Public Transportation Etiquette

Let’s bring back these cute etiquette signs in the subway!
[Image via Forgotten New York]

Nothing produces more ire in people than public transportation etiquette. Everyone hates being there and everyone behaves so badly! We tried to make this list as exhaustive as possible, but please chime in in the comments with your thoughts, opinions, pet peeves, and anything we left out.


Give pregnant ladies, old people, people with obvious injuries, and anyone who asks your seat.

Let people off the train before you get on, to a reasonable degree- no need to wait for that person who doesn’t decide to get off the train until the last second (we will get to them later)

If you stand in the doorway of the train, either turn yourself sideways and get as small as possible or step out of the train to let people on.

Your bag doesn’t get it’s own seat, put it on your lap or between your feet on the floor.

Related, if you are sitting, don’t take up more than your amount of space. This means men don’t get to spread their legs three feet wide and no one gets to put their feet up on an adjoining seat. If someone is partially blocking a seat, you are well within your rights to politely notify them that you want to sit down and then assert that right by doing so.

Headphones/earbuds are your friend. There is no excuse for using any noise-making device in public without them. While we are at it, be mindful of headphone noise leakage. If I can hear Party in the USA coming from 5 people down, your volume is too loud.

When traveling through subway stations, do not stop moving. Do not stop at the top of stairs, do not stop at the bottom of stairs, do not come to a sudden stop in the middle of the platform. Always get out of the flow of traffic, and then stop.

Do not lean on subway poles unless you like my knuckles digging into your back as much as possible.

Don’t eat smelly food.

Exit through the rear door of a bus (unless it’s crowded and you are near the front). Also, as you enter a bus, move towards the back as much as possible.

Escalators: stand right, walk left.

It should go without saying that personal hygiene activities like clipping toe nails and flossing don’t belong on the subway, but from experience, I know that it does, in fact, need to be said.

Take all of your trash with you and dispose of it in a trash can.

If you have kids:

  • If you give them a toy to play with, make sure it’s something they can use in their own space and doesn’t make noise. (AKA no watching movies at full blast on your iPad, no kids playing with toy cars on the floor)
  • Subway seats are not a great place to change diapers! I know, you can’t control when your baby decides to poop, but sorry, getting off the subway to find a better place to change a diaper is sorta what you signed up for as a parent.
  • Many public transit systems do have rules that strollers need to be folded at all times, or at least when the bus or train becomes very crowded. This can be difficult if you have a lot of stuff, but do your best to keep aisles and doorways free.


Extra Credit (I’m not going to go so far as to say these are etiquette rules, but following them makes public transportation more pleasant for everyone)

Try to fill up available seats on a crowded (or even moderately full) train- standing people take up space that makes it more difficult for people to move in and out of the train.

Try to look around you at every stop to make sure that you aren’t blocking the path of people coming in and out. Play your part to keep everything moving smoothly.

When the train is about to reach your stop, start gathering all your things and make your way towards the door if possible. People need to wait to let you off before getting on, but they shouldn’t have to wait until the doors are about to close before you realize that hey, you need to get off.

This is probably just me, but can we ban talking above a whisper on the morning commute?



7 thoughts on “Public Transportation Etiquette

  1. As parent of a two month old who poops his worst at truly inconvenient times… Is it worse to change diaper or to let him scream until a more appropriate place can be found? I feel like infant screaming at the top of his lungs because he thinks that’s how to ask for a new diaper may be worse than the 30 seconds it takes to put down the little mat on the seat and do a quick switcheroo. Ideally, of course, babies would all wait politely, but they have zero manners.

    • We’ll be addressing this more in an etiquette for/with kids post, but I do believe that more people are at least used to a screaming child than seeing a naked child covered in excrement on a seat (not to mention the possible smell, and proximity to said excrement). Even if there is a mat, you just have the image that you could be sitting in a seat that was once used to change a diaper before a subway worker came to clean it. Obviously it’s all inconvenient, but a screaming child is a bit more of a known entity!

    • Goodness! Please just let him scream, that is why I have headphones! I had no idea people would even consider changing a baby on the bus!

    • You can actually get kicked off a bus or train here if the driver notices you changing a child on the bus… not only is it really uncomfortable for everyone around you, but it’s also highly unsanitary. I’ve seen multiple people told to get off the bus when they’ve changed their kids – so just please don’t.

  2. Can we also not take bicycles onto crowded trains during rush hour? I understand that sometimes you can’t bike home for whatever reason, but if you NEED to take your bike on the train and it’s crowded, wait for the next one!

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