Your Bag Does Not Need a Seat

By Molly Shilo

We have all experienced uncomfortable and strange experiences on public transportation, ranging from the benign to the disturbing. We can often deal with standing up on a crowded subway or struggling to squeeze into an already over-packed car. The real issues result from the people with whom we travel.

Oftentimes, these strange but humorous encounters become anecdotes to share with friends. With the prevalence of social media, these stories are now being spread globally, and form a network of commiseration through the use of hashtags.

A simple search using #MTA reveals the many issues that riders experience daily on New York public transportation.

One tweet, for example, aptly describes the problem of loud music on subways: “@laurenekelly: What has to happen to you to think you can play videos on a crowded subway without headphones? #astoria #mta.” There are many other complaints about simple etiquette, like passengers who take up more than one seat or have loud cell phone conversations.

Another user makes note of an entirely different problem, “@kpbailis: Dude, wrapping your arm around the subway pole like it’s your boyfriend means no one else can use it #mta #polehog.”

To remedy the complaints, quite a few transportation systems, particularly the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), have implemented campaigns to combat rude passenger behavior. In SEPTA’s statement concerning the new implementation, officials remarked, “This campaign intentionally takes an edgier tone — etiquette with a kick — using strong visuals and a minimum of words. We also intentionally did not include our name or logo on decals and posters because we want customers to think more about the message and less about who is delivering it.”

This attitude has been praised by New Jersey transit officials, who are considering introducing a strategy of their own. The London Underground and Metro in Paris have already adopted a similar system. Other means of approaching the issue can be seen through the Port Authority Transportation Corporation (PATCO). PATCO chose to produce a short video addressing what it considers the four main problem behaviors: taking up two seats, loud phone conversations, blocking the entrance to the train and loud music. The question that thus arises is if the MTA will follow suit.

Etiquette signs appear throughout London’s Underground system. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
Etiquette signs appear throughout London’s Underground system. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

With an average weekday ridership of more than 8.6 million people, the MTA is perhaps the best system to effectuate an etiquette campaign. With such overwhelming numbers of people streaming in and out of subways, buses and trains, it seems only natural that the MTA should provide reminders to these passengers about how to properly conduct themselves.

Students at Fordham who are frequent users of the subway, bus and Metro North railroad have mixed feelings about enacting a similar campaign. Danielle Catinella, FCRH ’15, said, “I like the idea but I don’t think they should be telling people what to do.”

Some could argue, and with good reason, that the presence of posters chastising behaviors like hogging seats, talking loudly on the phone or blasting music does not necessarily mean these behaviors will change. However, SEPTA has found a positive response to their initiative. Though SEPTA has a considerably lower ridership, with around 36 million people for the whole year, the issues and behavior it is seeking to address are the same.

The presence of these reminders to be courteous toward other passengers can cause no further harm or damage to the situation. In fact, their presence could lead to change. Because of the current lack of phone service for most public transportation systems, passengers are more apt to read advertisements or posters hanging in subway cars or posted by stations. Over time, that exposure could allow the message to sink in.

In a society that largely ignores proper manners and courteous behavior, these etiquette campaigns could be the push we need to finally acknowledge the existence of the millions of people traveling along with us.

Molly Shilo, FCRH ’17, is a communication and media studies and English double major from Norwood, Massachusetts.


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