Asking for a seat on public transport

Trying to get a seat on public transport can be hard, especially when it’s busy and there’s not a lot of space. Being disabled can mean you need a seat more than others.

Feeling confident to ask

Having the confidence to ask for a seat can be difficult. Especially if you’ve had a negative experience in the past or your condition is not visible to others.

You might:

  • feel awkward, nervous or too shy
  • not want to make a fuss
  • worry that people will not believe you or will ask about your condition or impairment
  • worry someone might confront you or become abusive

Your health should come first. You’re asking for a seat because you need it. Only share information that you’re confident and comfortable telling people about.

If people react badly to a polite request, that’s not your fault. Thinking about the times someone has been supportive can help.

Avoiding assumptions about others

Sometimes we try to predict what people might say or do. You might be worried or scared about asking for a seat because you think the passenger will:

  • judge you
  • say no
  • ask you why
  • tell you that you do not need it
  • say they need it more

Making assumptions, even if it’s based on experience, can mean you do not ask for the support you need. Many people are kind, non-judgemental and helpful. Some are unaware of other passengers. They might be wearing headphones, looking at their phone or reading a book. Sometimes just making them aware that you need a seat is all it takes to get one.

Other people might have needs too

Try not to make assumptions about other people’s needs. Their condition or impairment might not be visible to you. If a passenger refuses to give up a seat, trust that they might need it too and ask someone else.

Asking for a seat

Some people will happily give up their seat because they assume that you would not ask unless you need it. Others might react differently, but being polite and friendly can help. Even if the person you ask does not offer you their seat, someone else nearby might.

You could try asking:

“Excuse me please, do you mind if I sit down?”

“Excuse me please, I need to sit down, may I have a seat?”

“Excuse me please, I am less able to stand, may I sit down?”

“Hi, I’m not feeling well, may I have your seat?”

If you’re worried about choosing one person, you could ask everyone around you. You might try saying:

“Excuse me please, is someone able to give up their seat?”

“I need to sit down, would anyone be willing to give me their seat?

What to do if a seated passenger needs their seat

Another passenger needing their seat should not stop you from getting one too. It does not make your need any less.

It can be hard if other passengers refuse but it’s important that you can travel safely and comfortably.

It can feel awkward or embarrassing to ask more than one person, but other passengers might offer their seat when they hear you asking. If no one offers, asking further down the bus or carriage can help.

Asking people in priority seats

You might not want to approach someone in a priority seat because you assume that the person needs it. This might not be true! They may be happy to give up the seat.

Checking whether a passenger needs the priority seat can help. If they refuse, it may just mean they need a seat too. Try not to let this put you off asking someone else.

Asking for help

For train or underground travel, if you’re anxious about getting a seat you need, you can ask for station assistance.

When you’re travelling on a bus, you can ask the bus driver for help if you’re struggling.

Sometimes a friend or another passenger can ask for you. This can be useful if it’s busy and you’re not close enough to the seated passengers. It’s sometimes easier to ask for someone else than for yourself.

If people question your right to a seat

Some people may be less understanding about non-visible conditions or impairments, especially if you look young.

They might sometimes question your right to a seat because they assume you do not need it.

But you do not have to give details about your condition or impairment, even if someone asks you.

When you’re asked for your seat, you could say:

“I need this seat, can you ask another passenger?”

If they ask you why or tell you that you should give up your seat, try saying:

“Not all impairments and conditions are visible. Please ask someone else.”

Or if someone says:

“You don’t look disabled.”

You could reply:

“Well I am, please ask someone who can give up their seat.”

You should not need to say any more. You do not have to explain why. If you’re worried about having to defend your right to a seat, wearing a priority seat badge can help. These are only available with some travel providers.

Priority badges and cards

Some rail and underground services will provide you with a badge or card to show that you need a priority seat. These can be helpful if your impairment or condition is not visible or you do not feel comfortable asking.

Some people feel uncomfortable using a badge or card and sharing this information in public, so do what feels best for you.

Benefits

If you feel comfortable using a badge or priority card, it can help you on your journey.

The benefits can be:

  • people offering you a seat without you asking
  • having more confidence to ask for a seat
  • reducing or stopping questions on why you need a seat
  • standing passengers offering to ask for you
  • showing other passengers that you need your seat

Passengers might not see your badge or card if they are looking at a phone or reading a book. Others may choose to ignore it. If this happens, try asking for a seat, if you’re told no, ask another passenger.

Some people may not know what the badge or card means. Some companies are trying to increase awareness through posters and social media.

See the TravelKind hashtag campaign on Twitter

Where to get a badge or priority card

Some rail providers have started offering ‘priority seat’ cards and badges to passengers. They may ask for evidence of why you need it.

Railway providers offering priority cards or badges include:

More companies may begin to provide badges or cards. Check your train or bus company’s website or contact them to find out what’s available.

Transport for Greater Manchester will provide a badge and card without medical details or supporting evidence. You do not have to live in Greater Manchester to get a badge.

Transport for Greater Manchester card 

You can apply for a Transport for London badge if you live in Greater London and south-east England.

Access guides and a travel support card (Transport for London)

Buses in Brighton and Hove have ‘ask me for my seat’ badges for non-disabled passengers to show they are happy to get up.

Ask me for my seat badges (Metrobus)

There are also helping hand cards to help you tell drivers about your needs. You can also use these cards for taxis, shops and leisure venues like the cinema.

Helping hand cards

Negative attitudes from other passengers

Negative attitudes can be distressing. But it’s important not to let one bad experience put you off.

You have the right to travel without being harassed. If someone is making a fuss, like eye rolling or huffing, or is rude or abusive, this reflects on them, not you. You are not responsible for other people’s attitudes or behaviour.

Dealing with negative attitudes from passengers

If a passenger reacts badly to you

You may decide that the best thing is to ignore it. If you feel comfortable and safe, you might choose to talk to them. Whatever you decide to do, it can help to stay as calm as possible.

You can report abusive behaviour to staff when you get off. Reporting a problem or complaining to the company can help make the service better for you and other people in the long term.

If you feel unsafe, use the emergency call button to speak to the train driver or ask the bus driver for help when the bus stops. If it’s not urgent, take the bus number and report the incident to the bus company.

Complaining about public transport

Last reviewed by Scope on: 18/04/2019

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