Pregnant subway riders in Tokyo can request a seat with their phones

More than 40 years ago, social psychologist Dr. Stanley Milgram gave his students an assignment: Go on the New York City subway and ask fellow passengers to give up their seats.

The majority of students reported high anxiety and even trauma upon asking fellow passengers to give up their seats, even though the majority of those asked complied.

Confronting a stranger — even nicely — is still a nerve-racking experience for many people today, which is why New York City, among others, have tried to educate riders about polite behavior. Tokyo, meanwhile, is turning to technology to make interactions on the subway easier.

More From Travel + Leisure

Using the popular messaging app Line, pregnant riders on the Tokyo subway now request fellow passengers to give up their seats. Once a pregnant rider presses “I wish to sit” on their phone, nearby riders who have previously registered as willing to give up their seats for a pregnant passenger will receive a notification, alerting them that it’s their opportunity to stand up.

If and when there’s a match, the pregnant passenger will receive a notification on their phone, alongside a seat map guiding them to the passenger who’s willing to give up their spot.

“This may be particular to Japan but some people hesitate to speak to a person who may need a seat,” a spokesperson at Dai Nippon Printing, the company testing the service on the subway, told AFP. “Many people are also looking at smartphone screens and do not always realise quickly that someone in need is standing nearby.”

Passengers wait on a train at a subway station in Tokyo December 7, 2012, after a strong earthquake jolted northeastern Japan. A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 centred off the coast of northeastern Japan shook buildings as far as Tokyo and led to a tsunami warning for coastal areas of the northeast, public broadcaster NHK said on Friday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (JAPAN - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT) - GM1E8C71DM801

The popular messaging app, Line, which offers the service to pregnant women will soon be rolling out a similar feature for the disabled and elderly.  (Reuters)

The seat-request feature will also be available for elderly or disabled passengers.

The service began testing in Tokyo last week but it’s unclear if and when it will become a permanent feature on the subway. But if the app fails, there’s still always the the old-fashioned idea of noticing a fellow passenger in need and offering a seat before being asked. But first, passengers will need to look up from their phones.