I was tweeting back and forth (well, one tweet back, one tweet forth was the extent of it, really) with a high school acquaintance turned train friend recently. You know, the person who’s on your train every morning that you talk to every so often. The short conversation resulted in an idea that I immediately thought would make a good blog post: MBTA Etiquette.
Sure, normal etiquette rules apply in most situations on the MBTA, as they do in the rest of everyday life, but there are a few unwritten rules (some that maybe only I know about) that need to be plastered onto the walls of MBTA stations and subway cars.
On the commuter rail:
I realize that many MBTA users never ride the commuter rail, so this won’t apply to them. However, given that long commuter rail rides can be over 60 minutes long, etiquette is of utmost importance.
1. Finding a seat
If you’re the guy who jumps on the rush-hour train just as the train is leaving North Station, chances are that finding a seat is particularly difficult. There is a correct way to finding an empty seat.
Use your judgement. If it seems like the train is packed, then there will be limited options available. However, if you’re getting on mid-trip, you may find a situation where there are some options. In general, all seats should be taken in the following order (I’m assuming we’re dealing with a classic 3-seat/2 seat setup, and that you’re alone):
A. Inside (window) seat, either row
If possible, take the inside seat. This makes it easier for someone to sit beside you if necessary. Don’t sit on the aisle if no one is sitting with you, and don’t put your stuff all over your seat, making it awkward for other passengers to sit down. Everyone likes a private seat but that’s not always realistic. Whether you take the inside seat on the 2-seater side or the 3-seater side is your preference. Generally, the side facing away from the sun is best, as the glare can be brutal. I tend to favor the 3-seater side since you’re less likely to have someone sitting directly next to you.
B. Outside (aisle) seat on the 3-seater side
If you’re on a train with two 2-seat rows, disregard this. Otherwise, it’s best to take the aisle seat on the 3-seater side if all the inside seats are taken. This provides the maximum buffer zone between you and the person you’re sitting with. The commuter rail seats aren’t spaced enough for tall males (read: me) to sit comfortably without sitting on the diagonal a little bit, so do everyone a favor and acknowledge this.
C. Outside (aisle) seat on the 2-seater side
Okay, we’re running out of room here. The next natural step is the aisle seat on the 2-seater side, for obvious reasons: It’s easier to access than the middle seat on the 3-seater side, and you’re ruining one person’s trip and not two.
Honestly, I’d rather stand than sit in the middle of the 3-seater side, but that’s just me. Disregard if you wish (especially if you’re not overweight or tall). Sometimes not an option depending on the conductor.
E. Middle seat of the 3-seater side
Only if you must. Use judgement here, if you’re larger than the person in the aisle seat, ask if that person can slide over. If they’re larger than you, ask for the middle seat. Make it the least uncomfortable situation possible.
F. Special Circumstances
If a group of people come in and want a 2-seater to themselves, and there’s an aisle seat in the 3-seater side available, give it to them. Same goes for the 3-seater side. It is also acceptable to offer the window seat to a new passenger if you’re getting off within the next 1-2 stops. Finally, I’ll bend the rules somewhat if you have the opportunity to sit in a recently-renovated seat, that actually has, you know, padding.
2. Changing your Seat
Changing seats is encouraged as the train empties out when traveling outbound. As a general rule of thumb, it is the responsibility of the person sitting on the aisle to move to an empty set of seats, if available. It is also acceptable for someone sitting on the aisle in the 2-seater row to move to the aisle of a 3-seater row, assuming no one is sitting in the middle seat at that point. The goal is to minimize the number of strangers sitting directly next to one another.
Conversation is generally discouraged. People use the train to get work done, read, listen to music, play games on their phone, nap, etc. Always err on the assumption that whoever is sitting next to you does not want to talk to you. This is not necessarily because of noise (although that is a factor), but because you could ruin someone’s train ride by talking to them the whole time. If you must make small talk, learn to take a hint and shut it after a few seconds of silence.
According to female sources, it is extremely uncool to chat up the cute girl that you “happened” to sit next to for the entire ride. Don’t hold people hostage because they’re being polite.
4. Personal space
The seating priority list is primarily to conserve as much personal space as possible. As I mentioned, larger people don’t fit in the seats as well as smaller people. Don’t exacerbate the situation by disobeying the seating priority list, by putting your stuff on the seat, shifting around too much, etc. Larger individuals should try not to encroach on the seat of the person next to him/her.
On the bus:
The onset of live tracking apps such as “Catch the Bus” and the Google Maps app have really opened up a new world for me in terms of public transit. I took the bus about three times in college, and about 300 times since I graduated under two years ago. The bus is really a different animal when it comes to public transit. A few tips to consider:
1. Where to sit
If the bus is empty enough that you’re able to sit, do so wherever you want, but remember to always try to minimize the number of people sitting directy next to one another. Most MBTA buses have five seats at the very back, facing the front, and three seats facing one another directly in front of the back seats. In the case of the 5-seater in the back, always try to sit on either extreme (the “window” seats) or directly in the middle. Only take the window seats if you’ll be on the bus for a while, since people will need to stand to let you out if there is anyone next to you. The 2nd priority is the middle of the five seats, since you’ll have a one-seat buffer between you and the window seats. As is the case with all three-seaters, do not take the middle seat unless absolutely necessary.
2. Where to stand
If you need to stand, it really depends on how packed the bus is, and if it’ll get more packed at the next few stops. Consider your experience and make a judgement. If you anticipate the bus will get full, stand in the back of the bus if you’re not getting off for a few stops. If you don’t think the bus will get much more full, stand wherever you want, but be prepared to push back if necessary. If you’re getting off at the next stop, stand as close to the back door as possible.
