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Public Transport
Dear Academy Rabbi's

Does it constitute theft to occupy more than one seat on a bus or train (eg with a backpack) if

a) nobody's waiting for a seat
b) the bus or train is crowded and people are standing

Thank you,
(07-13-2018, 02:02 AM)TomBenNoah Wrote: Does it constitute theft to occupy more than one seat on a bus or train (eg with a backpack)

I assume that you are speaking about public transportation like a city bus or a city subway/light-rail train, in which the city is not selling the right to have a seat on a specific vehicle, but rather the right to be transported on any vehicle, regardless of whether the passenger rides sitting or standing.

Quote:if a) nobody's waiting for a seat

That does not constitute theft.

Quote:b) the bus or train is crowded and people are standing

If there is enough space on the vehicle for a prospective fellow passenger to be able to get on, then nothing of monetary value has been stolen from anyone. The person who takes up one or more extra seats is just acting rudely and perhaps immorally.

The other passengers can pressure the person to clear off the extra seat(s), and the driver has the right to eject the person from the vehicle on account of the bad behavior of refusing to stop causing unnecessary discomfort to a fellow passenger.

But it could be that there is some ordinance in the city's civil law (not involving theft) that the person is violating if he takes up an extra seat.

By the same token, if someone is sitting in a public transportation vehicle with an empty seat next to him, and everybody around him would rather stand instead of sitting down in that seat, the people who choose to stand are not commiting any theft by choosing not to sit there, even it means that the vehicle is so crowded that nobody else can get on.

Even if there is no standing room left for even one more person to get on the vehicle, a prospective passenger who finds no room to board is still holding his money or his ticket or ride-pass, and he can wait for another bus or train which has enough room for him to board. The transportation department does not guarantee or take responsibility that any given person will arrive at a destination at the time he wants to.

If the vehicle is so full that a person can't get on, and that delay caused some aggravation or financial loss or physical harm to someone, or if someone who had to stand in the vehicle suffered unnecessarily or got injured because he asked to sit in the available seat but he was refused, or he needed extra standing room in order to ride safely, then the offending passenger may be held liable in G-d's eyes to some Divine punishment for being the cause of that. But it does not seem that the offending person could be convicted of theft in a court of law.

As an example of a worst-case scenario, assume that this happened on the last scheduled bus or train for the day, so a ticket-holder was not able to board the vehicle and he was stranded, and he was financially or physically harmed because of that, G-d forbid. G-d would probably hold the offending passenger accountable for the harm done, but He also might hold accountable other passengers and/or the driver, who were able to force the offending passenger to clear the seat, but they stood by and didn't do so.

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