downtown los angeles, union station

Will LA’s Metro Riders Ever Learn Good Transit Etiquette?

Transit riders line up before boarding subway train in Taipei. Can Los Angeles learn good transit etiquette from other transit-mature cities? (Photo: Brigham Yen)

The chances of getting a peaceful ride aboard Metro buses and trains are similar to that of winning the lottery. And on that rare occasion that you do get that enjoyable experience riding in a quiet car, do savor it as there’s bound to be someone at the next stop who’ll decide to ruin the ride for everyone else.

There is a serious lack of public transportation etiquette throughout the Los Angeles metro system. Every time I hop on a train or bus, someone’s spreading across a row of seats, another is blasting their music for everyone to hear, and one more is jabbering away loudly at how their day was on their cell phone. Oh, and there’s also the occasional fist fight that makes for some great entertainment if you’re into that sort of thing.

The stations themselves aren’t much better either. There’s always that one person without any sense of consideration who decides to sit right on the stairs even as hundreds of transit users pour through the station. Once, I even had some woman glare at me, as if I were the one doing something wrong, when I simply said “excuse me” and asked if she could move to the right side of the escalator so I, and the other people behind me, could get through by walking up the left side of the escalator — a transit etiquette totally common in other cities around the world.

Maybe we could learn some manners from other transit-oriented cities that have their act together?

When I’ve visited family in Taiwan, the general attitude there is completely different. An elderly person gets on a bus? Someone will instantly give up their seat, even if it’s not priority seating for handicapped or elderly people. Eating or talking loudly on the Metro? Other passengers will actually glare at you and some will even ask you to stop. There’s minimal talking, and fellow riders police one another to make sure the journey is as smooth as possible for everyone. And after a hard day’s work, a peaceful journey home really helps you wind down for the night.

Compared to Taipei’s metro, metro rail in Los Angeles is more like a boisterous circus, as businessmen chat loudly on the phone, teenagers blast music from their phones (many putting their feet on the seat), and a few others attempt to sell snacks to passengers. Why can’t we all just get along — and follow some form of etiquette that helps make the transit experience smoother, more enjoyable for everyone?

Is this LA Metro’s fault? Not entirely. This kind of culture is seemingly embedded within American society: we’re more individualistic than other countries in the world and less willing to give up “ourselves” for the common good. A public awareness campaign could help though. In Taiwan, posters detailing transportation etiquette, such as 1) waiting for people to exit the train before boarding, 2) standing on the right hand side of the escalator so others can pass on the left or 3) giving pregnant women priority seating, are plastered throughout stations and trains.

Besides helping other riders maintain peace of mind, improved transit courtesy could even increase efficiency system wide. Passengers often hover closely near doors, making it difficult for others to board the bus, especially during rush hour. As a result, buses bunch up and serious delays occur, deterring others (mainly discretionary riders) from taking public transit. Given that some lines, such as the 720, are late 30% of the time, a reduction of just a few seconds at each stop could help improve on-time performance.

While I’ve grown used to dealing with rather tactless people (noise cancelling earbuds are amazing), this lack of courtesy may be a complete turnoff for many riders after their first few rides on Metro. Some of the most common reasons against taking public transit I hear are that people think it’s dirty (click here to read about Metro’s dirty seats), don’t feel safe on it or dislike the people riding it. And this lack of courtesy on buses and trains is something Metro absolutely needs to address if it realistically wants to encourage more Angelenos to ditch the cars and ride the rails. We’re all in this together, so we should do our best to make sure our commute is enjoyable for everyone. LA has a long track ahead before it catches up with the rest of the civilized transit world.

— Benjamin Dunn

As LA ridership increases, will we develop good transit etiquette to make the ride more enjoyable for all? (Photo: Brigham Yen)

As LA ridership increases, will we develop good transit etiquette to make the ride more enjoyable for all? (Photo: Brigham Yen)

33 Comments

  1. Devin says

    Don’t feel too bad about LA’s metro etiquette. I live in Boston which is one of the cleanest metropolitan areas in the country with a long history of public transportation. The problems you list here I experience every day riding the T. People are loud, rude, stand in front of the doors when you’re trying to get out, it’s always late (mostly because of the snow) and it is MUCH dirtier than LA’s (I visit often). I think this might be an American problem rather than just an LA problem. I rather enjoy LA’s metro as it takes your further outside the downtown core and is much cleaner and larger. Overall, great article! Look forward to reading more.

    • wildstar says

      I lived in Boston for a few years before I moved to LA and yeah, it’s no better there than here.

