At Riding Public Transit


Photo by Queensland Rail.

I’m convinced that if purgatory exists, it looks exactly like a full parking garage. That’s why I ride my university’s buses: if I drove to class I’d have to fight the beast that is campus parking, which can only be bested before 8 o’clock in the morning. Arrive after that and you’ll likely spend the next hour driving in circles or parked at the entrance to the garage like a stalker, waiting to claim the vacant spot of the next person to walk in and drive away.

If you live in a major metropolitan area, chances are you use public transit daily—buses, subways, trolleys, anything that moves a lot of people at one time on a prescribed route. These people movers put legions of strangers in close proximity with one another, sometimes for extended periods of time. Let’s be real: holding on for dear life to a railing above your head for half an hour while you slide around like a cat on a waxed floor every time the bus stops is not a pleasant experience, nor is sitting on a hygienically-questionable seat with a stranger’s nether regions in your face for any length of time.

We can all safely assume, though, that people who are riding public transit need to be riding public transit. If we could avoid it without financial strain or added stress, we all would. Let’s a take a moment to review some practices that will keep public transportation as painless as possible for everybody.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of public transit as not causing emotional or physical damage to your fellow passengers and/or the driver of your preferred method of transportation, and generally being not unpleasant.

1.       Read a map. Every form of public transportation in every city everywhere has some kind of map or plan available for everyone to read; some of these even come in the form of a customizable app. Get at least somewhat familiar with where your closest stop is and what route you should be taking. Caution: your preferred form of public transit may not stop directly outside your destination. You may have to (gasp) do some walking.

2.       Be polite to the driver. If you ride a bus, you need to at least say “hello” and “thank you” to your driver every time you ride. Bus driving is important and thankless work, and a little appreciation has the potential to brighten someone’s entire day. If that’s not enough motivation for you to positively acknowledge your driver, consider the fact that people who drive buses have the power to decide the character of your 45-minute standing commute: smooth, or full of sharp turns, quick stops and potholes. Sincere thanks go a long way.

3.       Remain flexible. If you’re stuck standing on a crowded bus or train, be prepared to either bend with the turns and sudden stops or fall down (especially if someone you’re riding with is mean to the driver—because of course you would never do that). Sit as soon as possible.

4.       If you have to ask, give up your seat. The elderly. The disabled. People with injuries. People who are carrying a lot of stuff or something heavy. People who are traveling with small children. Pregnant women. Women who appear to be possibly pregnant. All of these are people for whom you should give up your seat if there are no others available. If nothing else, you’ll accumulate some good karma, and new seats free up every time there’s a stop. For the love of all that is good, though, just stand up silently when you’re offering your seat to a “pregnant” woman. If you congratulate a woman or ask about her due date and she’s not pregnant, she will likely stand back up and slap you or possibly cry. (Those are also distinct possibilities when you congratulate women who are heavily pregnant. Proceed with caution.)

5.       Keep yourself to yourself. Try and take up the least possible amount of space when you’re on public transit: arms in, possessions held close to your body, not touching other passengers if you can possibly help it. Don’t eat anything smelly, discuss personal business, or talk loudly on the phone while en route. I have heard more about the state of people’s romantic relationships, work problems and sexual health on the bus than I ever wanted to. Also, this should go without saying, but sexual harassment is never okay, and it’s even less okay when your prey is stuck with you for the next six stops and can’t do anything about it. Keep it classy, people.

And, for extra credit,

6.       Open up every once in a while. If the person next to you seems not entirely antisocial, try striking up a conversation. Some of the most interesting people I know are people I’ve been stuck in a tin can with while we were trying to get to our 9:30 a.m. classes.


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