Transit etiquette - does it even exist?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in ,


transit rider

Over the last 15 years, I have made it a habit of taking transit on a regular basis. I purchase a monthly bus pass, and make every effort possible to use public transit when I need to attend meetings throughout Metro Vancouver. Yes it can be a bit more of a pain, but I take transit because it's both environmentally friendly, and simply the right thing to do.

That said, I've noticed how transit etiquette seems to have deteriorated ever since the price of fuel sky rocketed upwards of $1.50 last summer. That's when people streamed out of their single occupancy vehicles, and began using the more cost effective public transit system. All these new riders put a real strain on an already overburdened system serving high density neighbourhoods.

There were a number of consequences to having all these new people join me on my way to work. On the upside, it meant a lot fewer vehicles on the road spewing a toxic mix into the air. On the downside, a whole new generation of people began taking the bus and SkyTrain (Vancouver's version of the subway, except above ground) who simply weren't apprised of transit etiquette.

Last summer, I recall one gentleman (and I'm being kind here), who sat next to me on the train. An obvious late riser, he appeared a bit out of sorts. Before I knew it, he had whipped out a bar of underarm deodorant and began applying it.

The whole sordid affair lasted but a few seconds, but I'm sure everyone riding the train thought it was pretty disgusting. That incident got me thinking...what leads some people in big cities to believe public spaces have become their own personal domain?

A couple of months later, a young woman sat down next to me and whipped out a large make-up kit and began applying layer upon layer. Not only did the various shades of eyeshadow, lip gloss and blush stink, but I couldn't believe she left home with the full intention of getting ready for work on the train. As far as she was concerned, the SkyTrain had become her new ensuite.

I realize people living in big cities lead fast-paced lives. We're all rushing around busily trying to get to our next appointment, or pick up the kids from daycare. But what gave these two individuals the right to perform functions in public that are better suited for the privacy of their bathroom? Do they have so little respect for their fellow transit users that they aren't bothered by the fact they are getting themselves dressed for work in a public space?

For years, I took transit and for the most part, people seemed to understand the unwritten rules of engagement which include:

  • No loud music.
  • No passing of gas.
  • Take off your backpacks when entering a crowded bus.
  • Wait for others to leave the train before you board yourself.
  • Give up your seat to a pregnant woman or elderly person.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze.
  • Lower the volume on your iPod.
  • Don't talk loudly on your iPhone about your personal escapades.
  • No making out or groping.

Today, it seems to be a free for all. Transite etiquette appears to be so 'yesterday'.

So then, are all these new riders unaware of the etiquette, or do they simply not care? My bet is on the latter. Part of it may be generational, but I'm guessing part of it relates to the impersonal nature and anonymity related to living in a big city.

Despite my recent experiences, I continue to be a huge fan of public transit. It gets me where I want to go in a relatively short period of time at minimal expense. However, in order to keep me hooked, a lot more people are going to have to learn transit etiquette - soon.

How has your transit experience been lately? Let us know.


I'd give new riders the benefit of the doubt. In many systems around the world, there's audio announcements or in-transit advertising constantly reminding passengers of etiquette rules. TransLink put together a series of ads recently, but compared to some of the stuff the West Coast Express does, it's only just scratching the surface.

When the dailies were introduced, and were flooding the SkyTrain with newspapers, TransLink moved fast to introduce those "Target Trash" ads, put recycling bins in stations, and did audio announcements all the time to remind passengers to recycle their papers.

It's that kind of effort TransLink needs to take every day to really make a dent in the etiquette problem.

Go visit TransLink's "Buzzer," online edition. Some ideas of how people should be interacting---they even have some fun pop quizzes on etiquette.

However, is TransLink the sole arbitor of the "play nice' rules? What happened to personal responsibity? Don't people teach their kids to give up seats for the eldery or infirm or those who look like they are going to have that kid any minute?

The ignerent public jus need to get edjukated.

Do you know what I find disgusting on transit? When people won't get out of their seats when a wheelchair comes onto the bus.

This behaviour never fails to shock me. People at the front of the bus will hear and see the wheelchair ramp go down. They'll watch a person wheel onto the bus, and still they won't move. They'll just sit there like lost sheep until either the driver or person in the chair has to ask them, hey, would ya mind giving up your seat please?

Seriously, what's up with people when they get on the bus? Humanity's collective IQ seems to drop by 50 points when they get on transit.

Check out!

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