Two Saturdays ago, as an April-fool’s joke, the blog Transportation Nation reported that the MTA was launching a pilot program to test left-handed card readers at subway entrances. As a right-hander who’s been stuck behind many an awkward cross-reaching lefty at the turnstile (always as the train is just getting ready to close its doors) and someone whose own lefty mother cannot properly cut paper without a pair of special scissors, I am here to ask: Is it really such a crazy idea after all?
“The first few times I took the subway, I tried switching my MetroCard to my right hand,” says left-hander Maura Kutner, 28, whose swipe has been observed by this correspondent to be quite ungainly. “But I couldn’t hold it steady enough, so I always got the ‘Please swipe again’ message. I have to use my dominant hand, even though that means doing this weird cross-body stretch.” (Her fiancé and fellow southpaw David Walters fared better; his mother had sent him to preschool armed with a note declaring, “My son is left-handed and I’d like to keep him that way,” but he’s since developed a level of ambidexterity.) Refilling a subway card isn’t much easier, what with the slot on the right. ATMs, sewing machines, the antenna of the first iPhone 4s, the computer mice pre-attached to the right side of keyboards, and many other objects also do their part to remind the left-handed of their minority status.
A recent study found that lefties’ salaries tend to be 10 percent lower than those of righties; other research shows that the left-handed face a higher risk of dyslexia, stuttering, autism, depression, schizophrenia, migraines, inflammatory-bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis. “Some scientists even consider left-handedness a mild birth defect, since it may be caused in the womb when a mother feels distressed, or when oxygen is cut off during the birth process,” says Daniel Casasanto, an assistant professor of psychology at the New School. Special subway turnstiles for lefties, though not a cure-all, might have a domino effect, he speculates. “Research shows that righties have a more positive feeling about what’s on their right—a job candidate, a politician’s name on a ballot, even picking between identical drawings of aliens—as lefties do for what’s on their left. Letting lefties swipe on their dominant side may actually lead to a perception that the MTA is more pleasant and trustworthy. It could lead to more positive feelings about their fellow passengers. Buskers may even get more change.”
Implementing the left-handed lanes might prove tricky, it’s true. (Walters: “I think it would be more confusing than helpful to me, and righties would get turned around.”) But anything’s possible with the proper backing, and it would seem that Michael Bloomberg—6-train rider, technocrat, southpaw—could certainly be sold on the trickle-down benefits.