  2. Robert says

    As a bus rider the one thing I find most annoying are people sitting on the right side of the seat, away from the window, leaving it unoccupied, yet when you ask to sit there they get angry. There are also the people who will put their belongings on the seat next to them no matter how small, although they only paid one fare, while other people are left standing. And don’t forget the homeless people coming in with their personal belongings blocking the rear exit making it very difficult to exit the bus. In my opinion all this could be fixed if the Metro Board was actually run by people who actually use the system, instead of the current and long standing tradition of having upper class people, who realistically have never now will never use the public transit system, determining what’s best for us lower income people who actually use the system.

    • corner soul says

      Hear, hear!

      Plus a lot of people in LA don’t seem to understand the basic idea that you need to move towards the back of a crowded bus to make room for more people at the next stop.

      In my experience, part of the problem is the drivers. In other cities, they regulate more often — calling out those who are being rude (or perhaps just ignorant of bus etiquette) when necessary.

      Not so much here in LA. I don’t even want to know what you have to do here to get booted from the bus.

  3. calwatch says

    On the other hand, when the concern from some of these public forums like the one held recently with the Metro CEO are about the “criminalization” of youth for doing clearly illegal things like not paying fare, that doesn’t help. San Diego MTS recently passed an ordinance to criminalize not giving up their seats to seniors or the disabled, or not vacating the wheelchair area. People who don’t give up their seats will now be ticketed and drivers are authorize to call security to make someone move.

    It’s based on individual country culture, not ethnicity – Mainland Chinese subways are pretty new but are also just as chaotic as the US. On BART in the Bay Area people line up behind the black tiles that show where the train is parked. These tiles don’t exist on LA Metro. And quite frankly, with regard to the talking on the phone situation, I’m happy those people aren’t driving and putting my life at risk on the freeway, so I give them a pass.

  4. It has less to do with transit etiquette and more to do with common courtesy and etiquette in society in general. A lot of people in America are rude and insensitive to their fellow citizens in general. Transit etiquette will never improve as long as common courtesy and etiquette in American society remains the way it is.

  5. Gerald says

    Have used transit in Europe and in Asia. In both situations, people in general seemed to be more cognizant of others i.e. usually quiet, yielding to exiting passengers before attempting to board and being willing to yield seats w/o being directed to do so etc. People in those continents have used mass transit for decades and don’t consider riding mass transit as an option for second class citizens like we often do here in the U.S. Possibly with the exception of northeasterners or Chicagoans, Americans haven’t had the option of light and heavy rail as transit options (thanks to our decades long lack of investment in rail infrastructure), so for many of us, it’s a novelty, and people, having an opportunity to actually use mass transit, act as if they’re on a carnival ride as a result (shame on us!). As Devin stated above, it seems to be a American problem. Just returned from Bangkok. While parts of Bangkok can be described as 3rd world, there are other parts that surprise Beverly Hills in shopping and infrastructure. Light rail there is limited but tons of people use it! Glad he feels that LA’s system isn’t the worst. Hopefully we’ll continue to mature in this area and begin behaving like citizens of a true “world class” city!

  6. Nicole says

    I stopped riding the Metro Gold Line when I was literally pushed by another rider trying to vie for a seat on the train. There was not consideration of “line-up” etiquette. I felt so angry I had to stop myself from saying something, pushing back and/or getting in a fight, and I’m not a violent type person. I felt like driving home alone in my car, even though traffic would be difficult, would be more peaceful and at least I wouldn’t end up fighting with another commuter. I agree that an etiquette campaign is essential to getting discretionary riders out of their cars!

  7. American people do not have common courtesy nor etiquette so dont blame Metro, youre just trying to find a scapegoat. Its the people. While those in other countries are kinder (and smarter).

  8. Jeremy says

    Here in London etiquette is virtually non existent
    Whoever said there is has never been here
    It’s become worse and worse over the more than 30 years I have lived here
    Trying to leave the train whilst others push in front of you, waiting in line doesn’t exist and there is virtually no respect for the elderly or incapacitated when it comes to offering a seat
    Add to this people eating all sorts and drinking alcohol when there is supposed to be a ban plus staff who generally couldn’t care less about customer service and we pay the most expensive fares in the world for this

  9. sebstian says

    I think we have our good and bad etiquetes, like giving pedestrians the right of way, other countries don’t have that. I almost got ran over by a bus in Argentina, because the driver didn’t stop on the stop sign.

  10. The society in Taiwan is also very civil and courteous in general and rather insular as there are not a lot of foreigners living there. You will see a huge contrast in how the locals behave versus the increasing number of Mainland Chinese visitors. Los Angeles is a melting pot of people from all over the world so transit rider etiquette (like driving etiquette) is a reflection of that. It seems that LA Metro’s overriding focus is on safety and security so I don’t expect any rider etiquette campaigns to be launched anytime soon.

  11. True Freedom says

    Many of the commenters have mentioned that this is an artifact of American culture. I would say that it’s an artifact of a subset of some American subcultures. Many of these subcultures run along ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Unfortunately, this rude, self-centered behavior spreads like a virus as some will behave along the lowest common denominator.

