On Sunday, the MTA announced it was tackling a critical subway etiquette issue: How to shame straphangers into giving up their seats for pregnant women or subway riders who are senior citizens or who have a disability. The agency will now hand out buttons as part of its "Courtesy Counts" campaign that say "Baby on Board!" or "Please offer me a seat" for passengers to wear. Wow, this is a long way from when the NYPD allegedly ticketed a woman for traveling between subway cars because she was looking for a seat!

"Pregnant riders, seniors and those with disabilities often need seats more than others but their condition may not always be visible," said MTA Interim Executive Director Ronnie Hakim. "We hope this campaign will help their fellow riders to be more willing to offer them a seat without having to ask a personal question first."

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The MTA's new buttons for pregnant riders as well as buttons for senior and disabled passengers

You can order pins through the MTA's website (they'll be mailed in about three weeks), and no documentation is needed. Here are details from the MTA's press release:

The pilot program, which begins on Mother’s Day and runs through Labor Day, will examine ways to encourage courtesy by helping riders easily identify fellow customers with specialized needs who need a seat.

MTA already provides disabled customers “priority seating” on buses and trains; while riders are required to relinquish seats in those areas under federal regulations and MTA rules of conduct, the new courtesy buttons can help riders better identify which customers need seats. The campaign also encourages customers, as a matter of courtesy, to give up any seat - not just those in reserved “priority” areas - to customers wearing an MTA-issued button.

Customers who are pregnant can choose from a “Baby on Board” button or a “Please Offer Me a Seat” courtesy button, which can also be worn by customers who have disabilities and seniors who choose to wear them.

The MTA will distribute buttons to all users of our system and the initiative will be integrated into our existing courtesy campaigns via transit system advertisements and social media.

The MTA believes this is the first campaign of its kind in North America, "Transport for London has had a similar program for the London Tube since 2005, with approximately 130,000 of the badges distributed every year. It started with a 'Baby on Board' pilot, which was later followed by a pilot for disabled customers. Dutchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton brought international attention to the program when she wore an official 'Baby on Board' button in 2013."

According to the NY Times, "The campaign has not always gone smoothly in London. Some mothers-to-be report that they are still ignored. One woman was humiliated, she said, when a man asked her to prove she was pregnant."

Of course, this program makes a critical assumption: That able-bodied subway riders are actually looking up from their smartphones to pay attention to new passengers that board the train. And even the most obviously pregnant subway riders don't necessarily get seats. As I wrote in 2015:

When I was pregnant and was hoping for a seat, I'd unbutton my coat, stick my belly out a little more and rub my bump to up the obvious factor. This did not always work! Other subway riders (likely women who have also been through [pregnancy]) will definitely be emboldened to help you get a subway seat. When I was pregnant, women who were standing on crowded trains asked me if I wanted a seat—I think they would have made a fuss for me. These days, if I see a pregnant woman, I'll try to get her a seat, even if I'm standing. For every person that inwardly thinks, "I didn't tell this lady to get pregnant," there are probably eight people who will be empathetic [and will try to help].

Subway riders who willingly give up their seats are a rare, treasured unicorn. Please be the kind of person that offers a seat to someone more needy—here's a suggested order of seating precedence from a Native New Yorker, "Disabled old person, Disabled person, Very pregnant woman, Child, Regular old person, Not very pregnant woman, Regular adults." And take your backpack off when you're standing, while you're at it.