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Mass Transit Etiquette

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

September 4,2005

Just GO already!! For those of you who have never found yourself wasting hours of your life sitting in commuter rush hour on I-77, you may find such a demand pushy. For those of you who commute daily, you’ll notice it has been edited for content.

Car-commuter etiquette is quite simple, really. It involves movement of the right foot from the gas pedal to the brake, and may involve movement of the left foot to the clutch. You may smoke cigarettes, and you may sing as loud as you like. Should you find yourself frustrated, coarse language is permitted. If you feel stiff, stretch. If you get a phone call, answer it. You can play loud music and talk with your friends.

But commuters, listen up. In less than two years, the first commuter trains will be functioning. The transition from mass traffic to mass transit can be commuter train travel.

First, boarding. While holding the door and offering “after you” may seem like second nature, on a train it will get you left behind. Boarding a train successfully begins before the train arrives. You must stand as close as possible to the yellow “don’t cross this or you’ll die” line. Think of yourself as a sprinter placing your feet on the starting blocks. The train will arrive, and as it slows, take note of where you are in relation to one of the doors. If it appears that you will not be facing a door when the train stops, begin walking calmly but determinedly to a better location. As soon as the door opens, Go already! It is acceptable to board the train touching shoulders with another person, but once you are inside, you must disperse immediately.

Boarding is the only time that physical contact of any kind is acceptable. Once in a seat, you are confined to a space as wide at your own shoulders. Stretching is not allowed, as it violates your designated boundary and that of the person sitting next to you.

In order to move from beginner to advanced commuter status, you must master the commuter newspaper fold (reading the newspaper is a good way to pass the time on the train as it makes no noise—we’ll cover noise in a minute). Holding the paper in front of you, fold the right edge of the first page toward you and then back to the left so that it touches the left edge. Fold the rest of the newspaper back away from you to the left edge. Now, you may read the column, flipping the folded page back and forth. Changing pages can be tricky, but is possible with practice. You may want to start with a magazine and work up to it.

Singing, using coarse language, or having particularly personal conversations on your cell phone are not recommended. People will stare. Which brings be to a very important point of etiquette: Eye contact. Don’t do it. There are only two situations in which eye contact is appropriate. First, when the person across the way is singing or talking to their doctor. Eye contact is an effective way to let them know you can hear them and you don’t like it. Second, if someone leaves something in his or her seat. Eye contact and a brief “excuse me—you left this” is permitted. This brings me to the last point—conversation.

Conversation should only happen when absolutely necessary, and should be limited to the following phrases: “excuse me—you left this,” and “may I sit here?” The proper response is simply a nod (remembering eye contact is a no-no). If the conductor asks for your ticket, give it to him. Don’t ask how’s he doing. If the train is delayed, NEVER turn to the person next to you and sigh that you’re going to miss an important meeting or your flight to Chicago. Remember, they’re going to be late too.

Finally, the rules for exiting are straightforward. Stand just before the train reaches your stop, hold on to something while it lurches, and follow the same steps as you did entering. All aboard, Charlotte!

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