Last summer I was contacted by Transport for London and a TV company about doing some secret filming and trialling their ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges.
The ‘Please offer me a seat’ badge and card for people who find it difficult to stand when using public transport. The badge and accompanying card were created following requests from customers who struggle to get a seat, as their need is not immediately obvious. The badge and card remove the awkwardness of customers having to explain their need for a seat to others.
I wasn’t that confident that these badges would work, after all London tubes are not the friendliest places on earth and most people don’t even make eye contact let alone look to see if you are wearing a badge!
I have a chronic illness called Ulcerative Colitis, I have a permanent ostomy bag and symptoms of my impairment are extreme fatigue, joint problems as well as the odd bag leak. From the outside, it is very difficult for anyone to see that I have an impairment yet there are times when I struggle to walk, stand and the anxiety of these things can make it really tough to even leave the house!
And so I boarded the tube with a team hiding at the other end of the carriage filming me and the people around me. I stood on the busy carriage with my badge attached to my jacket and waited. I didn’t have to wait long, within a minute a man waved to me and offered me his seat that I gratefully accepted, after a minute or two I spoke to him and the camera crew came in, I asked why he had offered me his seat. He said he noticed the badge and thought at first it was the pregnancy badge, then he saw it simply asked for a seat and he assumed that I must have some need to sit. We thanked him and moved on.
For the next two hours we got on tube after tube after tube and every single time, I was offered a seat almost immediately. I was genuinely gobsmacked!
One man who was standing but saw my badge nudged a seated person and pointed at my badge and they jumped up offering me their seat apologising they hadn’t spotted the badge before. They all said that the badge was a good thing and would make them realise that the person wearing it probably had some sort of illness or impairment and needed extra support.
There was not one journey in that time that I wasn’t offered a seat. Men, women, children, older people, all saw the badge and offered to let me sit in their place. I was expecting that a few people would take notice but I was amazed that it had a 100% success rate for my trial.
Last autumn, TfL held a six week trial with 1,200 people to test the new badge and card. More than 72 per cent of journeys were found to be easier as a result of the badge, and 98 per cent of people taking part said they would recommend it to somebody who needed it.
As a result, they are now introducing the ‘Please offer me a seat’ initiative permanently. The free badge and card are now available through their website or by calling them on 0343 222 1234.
There are no qualifying criteria – applicants do not need to provide a GP’s note or their medical history. The badge and card can be used across the network, on London Underground, London Overground, Buses, Docklands Light Railway, TfL Rail, Trams and River Services.
I think the badges are a marvellous idea, I would generally be too embarrassed, too uptight and well, too British to actually ask someone to give up their seat for me! I would assume they would question me and I would have to answer personal questions to a stranger if I asked and so these badges give an easy to understand request that isn’t pushy and in my opinion, help to end that awkward feeling of needing help but not wanting to ask. The fact that I had such a positive experience really made me feel more positive about society and more confident in travelling around London on public transport.