3. Getting off the bus
Unless you’re sitting or standing at the very front of the bus, always get off using the back door. People will be looking to get on using the front door. Riders that exit through the front door slow things down. I once saw a woman that was outraged that people tried to board the bus 5 seconds after the doors opened; she was walking over to the front door to get off. She was wrong. Get out at the back door unless you’re eagerly waiting to get off at the front as soon as the doors open. I’ll let you slide if you’re in the front in a very packed bus, but then again, if you’re at the front, you were probably close enough to walk anyway.
If you get off at a minor stop, when it’s unlikely anyone else will be getting on or off, and there is a major stop nearby, where it’s more likely people will be getting on and off, be a sport and just get off at the major stop. Don’t delay everyone for 15 seconds because you need to get off at your own stop, 500 feet from a major intersection. Go for a walk, it’s good for you. Obviously more acceptable in inclement weather.
Look, I’m on the bus. Therefore, I’m not having the best day. Assume I hate your music. Playing music from a boombox, or playing it so loud that I can hear it through your noise-cancelling headphones, is unacceptable. I really shouldn’t need to write this.
The bus driver is probably the unsung hero of the MBTA world. A commuter rail conductor doesn’t have to drive the train, and subway conductors don’t really have to deal with customers. Bus drivers are responsible for making sure people get on and pay, making sure no one gets on through the back door, making sure people move back if it’s standing room only, etc. They also have the most stressful job; they actually have to drive, on a road, in BOSTON, in a bus. It’s not easy. Treat them with respect.
On the subway
Because of the nature of the cars, seating is much more of a free-for-all on rapid-transit lines (Red, Blue, Orange) than buses, commuter rail trains, or the Green Line. On rapid transit lines, you should remember to sit in a seat that minimizes the number of people sitting directly next to one another. If the train is empty, you should sit on an edge seat or a seat two seats over, or a seat two seats over from that, etc. Sitting next to one of these seats when it is not necessary may lead to fewer-than optimal available seats without anyone sitting next to someone. For example, if there are seven seats in a section, you can sit in seats 1, 3, 5, or 7. If someone’s sitting in seat 6, this means the maximum number of people sitting in that section without anyone sitting next to someone is 3 (people sitting in seat 2, 4, and 6). In this situation, sit in seat 1 or seat 7, if necessary, since this way you’re only inconveniencing one person.
The green line takes on similar rules to the bus, except there are more single seats on the Green Line. If you’re alone and this seat is available, take it.
And, for god’s sake, give up your seat next to the door (or any seat for that matter) for a disabled, elderly, or pregnant person. Another thing I shouldn’t have to write.
Sometimes you gotta stand. When standing, use the space available, but be mindful of others. Don’t lean on the pole you’re holding onto, since that means no one else can use it.
Never use the hanging loops that hang from the horizontal bars; they suck and they will not keep you steady once the train moves or stops.
Pay attention and anticipate sudden stops and go’s. No one likes that person that repeatedly gets thrown into other people because the train stopped.
3. The doors
Do not stand directly next to the doors if possible. This makes it difficult for people to exit/enter the train. If you are standing at the door because the train is too full, get off the train and let people leave. You will be the first one back on and you’ll be able to get a better spot to stand, or maybe even a seat. The train won’t leave without you if you get off for three seconds.
It is acceptable for people to move closer to the doors while the train is moving only if they are getting off at the next stop. People pile into the train once it seems like no one else is exiting (often once the doors open), so it’s actually good to get close to the door to keep things moving. However, don’t do this in an overly crowded train; you’ll annoy people by pushing past them when there’s no place to go.
Beware of your bag. The conductors get in trouble, to the tune of unpaid suspensions, if they close the door on your backpack because it was sticking out. Treat it as an extension of your body and get it inside the doors. And if the door closes and crunches your bag, take responsibility.
This cannot be stressed enough. In peak conditions, especially rush hour, do NOT block the entire escalator. Stand on the right if you must stand so that people in a rush can walk to your left. The escalator is meant to speed things up, don’t slow things down for everyone.
This won’t apply to nearly anyone reading, but here it goes anyway. I tend to dislike performers in the subway. Chances are, I’m listening to music or a podcast. However, I will admit that there is an aesthetic/cultural plus to street performers and subway performers. You don’t find people playing violin in public spaces in suburbs. However, it does get annoying when you quite literally can’t escape the sounds you’re making. So here are some rules for subway performers:
A. No amplifiers
Chances are, you don’t need one. The subway can be pretty quiet when no trains are entering/exiting the station, and when they are entering and exiting, it’s hard to hear anything. Amplifiers aren’t necessary most of the time. If your instrument requires one, keep it to a reasonable level. If i’m not interested in your music, I’m not going to tip you, regardless of its volume. I’m certainly not going to walk the length of the platform to tip you if I can hear you from 80 yards away.
B. Keep it classical
Classical music is generally unoffensive. It’s relaxing and pleasing to the ear. It’s exactly what I want to hear in a subway station, when I’m tired in the morning or stressed going home at night. Folksy music with some singing is also OK in some aspects, just don’t go too crazy. The vocals, if included, should NOT be the focal point. And again, if vocals are included, no microphones.
C. Nothing obnoxious
I know this is subjective, and it kind of goes along with “Keep it classical”, but please, don’t play the music from your native country if we don’t already listen to it here. I don’t want to sound like a xenophobe, but chances are, people don’t want to hear this new kind of music before or after their workday.
D. No cliche covers!
If I hear Dirty Water one more time on the subway or in Downtown Crossing, I’m going to vomit. Seriously, you’re a musician, play something interesting.
If I missed anything, be sure to let me know!