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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

The rules of transit etiquette, for those who still don't get it

I feel like a lot of transit riders don’t know how to behave properly. Maybe you could provide a few reminders?

Courtesy Ani Castillo

Dear Ellen,

I know you’ve written about transit etiquette before. But I feel a lot of riders still don’t know how to behave properly. Maybe you could provide a few reminders?

Michael, Toronto

Dear Michael,

After a recent, bruising experience on Toronto’s Spadina streetcar, I am more than happy to oblige.
It was during rush hour. The car was fully crowded, and I was stuck standing halfway down the aisle, on the circular, moving floor plate that allows extra-long streetcars to swivel around curves and corners.

Beside me was a young man wearing a gigantic pack, which he should have taken off and held in front of him, or set on the floor, as per proper transit etiquette. Instead, he kept the pack securely fastened to his back, and monopolized the only available pole while heedlessly battering everyone around him.

As his nearest target, my noggin was treated to a near-concussive thump every time the streetcar jostled me within striking range. The impacts increased in both frequency and severity as the hinged car navigated around the roundabout at Spadina Crescent. As I repeatedly attempted a cartoonish scramble away from the vicious backpack, the moving floor plate simply flung me face-first into it over and over again. At a certain point, I was tempted to go with the flow and throw my whole weight into the backpack and attached owner. But I reminded myself that retaliating to rudeness with physical aggression would show a distinct lack of manners on my part.

So, with “remove your backpack” as rule No. 1, let’s review some other points of transit etiquette:

Turn down your music: Even if by some bizarre chance we like the song you’re playing, we don’t want to listen to it bounced off your waxy ear canals via your leaky headphones.

Don’t eat anything the rest of us can smell or hear: Discreetly nibbling raisins or a quiet muffin is one thing. Munching, slurping and crunching noisy snacks or squirty pungent sandwiches is strictly verboten.

Respect boundaries: Enjoy your seat if you have one. But please don’t assume you’re also entitled to spread your belongings or limbs across the seat beside you. Contrary to popular belief among some leg-spreaders, your knees are not allergic to each other. Seriously, knees can come well within 10 inches of each other without causing injury to any nearby organs.

Control your hoods: You may not realize it, but your big, fat parka hood takes up space. When you’re sitting back-to-back with another rider, make sure your head gear isn’t draped over the seat onto someone else’s head.
That goes for big, fat hairdos too: Few things are more disconcerting than feeling someone else’s hair spongily surround your own head or slip-slide down your back collar. I love to look at any kind of hairdo, but I don’t want it touching me without prior consent.

Control your groceries: I know it might be fun to watch your bags of food repeatedly smack the head of someone sitting obliviously in a seat that, in the kind of just society where transit-etiquette refresher columns are unnecessary, would have been given up to you and your heavy burden of consumables. But it’s still wrong.

Stand up to let people get out of the seat beside you: Don’t just swing your legs a few inches to the side in a token effort to make room for a rider getting off before you. Leap to your feet and get out of the way!

There you have it: Not my first transit-rules review, nor, I fear, my last.

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