Essays · Strangers

Using Public Transportation

Sometimes I think I could write an entire book (or at least a thick pamphlet) about public transit etiquette. In few other situations are we a captive audience with no immediate escape, surrounded by strangers. To me, this means we need to take extra care that we’re considerate of those around us. As someone who uses public transportation on a regular basis, I’ve been collecting a list of things that people should do (or not do) to make travel less challenging. Today, I share them with you!

Let’s start at the very beginning, because apparently folks get tripped up from the word go. Different public transit system have different rules about payment, which can create some bottlenecks, as well as confusion for people using the bus or rail for the first time.

To not be that guy, figure out how you can pay before getting onto your chosen mode of transportation. If you need a transit card, purchase one ahead of time. If you need to ‘tap in’ prior to boarding, do that; otherwise have your payment method ready to go when you’re in line to board. If you’re going to pass through a gate, don’t get in line until you have your ticket out and ready to go (especially during rush hour – that sea of people is moving with or without you).

Also — and this seems to be a challenge for some folks, especially on elevators — you need to let people off the mode of transportation before you try to get on. That’s not just manners; that’s physics. A full train won’t have room for you until some people get off the carriage. And keep an eye out for the people who are stepping off only because they are letting others exit; they should be allowed to re-board before new people jump in.

Unless you have a mobility need that requires use of certain spaces on the bus or train, move all the way into the vehicle. I think we all have a little fear that we’ll somehow miss our station or stop, but I’ve seen that happen maybe once in twenty years of heavy public transit use. If you’re getting off at the next stop, try to be one of the last people to get on the bus so you don’t have to push your way out. If not, move all the way in and fill up all the available spaces. If you just decide to stop halfway back, there may be people who will miss the bus or train. That’s not cool.

Also, if you’re standing in the space for strollers and wheelchairs, and someone using a stroller or wheelchair gets on, you need to move. Seriously.

Finding a Seat
If you’re lucky (or traveling outside of commute hours), there may be seats available. If you can allow people some personal space, that’s ideal. If you need one of the spaces made available for people with mobility challenges, take it. If someone in the seat appears to not fit that same bill, it’s okay to ask that they move, but you should also recognize that not all mobility issues are visible. Related — if you just took that seat because it was the only one open, and someone who needs it gets on, you should vacate it without being asked.

If there are double seats empty, you should choose those instead of sitting next to another person. If it’s a long bench (like on the tube) and there are options that allow you to have an empty seat on one or both side of you, choose that first.

And unless there are multiple empty seats, don’t set your bags on the empty seat next to you. Did you purchase a second fair for your bags? No? Then that seat is not yours. Also, don’t put your feet on the seats. That’s just nasty.

Finally, a word for guys (sorry, not interested in your protestations, this is 99.9999% of the time a guy thing): close your legs. I do not need your thigh taking up 1/3 of my seat just because you feel the need to air out your junk. Keep to your space, and keep out of mine.

Food and Drink
Everyone gets hungry and we don’t all have time to sit down for a meal, but try not to bring especially pungent foods on board. People are stuck in this carriage or bus and can’t get away from your fried fish fillet. In some cases, it might even cause someone to vomit on you.

That would suck.

If you need to bring something to drink with you, please make sure it has a lid on it, and that you can drink out of it without creating a spill risk. No one wants your hot coffee on their shirt.

I cringe when the person who sits or stands next to me on the bus starts sniffing, but I get angry when they cough or sneeze on me. I completely understand that people with colds (and other illnesses) might need to take the bus or the train. That’s life. But what I don’t get is the same people not covering their coughs and sneezes with their arms. Half the time it seems folks are just sneezing and coughing out into the open; the other half they cough into their hand and then grab onto the shared posts that people use to keep their balance.


If you have to travel when you’re sick, please just cover your coughs and sneezes with tissues or your elbow.

Phone Use
I’ve already covered that here!

Alright. Hopefully if you’ve been doing some of these things without realizing it, you’ll stop. Or, if you’re interested in being the worst possible version of yourself, perhaps you’ll find inspiration here. Either way:

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