Transportation Etiquette?

I live in the wonderful City of New York.  This is a city full of wonderful parks, amazing museums, cultural institutions, and rich historical significance.  I love New York!  That said, in a city of 8 million people, I do not love all of the people who are here.  Not to say I hate them, mind, because that would be a waste of energy, but I strongly dislike the behavior of many New Yorkers.  I have long felt that some of the people with whom I share this fine city are in need of some basic etiquette.

I am not the only person who thinks this is on order, of course.  Just yesterday, I saw this post on Gawker about how people behave on the New York City subway.  I have to say, although I would have said it more nicely, the people who do the things listed are highly frustrating to deal with.  That said, the above article links to a piece by a seemingly very angry person named Hamilton Nolan.  Nolan scathingly whinges about how horrible it is that people ride down escalators.  Of course, it can be irritating when you would like to walk down an escalator and there is a mob of people blocking your way.  What Nolan fails to realize as he fusses about his First World Problems is that there are many people who cannot walk down escalators.  When someone points this out in the comments (never read the comments if you want to keep from being upset!), Nolan states that he expects people to walk down regardless of physical complications.  Nolan also participates in a bit of fat shaming, and still has his post tagged as “etiquette” – seriously!  Reading Nolan’s tantrum about escalators opened the flood gates to several caveats I have with urban travelers who think they are the center of the universe.  I would like to share some observations, so that the bratty adults of the world might gain a little enlightenment.

So you’re traveling on the MTA. Great!  As the first article I linked to mentioned, it’s a good idea to be aware of the people around you, and try not to block access to entering the subway, getting to seats, or holding on to poles.  Please don’t hold or lean on doors, take up several seats with your bags, or sit with your knees splayed so wide that you take up three seats while looking as if you have some horrible rash on your crotch.  If you are able bodied and healthy, please offer your seats to people who are disabled, elderly, pregnant, or traveling with small children.  Believe it or not, it is incredibly difficult to hold on to a subway pole and a child while remaining upright.  It is true that many people walk down escalators, but it is also true that some people can’t. This is why those riding and escalator should stand to the right, and those walking down (or up) an escalator should walk on the left. It’s pretty simple. Oh, and if you plan to spend time on public transit, you need to respect your fellow travelers.  This means that you may not verbally or physically attack other people, make rude remarks, or smack a sleeping person with a cane.  It also means that you should be conscious of the smells you are bringing with you, as well as your volume.  If you see confused tourists, control yourself.  Being mean is ridiculous. Tourists help our economy, and it is great that they are trying to use public transportation, even if they might be a little turned around.  Many of the things you love about the City would not be so well maintained if it weren’t for the revenue from tourism, so suck it up and behave like a grown-up.

Tourists and New Yorkers alike love AMNH
Tourists and New Yorkers alike love AMNH

I have also heard many complaints from people about the fact that children are sometimes present on public transportation.  Guess what?  Millions of children live in New York City. The City is full of excellent places to take children to learn and explore and play.  I am very sorry if your family never allowed you to go beyond walking distance of your apartment complex when you were a child, but you must accept that people with kids need to get around the City as well.  While, yes, some individuals with kids don’t seem to follow many of the basic rules of etiquette listed above, and sometimes small children have a meltdown when they are overwhelmed, most kids on MTA buses and subways (and especially the Roosevelt Island tram!) are just enjoying the ride.  My kids were born here, and they still think it is fun to take the subway or the bus.  They sit still and absorb the sights around them, occasionally asking questions.  They, like most children I see, are better behaved than a large percentage of business people on subways (though I do admit that MOST teenagers on public transportation seem to be going through an obnoxious phase).  I have seen this on trains and planes as well.  Someone in a suit will board and begin loudly complaining when they see my children are nearby.  My kids read books on planes.  I have Benadryl and chewing gum handy, since both seem to help with the overwhelming pain that kids get in their ears when a plane lands (it’s worse than it is for adults).  The last time a grown man threw a public fit about being seated near my kids, he proceeded to get drunk on the flight and harass a flight attendant while grumbling about having to turn off his laptop for landing.  He turned on his cell phone before being given the all clear, and blatantly ignored the rules about keeping one’s seatbelt fastened while taxiing.  My kids, on the other hand, read their books, were polite to the flight attendants, and then fell asleep until we landed.  Guess which person was lacking etiquette in that situation?  I wonder if he was Hamilton Nolan?

Riding the tram with kids is fun!
Riding the tram with kids is fun!

Back to NYC Transit, I am no stranger to Riding the MTA with kids.  I have been making bus, subway and tram trips with my children for years.  We go to special events for kids like the Girl Scouts 100th anniversary, we visit friends and family, we head to the beach, visit the doctor’s office, go to the movies, or head to the park or museum.  The opportunities are seemingly endless.  unfortunately, so is the nastiness of some of our fellow travelers.  I have been told by total strangers, when my kids are being completely mellow, that children have no right to ride on the MTA.  I have also had total strangers come up (especially when my kids were still babies) and try to touch my kids’ faces. You don’t touch someone’s kids! Common sense! Hello?! Once, a woman shoved me so hard in her haste to go through the turnstile before me while I was carrying my daughter in a Baby Bjorn, that the baby barfed all over me, right in my face.  I had to ride the subway home with an unhappy baby, covered in barf. Gee, thanks, selfish hasty lady!  Once, when a guy with the aforementioned terrible crotch rash syndrome was refusing to allow people to sit because he needed his knees to be four feet apart, my daughter and I were shoved while the bus was stopping, and we fell. I sprained my ankle, and my daughter had a nasty bruise.  So, yet again, there is a serious lack of etiquette on public transportation.

But let’s get back to Hamilton Nolan’s fuss fest about people riding down escalators.  He assumes that anyone riding down an escalator is fat and lazy, and might be a tourist.  He is so absorbed with his own mad dash to the subway (try leaving on time instead!) that he doesn’t care if someone has, say, a sprained ankle, a crippling fear of heights, or serious arthritis.  As far as he is concerned, if you can’t walk down an escalator, you have no right to be there.  He is obviously completely oblivious to the many “invisible” disabilities that people suffer that make walking down an escalator very painful.  He has also not taken into account that an escalator step is much deeper than a standard step, and more likely to be painful than walking a flat path to the station.  I, for instance, have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.  This is a disorder of the connective tissue.  While there are sometimes days when I can walk up or down an escalator without too much difficulty, there are also days when I can’t walk ten feet without dislocating an ankle, knee, or hip.  The time that my daughter and I fell on the bus? It was because my wrist, shoulder, and elbow severely dislocated from holding onto the pole when shoved.  The resulting fall not only sprained my ankle, but dislocated both knees, a hip, and several toes.  I look “normal” on the outside, but some days, the extra depth of an escalator step is enough to throw out my hip or lower back.  Having megalomaniacal asshats like Hamilton Nolan shove past me on the escalator when i have left more than half the space available on the left for people to pass generally results in a very painful shoulder dislocation.  Just because you may wish to believe that everyone is a lazy tourist out to specifically prevent you from getting where you want to go, doesn’t mean it’s true.

So, are people rude on the MTA? Many of them are, yes.  Should people learn some basic travel etiquette? That would be great, but don’t hold your breath! Should all people be forced to walk down escalators, regardless of possible physical handicap so that mean people can rush to their train? No, but anyone riding an escalator should stand to the right so that those who are able to walk can do so to the left.


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