Using Public Transportation while Pregnant

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Rude BART Riders

May 1999

When I was hugely pregnant and rode BART during rush hour, nobody ever offered me a seat. I found this to be almost purely a rush hour experience, and I thought it was strange too. I think the rush hour crowd is tired, cranky, and stressed. Each of them on board has employed various strategies, sometimes very complicated ones, to get a seat and they are not going to give them up! They also know that if they do give up a seat, they will stand for the rest of their ride, often 45 minutes. Perhaps they think pregnancy is just a competing strategy to get those seats. At other times of day, I have found people to be incredibly polite about giving up seats. I have been embarrassed by my own out of my seat immediately for an elderly person, due to lack of attentiveness, and felt that everyone on board thought I was a dope! So I do not consider this phenomenon to be a problem with Bay Area folks so much as a problem with the commuting lifestyle and heavy work pressure. That would be my guess. The stress level in the cars is high and infects everyone else. I do not know what the answer is, beyond a rush hour politeness campaign!

I too was pregnant and a BART rider. Fortunately, given my stops, I always got a seat. But would not have been surprized to have had the same experience as your wife. However, I once witnessed a woman with a bad leg just walk right up to the persons sitting in the seats reserved for elderly etc. and just ask for the seat. She probably did this all the time. That would take someone pretty assertive though! I don't think I could have done it. But I have also seen people (including young people) give up their seats, so there are some good people out there. As an aside, my experience in other countries was like yours, although the one thing that bugged me was that there was no such thing as a line. At least on BART you usually don't have to fight to get on. So my advice to her would be to either just ask, or ride back a few stops to Civic Center. That's where I get on and I ALWAYS get a seat.

It's truly unfortunate that people aren't more compassionate toward pregnant women (and women with young children, too, as you'll find), but I found that when I was pregnant and very uncomfortable and needing to sit down, I could basically tell someone to give me their seat, and for the most part be successful. Mind you, I'm from NYC, and I'm used to being assertive with strangers, but I think most people will actually back down when you bring the exchange into the verbal arena, as opposed to just looks. Many people do not want to engage in conflicts, especially with people who are clearly disadvantaged or disabled, especially in front of a lot of other people. Obviously, you don't pick the surliest person on the BART/bus to ask for their seat! Don't suffer in silence - complain to the bus driver/conductor/what have you. And sometimes, also, you have to acknowledge that you are going to have to remain uncomfortable - it's unrealistic to expect that in every situation your needs can be perfectly met. Consider changing your schedule around to commute at more calm times.

I used to ride BART everyday into The City when I was pregnant. Most of the time, but not all, someone would offer me a seat. Most of the time it was a woman who had been pregnant before and understood the discomfort of standing for 45 minutes. Sometimes the person who offered me a seat wasn't sitting in the chairs closest to the doors, the ones reserved for the elderly and disabled. They were in a seat further back. What used to work for me was to continue to make eye contact with everyone on the train. Eventually I would catch someone's eye and they would offer me a seat. As a side note, I once helped a visually impaired woman switch trains at MacArthur onto a very crowded train. No one got up to give her a seat until she said very loudly how impressed she was that so many disabled folks were riding BART to their jobs since all the reserved seats were filled! That comment prompted someone to offer her their seat. If it makes you feel any better the rudeness isn't just aimed at pregnant women. People are sometimes just oblivious and in their own worlds (reading or resting) especially during commute hours!

The problem you describe is very common on BART. What worked well for my bus/BART-riding wife when she was expecting was to simply ASK, would you be so kind to let me have your seat, I am very uncomfortable standing. And people generally would jump up to offer their seat at that point. I know, it's a sad commentary on the poor manners in our society but hey, whatever works. She got her seat. Otherwise she would simply not be offered a seat. For added guilt-tripping, try: would one of you gentlemen be so kind...etc. One other tactic is to point to the little sign near the seats near the doors that says, federal law requires you to give up your seat to handicapped persons. As she gets farther along that may be necessary. It's the law.

During both my pregnancies, I also found that other riders on BART almost never offered me a seat (although if a seat became available, the other people standing near me usually stood aside so I could take it). If you live near one of the AC Transit transbay lines, and if your wife works in downtown SF, she might consider taking a bus instead. There are usually seats available on the bus, and I found that on the couple of occasions that there were no seats, someone offered me theirs -- for some reason, people on the transbay bus tend to be friendlier than people on BART.

