‘I love peak hour commuting in Singapore!’ said no one ever.
Now imagine yourself as a young mother with a toddler in arm, and chances are, you would like the idea of it even less.
By now, the trusty stroller has become your best friend, the only thing standing between you and an eternity of sore arm muscles and back pain. Little wonder then that many parents rely on these nifty devices to safely ferry their toddlers while out and about.
Some of these expeditions would naturally involve the use of public transport, but for one young mother, a recent trip on the MRT with her child took a nasty turn.
In a Facebook post by Sharee Lin last week, she explained that she was on the train during the evening rush hour with her son, who is just 10 and a half months old. As the train was packed, Lin said that she had little choice but to stand close to the door while her baby sat in the stroller.
As they approached the next station, a passenger in her late 50s launched into a tirade, as Lin recounted: “She looked at me and raised her voice, saying: Do you have any conscience to move your f*****g big pram so that me and other commuters can alight?
“I replied calmly even when she used vulgarities, that there was no space for me to move. She started raising her voice even higher and said: Excuse me, you’re only paying for one ticket!”
Lin did not respond when The Pride tried to reach her for a comment.
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However, the post has since gone viral and other young parents have jumped in to narrate their own public transport woes. Overwhelmingly, their anecdotes pointed to a lack of understanding and compassion towards expectant mothers and parents with young children.
In the same post, Lin also said that during her pregnancy, she was rejected when asking for a seat, and had even been scolded by others for taking the priority seat, which they said was meant for the elderly.
While her own experience on public transport has been less eventful, 30-year old Jacinta Peh can empathise with Lin’s frustration. When Peh was expecting, it was rare for her to get a seat on the train. The mother of two told The Pride: “During morning peak hours, people may pretend to be asleep and not see you, or the train is just too packed for you to get a seat.
“And when you walk into the train, you may get caught near the door, so those who are seated don’t even see you.”
Ironically, it would typically be older commuters, who are also beneficiaries of priority seating, that would come to her aid. She said: “It’s usually the aunties and uncles who offer me a seat. And when you see that it’s the older folks who are giving up their seats to you, you’ll also feel a bit paiseh to take it. So I usually say no, it’s OK, you can keep the seat.”
It’s a similar story with new mother Low Jia Xin, 28, who said: “The aunties are generally nicer, and they would give up their seats to me and ask me to take good care of myself.”
Low felt that it may be because these older women understand how tough pregnancy can be and have greater empathy for their younger counterparts.
It could also be a generational difference that explains the nonchalant attitudes of younger commuters, as she told The Pride: “Having kids is really a personal choice. Especially among the younger people, a lot of them don’t want to have kids. They may not see themselves benefiting from this kind of kindness in future, so there’s no point being nice to people now.”
Instead of using a stroller, both Low and Peh prefer babywearing – carrying their infant in a wearable sling.
Coordinator Stephanie Tan, who is seven months pregnant, will most likely follow in their footsteps. The 32-year-old intends to use a carrier and avoid public transport during peak hours.
She told The Pride: “It’s both to avoid the trouble and also so I won’t inconvenience others. I want to avoid a situation where people give me dirty looks and start berating me on the train.”
All three women said that they have never asked a fellow commuter if they could give up their seat, as they did not mind standing. Tan said that she would ask only if it was going to be a long commute.
While she empathised with Lin, Tan could see why some commuters react badly.
“I see both sides. If the train is crowded and someone is bringing a bulky pram onto the train, as a fellow commuter, I would probably be a bit annoyed.”
Graciousness campaigns have come and gone in recent years, and service providers have also stepped in, with SMRT introducing care stickers in 2014 for passengers who are expectant mothers, elderly, riding with infants, having mobility needs, or feeling unwell.
While it’s an affirmative touch, how noticeable is a sticker, if commuters are oblivious to an expectant mother’s baby bump or an infant cradled in someone’s arms?
Tan has not used the stickers as she rarely takes the train, but her friends who are also expectant mothers have told her that the stickers don’t work. “I don’t suppose people will really notice it, unless you paste the sticker on your face,” she said jokingly.
What about the calls for child-friendly or priority carriages? While Tan felt that Singaporeans are unlikely to embrace the idea, she admitted having a safe space would give her some confidence, saying: “Then I’d have a legitimate reason to be in that carriage.”
Low sees that infrastructural or authorities-led initiatives can only go so far, if mindsets are slow to change. She said: “What can be done has already been done – priority seats and lift signage, for example. But perhaps it’s in the mindset and attitude, because in our rush to succeed and to get somewhere, the elderly and children are typically neglected.”
And to more effectively change these attitudes, expectant mothers and parents with young children can also do more, instead of staying passive.
Tan mused: “It works both ways. I don’t think pregnant women should be so self-entitled as to demand for a seat but if you really need it, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.”
For a country that’s trying ways and means to remedy its declining birth rate, perhaps more of us should be putting our hearts closer to where our mouths are.