You tell me if these people deserve seats??? They each asked someone to give up their seats, and one even asked for a non-disabled designated seat!
1) a young woman has what looks to be a wrist bandage for a bad scrape or cut. Yes or no?
2) an older woman, maybe in 50s, who is young enough to go to work still. Yes or no?
3) an older man, gray haired, carrying a fold up bike. Looks fit. Yes or no?
4) an overweight young man who needed two seats. Yes or no?
5) a woman who appeared to be pregnant, if so, not that far along, but can just be stomach fat. Yes or no?
All these passengers asked for a seat and everyone complied but not without stares. I gave my seat up personally for #5 only because I've preached the need for pregnant women in final trimester to sit on BART. However in this case, I really had to give her the benefit of the doubt. Oh well, standing won't hurt me but it sure is torture on a crowded train.
I would probably always give up a seat if asked, because people could have disabilities or more temporary conditions that aren't obvious. Just as an example, an ankle, knee, shoulder, or wrist injury would probably not be visible to outsiders, but could be quite painful with all the jolting that goes on as the train starts and stops, especially if the only easily available option is holding on to the overhead bars. A person also might have a heart condition or similar that makes standing for long periods a bad idea, even if they otherwise look okay.
I think the social norm against asking someone to give up their seat (rather than just shooting the evil eye) is large enough that people don't typically abuse it. (I've rarely seen people actually come out and ask for seats on BART, MUNI, or AC Transit, though sounds like your mileage may vary.) Of course there will always be people who take advantage, but I think on average it's fairly likely that people with "invisible" disabilities are more likely to suffer through it than be embarrassed about saying something.
Why would you deny someone a seat who asked unless you have a disability? Are you going to ask for a doctor's note? Those seats are reserved for people who need them (and if someone asks, I think it's safe to say that person needs the seat). I hate to say it, but it sounds like you were raised with bad manners and need to be more charitable and respectful.
I'm a 50 year old woman who looks healthy but have heart disease. You are not a doctor and you shouldn't be making judgements on who "looks" healthy.
I avoid the ethical dilemma by never sitting in first couple rows. I sit as close to the middle of the train as possible.
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