Public Transport Etiquettes to Follow in The U.S.

Public Transport Etiquettes to Follow in The U.S.

Whether you are riding a bus, tram, metro, or train, you have to be mindful of not just the legal rules, but also the appropriate etiquette:

  • Don’t block the entry/exit.
  • Give your seat to those who need it more than you.
  • Don’t occupy more space than necessary.
  • Cover your mouth and nose if you sneeze or cough.
  • Don’t litter.
  • Refrain from indulging in public displays of affection.
  • Don’t use peculiar-smelling perfumes and deodorants.

These are some unsaid yet universal rules of using public transport, but American public transport etiquettes have a longer list.

Public transport is confusing and crowded, which is already a pain for newcomers. You don’t want unpleasant reactions from your co-passengers, do you?

You are just settling in. You don’t really know what you might be doing wrong. Those side glances and snide comments can shatter your confidence and make you feel out of place.

Worrying won’t help, but this guide will.

We have here 10 American public transport etiquettes that you should definitely know.

1. No Grooming On Board

You are late for work, so you just decide to do your makeup routine on the subway. Time-saving, right?

No. Don’t do it.

Public transport isn’t your home. Get comfortable on your ride, but not too comfortable.

Did you know transit authorities in New York had to specifically discourage people from doing their makeup and grooming themselves onboard?

It pays to be prepared and leave home dressed and groomed. If not, you could invite awkward glances from people around you.

2. Keep Your Conversations To Yourself

Busy Americans have no choice but to attend to their calls while using the bus or subway. You can answer your calls too. There is no harm in that.

But, keep your conversations to yourself.

Your mom wants to know what you had for lunch, but others don’t. They aren’t interested in gossip about your boss, and they definitely don’t care about your weekend plans.

This also holds true for in-person conversations. Conversing with someone you are traveling with? Make sure that only the intended person is able to hear you.

3. Don’t Snack or Drink

Water is an exception. But, anything else, food or drinks, should be avoided while using public transport.

For one, because the vehicle is moving, you risk your food falling and drinks spilling.

Two, the smells from your meal or drink can be an annoyance to others.

Three, you munching on that sandwich or relishing that pizza slice isn’t a welcome sight for everyone else.

Either eat before you head out, or wait until you reach your destination.

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4. Use Headphones and Keep The Music Down

Not everyone shares your love for K-pop, nor is everyone else in the mood to listen to Taylor Swift. So, use headphones and keep the volume such that it doesn’t irritate or interrupt others.

Think your co-passenger is just staring out of the window and could use some music? You are probably mistaken. Don’t show off your playlist to them.

5. Thank The Transit Staff

Yes, the driver is getting paid to drive.

Yes, all the staff members draw salaries.

And yes, what they are doing is their job.

But, you should still thank the driver when getting off of the bus.

You won’t have to pay any fines or penalties if you don’t, but not thanking people is a sign of rudeness.

You are basically disrespecting the service provider, as per general American etiquette.

Being courteous is one value that you’ll have to adapt to make yourself feel at home with the Americans. It is better to do it sooner rather than later, and start with the transit staff.

After all, a polite thank you and a genuine smile won’t hurt you. In fact, it can save you from being labeled rude by your co-travelers.

6. Share The Pole

American public transports are busy. You might have to stand on your way to your destination. When that happens, don’t take up the entire pole for support.

The pole, just like the bus or subway you are using, is also public property. Others need it to save themselves from stumbling to the floor, too. So, make sure you leave space for others.

The man beside you or the lady standing right next won’t be subtle in showing their disapproval. Americans value public property, and they understand that they have the right to use it. You not sharing the pole feels to them like being denied their right, and you don’t want to give that impression.

7. Be Mindful of Your Stuff

Backpacks are fine, but they can also bump into others if you don’t watch your movement. Your bag or purse hitting the passenger right next to you can spark an unpleasant interaction.

So, while you are entering or exiting public transport in the U.S., make sure your bags or purses aren’t hitting other people or causing them inconvenience. If possible, keep your bags in front of you. This will ensure that it isn’t a cause of discomfort for someone else.

Also, you can be safe from pickpockets that way. It’s a win-win.

8. Go With The Flow: Entry, Exit, and Elevators

Stand left, walk right.

That’s how traffic flows in America. If you come from a country where the opposite is followed, it takes a little getting-used-to to remember that.

The quicker you understand that, the better.

You don’t want to be pushed around or hear less-than-polite comments hurled at you, right?

A great tip for newcomers: Until you memorize it, follow the lead of others. Everyone is walking on the right? You have no business on the left.

See a bunch of people waiting on the left side of the elevator? Join the crowd. Don’t be the only one on the right.

9. Don’t Let Your Children Become an Annoyance

Young children aren’t going to be too easy to handle, and Americans get that. No one expects you to make your toddler act like an adult. But, you are still expected to stop your child from making the journey hard on others.

Have a cranky child? Try giving them some sweets to keep them amused, or maybe you could lull them to sleep before boarding the bus.

Don’t forget to let your co-passengers know that you are sorry for the inconvenience.

Also, if you are being inconvenienced by someone else’s child, try to be polite. Move seats, if that’s possible. Don’t be rude. They are children, after all.

10. Be Prepared Beforehand

Money for the fare, identification, and anything else that you might need on your journey should be within easy reach. It is considered impolite to expect the transit staff to wait while you fish for things in your bag or pocket.

That’s not just considered rude and uncivilized, but also wastes time. Make sure you go prepared. 

Remember: There are local etiquettes too that vary from city to city. So, make sure you follow the lead of your fellow passengers. Observation is the first step to learning and blending in.

Now, hop on and be on your way.

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