More than 7,000 people have signed an online petition seeking the abolition of priority seats in Taiwan's public transportation systems.

The petition was launched on Sept. 1 and surpassed the threshold of 5,000 signatures within six days. It has been sent to the National Development Council and an official response will be announced before Nov. 11.

Priority seats in Taiwan are intended for four groups of people: senior citizens, pregnant women, mentally and physically challenged passengers and those traveling with children.

On Aug. 25, a woman posted a photo on Facebook of two high school students sitting in regular seats on the Taipei MRT. Perplexed with the students not giving up their seats to a mother who was traveling with two children, the woman said the students were “a disgrace” and “should become prostitutes.” Although the students were not occupying priority seats, the incident has become part of the debate on the issue.

A student with eyesight issues said on Sept. 3 that he was assigned to a priority seat by security, but was then pressured by a female passenger to give up his seat. The female passenger insisted that he did not seem to belong to any of the four priority groups and questioned his eyesight by waving her hands in front of his face. The student gave up his seat after the female passenger started reprimanding him for being inconsiderate.

Similar controversies over priority seats have occurred in the past, often leading to heated debates in public or on the Internet.

The very utility of priority seats is now being questioned.

Gilbert Pi, who launched the petition, believes that abolishing priority seats could help reduce conflict, but maintains that the idea of giving up seats to those in need should not be abandoned.

While yielding seats to those in need is "the moral thing to do," he says, priority seats are not promoting such civility. He says that although there are no laws regulating the matter, priority seats have influenced people’s judgement on whether one can sit in them or not.

Many people believe that priority seats are only for the four groups of people, and this is where many conflicts have started, he adds.

“People often have personal needs that require sitting down,” Pi writes. “Some might look well, but have issues that can’t be recognized from their appearance alone. It’s hard to judge whether these people have to give up their seats or not.”

Pi says that people who occupy a priority seat should not be the only ones to consider giving up their spot. Giving up one's seat to someone in need should be standard behavior, he says, adding that the idea should be promoted with the aid of posters in public transportation systems, among other things.

Some people, however, argue that cancelling priority seats will not resolve the issue.

Chou Wei-hang (周偉航), an assistant professor at Fu Jen Catholic University, argues that the conflicts that have emerged over the issue are due to different moral standards and have little to do with the priority seats per se.

Abolishing priority seats would only cause further conflict if people do not change their poor morality, he said.

The Taiwan Railway Administration is already planning to add “passengers with internal disabilities” as one of groups eligible for priority seats this month, to help more people in need and spread the idea of giving up seats to these groups.

Priority seats should account for 15 percent of the total seats in public vehicles, according to the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act. Abolition would require amending the law.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole