Public Transportation Etiquette

Businessman using mobile phone, laughing on bus
Don't have a loud phone conversation when using public transportation. Toby Burrows/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Have you ever been on a bus or train and had to listen to someone obnoxiously chatting on his cell phone? Have you ever been pushed to the side or trampled on by rude passengers? Make it a point to not be that person.

Most people will have to use public transportation at some point, so take the time to learn proper etiquette. Even if you live in the suburbs and drive your own car, you'll probably have to fly or ride a train eventually.

Don't be one of those people who leave other passengers cringing.

Anyone who lives in a big city has to deal with public transportation, so make it the most positive experience possible by showing good manners – even when others don’t. There is no point in mirroring bad behavior. Try to remember that when someone else is rude, you probably won’t have to see that person again after you get off the train or bus, so there is no point in making things worse with confrontation.

Passenger Traffic

Follow basic traffic rules by staying to the right as much as possible. This includes hallways, stairwells, and other areas where there is a constant flow of foot traffic. If you must pass someone, try to do it on the left, as you would in a car. Be considerate of anyone who is disabled or has a service animal.

Transportation Fare

Have your fare ready before you board public transportation. No one wants to wait for you to dig through your pockets or handbag for the correct change.

If you can’t find it quickly, let others board first. Next time you’ll be more prepared.

Get out of the Way

When you board a bus or train during rush hour, get out of the way so others can board behind you. Blocking others can create a logjam, anger others, and maybe even cause injury. If you are traveling during “off” hours, give other passengers as much personal space as you can without being awkward.

Getting off may be difficult if you have been pushed to the back or center of the train or bus because you’ll have to squeeze past everyone who boarded after you. Once you get close to your destination on a train, start moving toward the exit so it won’t be so difficult. Most people understand what you are doing, and they’ll let you by. In larger cities, it is acceptable to holler that you are getting off a bus so the driver won’t continue forward.

If you are close to the door, and someone else is trying to disembark, move to the side and let him or her by. You might even have to temporarily step off the bus or train, but do it quickly so it doesn’t leave without you.

Be a Lady or Gentleman

Always show good manners while riding public transportation. Showing ladylike or gentlemanly behavior shouldn’t be reserved for office and home. When you see someone struggling with mobility, stand up and let the person have your seat, offer assistance, and get out of the way if necessary. An older person, pregnant woman, or disabled person has just as much right to respect on public transportation as you.

Watch Your Belongings

Not only do you need to protect your belongings, you need to protect others from your bags, backpacks, and totes.

Remove your backpack from your back so that when you turn around, you don’t knock someone over. You should never place a bag on the seat next to you when you are on a crowded bus or train. Put it on the floor, or if you don’t want it to get dirty, place it in your lap so others can sit.

If you have a stroller or other rolling device, fold it before you board. Learn the policy of what to do with it. Sometimes you may be able to keep it with you, but others may have a rule that it needs to be checked and picked up when you reach your destination.

Hold Down the Noise

Don’t inflict your noise on others. This includes loud talking, electronics, and singing. Hold off on long cell phone conversations until you reach your stop. You might have the coolest sounds in the world, but others have their own taste, and there’s a good chance they won’t appreciate yours.

If you must listen to music, wear ear buds and keep the volume low enough so that only you can hear it.

Children

If you have children with you, make sure they understand the rules for taking public transportation. They need to keep their voices down, stay by your side, and avoid annoying other passengers.

If someone else has children who misbehave, there is very little you can do except move or ask to be seated elsewhere. There is a good chance that if you say something to the parent or caregiver, that person will be defensive and maybe even start an argument.

Environment

Do your best to make sure others don’t have to deal with smells coming from you. Most public transportation has a policy of no smoking. Adhere to that.

Wear deodorant please, but don’t douse yourself in heavy perfume before getting on a crowded train. Not only will you offend some people, they may be allergic to it. You don’t want to be responsible for sending someone to the emergency room with respiratory difficulties.

Don’t bring food and drink on public transportation. Not only do smells travel and intensify in small spaces, you risk spilling and causing a dangerous environment where people may slip and fall.

Never drop your trash on the floor or seat of a train or bus. If you have something that needs to be disposed of, wait until you are near a trash receptacle and throw it away then.