  12. Fact Check Needed says

    I have a feeling that you are an occasional rider… Metro does in fact have an extensive public outreach campaign dealing with the exact issues you bring up. The posters are posted throughout stations and vehicles. Its called the “make the right play campaign”. The campaign covers topics from standing to the right on escalators, to giving up your seat for the elderly. See https://www.metro.net/riding/etiquette/ for more info. Additionally, LA’s platforms do indicate where the parked train doors are located, and for the most part people do let people off of the train before boarding. But its okay if you wanna be negative and complain unrealistically about stuff you clearly do not know about because you only ride every now and then…. it is the internet after all…

    • Lawrence says

      Well I’ve been a regular rider for the past 8 years and I can tell you that Metro’s outreach campaign is a joke and was clearly developed by people who don’t ride transit! Don’t get me wrong, I love Metro’s marketing and I think it’s very clever, but when it comes to addressing poor rider etiquette it needs to be less cute and funny and more direct and to the point. The posters are not especially obvious or prominent and the platform stickers indicating door location need to be painted or replaced regularly because they take a lot of wear and tear. It would be helpful if those stickers also came with explicit directions like: “stand here” or “wait here” – While the arrows might be obvious to many, sometimes you have to just spell it out for others and countless systems around the world do this. This post isn’t about being negative, its pointing out a legitimate issue that impacts the perception of transit in a city where it’s not yet a prominent part of the urban fabric.

  13. frank says

    I agree with the lack of etiquette on Metro — actually full lack of consideration for others. Recently rode the red line – a couple making out as though there were no people, teens taking the seats reserved for seniors, the blasting boombox, eating cottage cheese/peaches, enough! An ad campaign simply with the word “consideration for your neighbor in multiple languages both through subway ads and social media would be a start. I’ve used the subways in Chicago & NYC which has some of the same issues but to a lesser degree. Also, both of these transit systems are used by a much larger, diverse segment of the population — meaning you see your peers on the buses and trains but here in LA not so much. The isolated car culture of LA also plays into this as the average angeleno seldom connects with folks outside their circles yet transit forces the issue. It’s all a work in progress…

  14. Simon says

    This is LA. Nobody is a rush and people stand on escalators. We should be proud of that.

    • Lawrence says

      Great – then they can stand to the right just in case there’s that rare occurrence when someone needs to get somewhere a little faster on the left side.

      • Simon says

        No. That person can move to New York City with every other jerk “in a rush.”

  15. I’m sure I’ve told you my theory on this issue which is many of the riders aren’t worldly or well-traveled enough to be exposed to proper public transport etiquette. It sure would help if there were signs everywhere that instructed “pass on left, stand on right”. Also many Metro riders aren’t trained drivers so they never learn this rule.

  16. I don’t think you have taken the 720 bus. That bus is packed most of the time with lower income people, yet most people are considerate and courteous. It is not true that people standing in the aisle refuse to move back. When the bus gets full, people in the front yell politely for those in the aisle to move back. I would take the packed 720 any day over the Gold line from Pasadena into downtown. The Gold line is full of the rude and entitled riders. These are mostly selfish bratty adults of all ages and middle class business comuters from the suburbs. Businessmen refuse to give the pregnant and elderly their seats. Bratty entitled riders take up two seats with their belongings. On the benches where only 3 fit comfortably, creepy businessmen demand to squeeze in and rub thighs with women passengers. Once I told one of these creeps he could not sit next to me where there obviously was not enough room without rubbing thighs with me. He and a female passenger then lectured me on my rudenes. The Gold line is the worst because it is full of entitled selfish and spoiled business commuters from the suburbs. Give me the 720 bus or any other bus full of low income people or the homeless or even the occasional fight. I ride the bus andv trains all over L.A. and the rudest people are on the Gold line from Pasadena.

  17. Scotty says

    Is anyone going to remark on how dang near half the folks in the photo above are wearing breathing marks?

  18. Chris DePretis says

    You write what we think. I see things on the train everyday that, while I find uncomfortable, would cause my mother or my wife to ditch the train altogether. If Metro really wants to increase ridership, they will need to somehow enforce the kind of etiquette you’re discussing.

  19. Boris says

    I don’t think this issue has anything to do with transit. Look at drivers, they run red lights, don’t use turn signals, speed, and turn into pedestrian rights of way all the time, and get away with it. The only places where drivers don’t totally ruin the pedestrian experience is downtown, simply because pedestrians outnumber drivers by a wide margin, and the streets have good crosswalks here.

    This is a much bigger problem than a few badly behaved transit riders.

