Tuesday, June 27, 2006

One Seat or One Ride

I was on my way to work this morning. I got onto the bus a few blocks from my house. There was a seat in on of my favorite parts of the bus. At the end of the first row of seats on many WMATA buses there is a seat with arm rests on either sides. I sat in just such a seat. Across the aisle, i saw a fellow who hadn't known this trick. the guy sat down in one of the seats in a pair. he chose the window aisle. a few moments later an enormous person, severely obese, took a seat next to the skinny fellow. The larger person, who we shall call by the gender neutral Ali, caused the other person, Jaime, to be crowded against the window. Ali was using close to 1/2 of Jaime's seat.

I generally think about this issue when i am being pressed against a window by a very large person. That makes me mad. Then i zone out and listen to NPR. To be clear, people come in all shapes and sizes and are beautiful in all sorts of ways. I am primarily talking about people who are enormous. there may be a few folks on any given bus, but certainly not more than three or four under normal circumstances.

Occasionally I think about who is in the right. Am I right to be annoyed? Probably not. But why not?

There is an open question about what the $1.35 buys on the bus. Does it entitle someone to as many seats as then need to sit comfortably? The buses I ride are generally standing room only in the morning; does it entitle someone to as much standing room as they need? How about the extra person who could have fit on the bus had the person been more petite?

My sense is that unless there is a stated policy the assumption is that paying bus fair entitles someone to a spot on the bus and a seat if it is available. If the person is large enough to need 1.3 seats, i suppose they are probably within the bounds to take that space.

If obesity where a choice then i suppose i would come down differently. It is wrong for people to let their laziness cause them to take up 1.5 seats if it reasonably certain that someone will be forced to stand. However, if obesity is largely due to socio-economic factors it is the responsibility of all the people who perpetuate the structures of oppression. The bus dilemma is one more reason for all of us to support healthy affordable food access in all neighborhoods and good nutritional education in all schools. The primary reason, of course, is ballooning health care costs, but that is for another post someday.

Though I can be frustrated in the moment the conclusion here, perhaps, is that i should ride my bike to work more. I love riding to work; i just hesitate when it is raining. When it's raining, i should use the shmooshed against the window time to reflect on how lucky i am to have a good public transit system that ferries me efficiently from my home to my office. what a blessing.


At 6/27/2006 , Blogger Teutsch said...


At 6/27/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

that is so strange. i've been biking this whole week. it's probably not the best idea.

At 6/28/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

If someone is 1.5 seats wide and needs to take up 2 seats on the subway, I don't have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is when they center themselves on one seat and use .25 of each of the adjacent seats, so that they're actually occupying 3 seats.

At 6/28/2006 , Anonymous nancy said...

hi, zach--
just wanted to add that we were recently at a fly-in lodge in the wilderness of alaska and you had to pay extra for the cesna 30 minute plane ride to the lodge if you weighed above 250 pounds. that was the first time I ever saw that...alaska was beautiful, by the way.


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