priority Seating Week aims to address these issues by raising awareness of how to make travelling easier for everyone, particularly those who may be in need of a seat.

Posters featuring staff will be running across the network and video clips with customers talking about their journeys will be shared on social media. These will be encouraging people to look up and offer their seat to someone who may need it more, whether they are in a priority seat or not.

Priority Seating Week also marks the second year anniversary of the free ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ badge. Specially designed to make travelling easier for people with a range of conditions that make it difficult to stand, more than 44,000 badges have been issued to disabled customers and those with invisible conditions since it was launched in 2017.

Mark Evers, Transport for London’s Chief Customer Officer, said that they “encourage customers to have a quick look up when other people get on board, otherwise you might not see that someone is struggling in front of you. ”

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15 comments on “Quarter of people “feel awkward” giving up a seat on the London Underground
  1. Paul says:

    Can’t the onus be on the person requiring the seat to ask? It avoids the embarrassment of offering to someone who doesn’t need it, and I’m sure very few people are mean enough to be unwilling to give up their seat if asked nicely. Of course, the person requiring the seat should also make sure they ask those sitting in the priority seats first…

    • Flaneuse says:

      Agree. I have no idea why people think they need to give up their seat to me because I have a few more wrinkles than they do – I am perfectly capable of standing and have to try not to be offended (I do tell them – politely – I can stand as well as they). As for the “is she pregnant or just seriously obese?” minefield…. I trust that the former wear “baby on board” if they need to and give up my seat accordingly.

    • Gabriel Oaks says:

      When it is visibly obvious that you need to sit, it is quite humiliating to have to ask somebody to vacate a priority seat.

      If you had a disabling condition you would have probably understood.

  2. John Tetlow says:

    Of course there is also the matter of the harrassed mother with small children. When they are offered a seat they usually put one of the children in the seat and remain standing themselves. So I have stopped offering my seat to such mothers.

    • Annie says:

      I understand what you’re saying! When I was a youngster back in the 60’s you were expected to give up your seat to an adult on the bus, if you didn’t the conductor would tell you to move! An adult with a child would have him or her sat on their lap.

  3. Pat Storey says:

    As an “old” person, 73, I’m rarely left to stand on tubes or buses. I’ve been in London about 18 months & have been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of people here.

  4. Chris Rogers says:

    Minefield. Tube etiquette as a whole needs action, along the lines of the wartime cartoon posters. On a jammed Piccadilly line train today, the usual offenders were out in force – those determined to still read their books, jabbing me in the back, those doing the same with their phones, the inevitable backpack wearers too stupid to take the things off. As for grab poles, maybe it’s time Tfl spent some money on correcting the basic design flaw of the current Northern Line fleet where the only poles in the main seating areas of 14 seats, 7 a side, are arranged so that there are 6 seats in the centre with no poles within reach of moist women and many men; result is that no-one moves into that space.

  5. Chris says:

    “most” women!!

  6. Flaneuse says:

    Absolutely – and it’s not just the Northern Line, other tube lines and the surface lines are as bad. The design of new carriages is for fewer seats but it’s impossible to make efficient use of the standing room as the handholds are out of reach for many. It’s basic ergonomics, designers.

  7. Catherine says:

    I am only 63 but look older – and have poor balance,so it is not always obvious to everyone that I need a seat. It is really lovely how often I am offered a seat. Sometimes a standing fellow passenger will point me out to someone sitting, or someone in a seat I cannot easily get to will offer me their seat. This will (usually) give a nudge to someone in a priority seat. I am grateful to those who are aware of the needs of others. Of course it is sometimes me who needs to give up my seat if someone else needs it more…

  8. Tom Hark says:

    On a busy train a passenger was refusing to move her folded bicycle so passengers could use the adjacent priority seat.

    Visibly disabled, I simply said that if her bicycle need that seat she could give up her seat and stand instead.

    The folded bicycle was promptly moved.

  9. JP says:

    Long live the Catherines of this world.

  10. Adam says:

    It’s a complicated world. When I was in my twenties I had a condition that made it impossible for me to stand for any length of time. I couldn’t have asked for a seat – no one would have believed me.
    In the mornings I used to take the tube in the wrong direction first (from East Putney to Southfields) so that I could get a seat on a train in to town from there.

  11. Paula says:

    Just today I tried to offer seat to a woman who stood next to my seat and she looked old. But she denied my offer. Tho at the next stop a seat got vacant and another man offered the same woman that seat – she sat happily. It’s really confusing ?! I mean I know this is very sensitive topic to offer someone a seat who might appear to be old but is not. But how would I know ? Plus that woman stood right next to priority seat facing me.

    Sometimes the response is so humiliating that one day a woman and her friends started laughing – it just made me rather not take the priority seat. I travel 1.5 hours one way everyday to work and then sitting for those 12 min in tube really helps.

    Why not TFL have a badge for people like me – Let me know if you need my seat 🙂 Because I might miss to look up but anyone who really wants my seat won’t miss my badge.

    I won’t mind at all offering my seat to someone more in need.

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