  20. Shawn says

    I also want riders to be more considerate, but as a daily rider you kind of get used to the local idiosyncrasies. Yeah people sit on the outside seat on the bus, but they will almost always slide over if you ask to sit down. Many riders don’t always let people off before getting on, but you plan accordingly and blow through. People shouldn’t do these things, but as they say “when in Rome…”

    My pet peeves are loud music, feet on seats, people that don’t make room when asked, and overly rowdy youth. Every single one of these people knows better, but this is how they express themselves I guess.

  21. It seems to me that everyone here is the missing the point, you can advertise until your blue in the face about standing to the right on the escalator etc. etc. Most people are aware of that and I beleive try their best to follow those rules and be good Metro passengers whether they are business men, which Lisa seems to have a huge bias against for some odd reason, I would look into the that by the way, or poor people it doesn’t matter! What does matter is the ENFORCEMENT OF THOSE RULES, when most people see a few completly ignoring those rules, and Metro employees and or Bus Drivers doing NOTHING about it to correct it, how can you take them seriously ? It sends a completely wrong message to the general public , yea we suggest you do this, but we will do nothing to those that ignore it! If you don’t feel you have any support from the actual agency one feels at a loss to try and stop it so its explained away , oh they are just kids, they are not really bothering anyone, and you don’t want to be the only one to complain how do you think that would look? Etc. If the bus drivers just stood up and opened their mouths when they saw bad behavior or the Metro people actually said something instead of just standing around doing nothing it would Stop all bad behavior like that! Because the few people who always ignored those rules before would then think twice about it , cause they know they might be called out , word would spread fast that they are really cracking down now, and that would be embarrassing if they got called out and more people now would stand up and say something unlike before because they knew now they would be backed up by Metro officials. That’s all that needs to be done ! I don’t know why it’s not happening ! Anyone??

    • calwatch says

      Like I mentioned above, San Diego is criminalizing people who don’t yield seats to those in wheelchairs and to seniors. Is that what you want fare enforcers to do? Should drivers who are faced with people who don’t want to give way for wheelchair users call the cops? Some may want this, but others say it’s perpetrating the “school to prison pipeline” because there is no way these people will afford the $150 fine (after all penalty assessments on a $25 ticket). http://www.sdmts.com/inside-mts/news-release/mts-ramps-wheelchair-and-priority-seating-enforcement

      • True Freedom says

        yes, there should be enforcement. I don’t give a rip about the “pipeline”.
        People who are prone to negative behavior need consequences to change that behavior.
        You could start off with one warning. After that, slap the fine. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

  22. Mr Whitman says

    I agree: LA Metro needs to publish rider etiquette on a larger scale, in 108 languages.

    When I ride LA transit, I want only two things: not to sit in a dirty-smelly seat, and not to get assaulted. It’s always a bonus when people smile and behave sweetly, and that includes the bus driver.

  23. Winston says

    When I left Taiwan some 24 years ago, it was not like what the author described. No one lined up at bus stop and getting into a crowded bus in rush hours was a fight. Many factors contributed to the change in people’s behavior that made the whole society much more civilized, but I think one of the reasons is that people started to develop a sense of belonging and the society becomes homogeneous. You go to Japan, Korea, and other homogeneous societies and you find the same to be true. In a melting pot or immigrant society, it’s more difficult to expect people to fully respect others in public spaces unless you education them and reinforce the rules effectively.

  24. I ride transit every single day, all year long. I’ve had many, many, pleasant uneventful rides. At least 99 percent of them.
    As an ex new yorker, I’m telling you, part of dealing with a huge bunch of people is just dealing with a huge bunch of people. Without dismissing that LA has a ways to go in terms of nurturing a transit culture, articles like this are not very helpful, and comparing us to Taiwan is really silly.

  25. GlenH says

    Benjamin, this has to be one of the most spot-on assessments of LA Metro I’ve ever read. The overarching culture of rudeness and entitlement is, unfortunately, not something that Metro can address with a snappy ad campaign, nor additional “enforcement” rules & employees.

    Metro can design the system and allocate resources, but a culture of “common courtesy” (or lack thereof) is not something within their control. Somehow, this has to become a characteristic of the riders themselves.

    My own cursory analysis is that the entire Metro transit system is caught in a negative viscous circle. LA is generally a city of “haves” (can afford their own vehicle) and “have nots” (must use public transit out of necessity). This isn’t so much the case with public transit in other pre-auto era cities like London, Tokyo, NYC, SF, etc where a cross-section of economic strata all share & utilize the system.

    Because of this two-tier economic system, there is a disproportionate number of street culture/gang types riding Metro (not exactly known for their civility & consideration). This creates an intimidating environment for a potential middle or upper-income passenger that might consider using public transit–particularly single women. Enticing a larger cross-section of economic class ridership could potentially result in increased peer pressure for all to cooperate and behave in a more civil manner. However, as it stands today, too many auto-owners who have tried the Metro system find it a rude, harassing, intimidating experience.

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