I too am 7 1/2 months pregnant and have experienced the BART anti-courtesy. I try to not get furious--especially when my feet are swollen, my legs throbbing and I want to cry after working 10 hours--and try to understand why people are so inconsiderate and have compassion so I don't end up completely angry by the end of the BART ride (this is very difficult, and I rarely succeed though!). In my case, I am offered a seat about 50% of the time, and it is almost ALWAYS from an older man, someone who has had a pregnant wife and is old school. Sometimes a woman--usually child-bearing age--will also offer me a seat. The worst offenders are the 20- and young 30-something men who have no clue about what it's like to be pregnant. I try not to feel sorry for myself, and my new solution is to directly ask people in the disability and handicapped seats if I may have their seat. It takes a little courage at first, but I have learned that many people are just completely out to lunch and haven't noticed that I'm pregnant (and are completely embarrassed when I ask). It's pretty difficult to turn down a request from a large pregnant woman on a crowded train. I don't feel that I can feel sorry for myself if I don't do something proactive like this, and I truly do understand your anger and have felt it many times.

May I apologize on behalf of my country-folk that no one offers your wife a seat on BART. I was surprised by that too during my pregnancy in the Berkeley environs a couple of years ago. And I concur that in other places--well, in downtown Moscow, at least--people are much more inclined to help me lift the stroller up steps into a shop or whatever, and otherwise cope with being a mom in public than I would expect to receive in the USA. Well it's just one of the down-sides of America. I could theorize about why--a general lack of sense of social cohesion comes to mind--but basically wanted, as an American, to commiserate with you on this. Another interpretation of the looks she gets (besides interpreting it as go to hell) might be that they feel that they ought to offer their seat, and feel guilty, but fear she would take offense--sounds nuts, I know, but I really think it might be true. I have had many American men (and even Russian men who had spent time in America) apologize for offering to help me with one thing or another, particularly carrying something heavy. I think it has something to do with misunderstanding American-style feminism, and/or not being supposed to call attention to people's disabilities/differentness. Funny world. Best wishes on your upcoming arrival, and may you and your wife find lots of seating available from now on.

I, too, was appalled at how rude people on BART were to me when I was pregnant. I usually ride AC Transit, where I always get a seat. When I stood for the second time in a week during the holiday season, I sent a note to Scott Ostler, a Chronicle columnist, to see if he'd take up the cause. Ostler's response was that he's noticed the problem, and once offered his seat to a pregnant woman who refused him, and that maybe he'd write about it. I don't think he did. I next sent a note to the President of the BART Board of Directors, Dan Richard (I happen to know him so it was easy to do). Richard told me that he's noticed the problem, and would take my suggestion to alter the signage on the trains to the Board. I'm guessing nothing has happened. I agree that this is intolerable. Where are common manners? Almost every woman I know who's been pregnant and ridden BART has the same complaint. I imagine most of the able-bodied people who stare at pregnant women standing on BART would be appalled if the standing woman were their wife, sister, or self. If you want to do something, I think it's worth pursuing it directly with the BART Board or Executive Director. At least then pregnant women could point to the sign when asking someone to give up their seat (I know I was being a bit of martyr, but I felt awkward asking someone to give me their seat).

I was unhappy to read the post from the man who says his 7-month pregnant wife is never offered a seat on BART. My experience was quite different; during the whole second half of my pregnancy I rode into SF 2-3 times a week on BART and was frequently offered a seat (although I didn't always take it since I sat so much on the job). People have also been pretty nice about giving me and my child a seat or opening doors or whatnot since he was born, too. I'm not quite sure what the Parents Newsletter is supposed to do about what the poster clearly views as societally-pervasive rudeness, other than provide an venting opportunity, but perhaps we can all try to teach our children to be more aware of the needs of the old, the disabled, parents with small children, and heavily-pregnant women on public transportation. As an aside, I did travel some abroad in my 7th month, and did not find any appreciable difference in the number of times people offered me a seat, when compared to here. I hope the poster and his wife have just had a bit of bad luck, and that things will improve.

To the partner of the pregnant woman: I know you did not ask for advice or comment, but I do have a suggestion that will make your mate more comfortable on BART. I rode BART often, way into my ninth month, and had the same problem. Here is how I dealt with it: I stood in front of the people on the seats reserved for disabled persons and plainly and calmy said to anyone clearly not entitled to sit there (ie younger than senior and not disabled or pregnant) I would like to sit down. May I please have a seat. I did not intone a question. I behaved as if a no answer was not possible, my body language indicating I was gathering my weight to deposit my derriere in the seat, empty or not. Eye contact is key. It ALWAYS worked, and NEVER ellicited any response other than embarrassment. In case of refusal, you are entitled to contact the train operator because those seats are legally reserved for people who need them. I try to behave the same way now that I have a child, because if I don't fight for his rights (from little ones such as his right to space on the sidewalk, to larger ones such as proper health care) no one will. It is hard, because the culture of this country is to avoid open confrontation and to use indirect means of dealing with conflict (this is a problem), but it is useful to think that your child's comfort and well being is at stake every time you feel tempted to avoid a conflict.