Home View from Underground These are the people in your subway car

These are the people in your subway car

by Benjamin Kabak

Playing off a piece on Beliefnet, last week, we discussed the ethics of using the emergency exit to speed up travel times out of a crowded station. While it is illegal to use the emergency exit not in an emergency without permission from the station agent, that doesn’t stop too many straphangers.

On Friday, in the second part of her series look at the ethics of subway riding, Hillary Fields examined more bad behavior on the subway. She and Beliefnet Entertainment Editor Dena Ross put together a list of the worst subway offenders. My favorites:

The Big-Backpack-Wearer: This offender, often a tourist, a young student, or an oblivious yuppie, sports a gigantic knapsack, usually positioning himself or herself in the middle of a subway car (or worse, the door–see The Door-Blocker), getting in the way of all who traverse the crowded train.

Proper Subway Etiquette: Remove the knapsack from your back and hold it at your side. I don’t care if your arm hurts. Put it on the floor next to you if you must (gag!) but don’t be inconsiderate by blocking people from moving around. I’m not an expert on fire hazards, but I’m thinking big back packs are one of them…

The Door-Blocker: Despite signs all over the subway cars advising against it for safety reasons, these riders prefer standing against the door and refuse to move out of the way for people entering and leaving the subway. These inconsiderate losers are the bane of my existence.

Proper Subway Etiquette: Move out of the way! If for whatever reason you find myself stuck at the door with a number of people looking to get off (and onto) the train at a given stop, get off the train along with those exiting, making sure to stay close to the door. This ensures that everyone exits the train in a semi-orderly fashion, without having to step around you. Plus, you’ll be one of the first ones to enter the train. You deserve it for being so courteous!

The Music-Sharer: I’ve really got to thank you Mr. DJ, for playing your crap music (is it your band?) so loud on your iPod that I, and the entire subway car, are forced to listen to your tunes (if we’re luckily, we get to hear it on repeat! Yay!) Here’s a little secret, even if I like the music you’re playing–maybe I’m even mouthing along the words–I’m still cursing you under my breath for being a jerk.

Proper Subway Etiquette: If you’re unsure whether your iPod is likely audible to your neighbors, take off your headphones (with the volume on your desired setting) and hold them in front of you. If you can still clearly hear the music, it’s surely disrupting your neighbors when it’s on your ears. If so, turn it down!

The two writers also tackle seat-stealers and people who aren’t discrete in their cell phone use, among others. It’s hard to argue with any of these. The plague of music-sharers has reached epidemic proportions, and as numerous people around my age blast their iPods, I can imagine myself living in a New York City full of deaf 60-somethings in 40 years.

For better or worse, the subway is a microcosm of the way we behave toward others in New York City. Are we considerate on the subway? Do we get out of the way when others need to exit? Do we remember that 50 other people have no desire to hear our music or our cell phone conversations? By and large, New Yorkers manage the subway with perhaps not with grace and aplomb but grudging respect for other straphangers. Those who flaunt the societal rules deserve the wrath of Dena Ross and those who pass judgment on the behavior of others.

Photo of a subway seat hog by flickr user MikeyPics.

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R2 June 9, 2009 - 4:09 pm

You know, having been on the subway for so long, I’m actually not that bothered by much of this “bad” behavior. During rush hours, if I can’t get out of the subway car, it’s “SCUSE ME! SCUSE ME!” as I shove my way out. And if I want to sit down and there’s room, I will plop my butt down. I have no qualms having my legs touch anybody else’s. Yes, it’s annoying when the guys spread themselves out too much.

The only REAL pet peeve or gripe I have are people who stand on the left side of the escalator (almost started a facebook group similar to “I wanna punch slow-moving people in the back of the head”) It’s RUSH hour!! That means HURRY! It’s NOT an amusement park ride! Walk up the escalator. God knows you could use some exercise!

Alon Levy June 9, 2009 - 4:50 pm

What’s even worse is that the escalators are sometimes not working, and are then fenced off so that people can’t use them as stairs. Worse, I once saw two escalators, one working but fenced off and one not working but available for use as stairs. Go figure.

mg June 9, 2009 - 4:23 pm

And we can’t forget the fine folk who will push, shove, run and probably stab you to get onto that train first. They are likely the same folk who will walk around a line to cut in just before the last possible entry point.

Gary June 9, 2009 - 4:45 pm

“I can imagine myself living in a New York City full of deaf 60-somethings in 40 years.”

True. Those people have no idea the damage they are doing to their ears. Permanent hearing loss. I’m half deaf myself (not due to headphone use) and let me tell you, it is no picnic.

last night on the ride home, I was looking around for the mystery music sharer, and instead spotted his exponentially worse cousin: the no-headphones portable DVD watcher. Surely there is space in hell for this breed of subway cretin as well.

R2 June 9, 2009 - 5:08 pm

“I can imagine myself living in a New York City full of deaf 60-somethings in 40 years.”

Great. Now they’ll turn their devices even louder to compensate for hearing loss. LOL to DVD watchers, but what if I like the movie? Can just watch along.

BTW, the woman w/ the yellow bag exhibits somewhat poor etiquette. Bags go on your lap, not on the side.

Yep, what do you call do non-functioning escalators? Stairs!

Funny how there’s no mention of odiferous food as bad etiquette. I’m OK so as long as I’m not hungry when smelling it.

inwood June 9, 2009 - 5:31 pm

my wife was on the 1 train once and asked a young kid to turn his music down very politely (he was 2 seat away). he ignored her, so she asked again (still politely). he said, ‘no.’ she just let it go rather then get worked up during the morning commute. a few stops later, he gets up to leave and shouts at her, ‘if you can’t take others s***, leave new york.’ my wife and the rest of the train laughed as he left.

the other bad etiquette has to be people spreading their legs while sitting. i can understand if the train is empty, but c’mon, in full trains? that’s when i look to find the person that has their legs spread and make them move (a little passive-aggresivity is in my nature).

Ed June 9, 2009 - 8:47 pm

I’m the opposite of the first commentator. This sort of behavior is actually bothering more over the years, I think mainly because its getting more and more common. And alot of it is pointless. Why on earth block the doors unless you are passive aggressively taking out some weird stress issues.

I think alot of the breakdown in etiquette is the influx of people from the burbs in recent years who have no idea how to behave in the city, and part of it is people acting insane because of increased stress.

It also might be just me, or the trains getting more crowded, but I’ve notice that many people on the subway don’t respect personal space as much as the older New Yorkers.

Recently I read that until a court case in 1987 sleeping in the subway was illegal and people who got caught sleeping got fined by the police. I don’t know if that is true, but you can’t really doze off or even relax on the subway anymore because of all the lound music.

Alon Levy June 9, 2009 - 10:00 pm

No, the majority of the influx of new people into New York is still from other countries, rather than from the suburbs. What has changed is that a lot of upper middle- and upper-class people feel comfortable riding the subway now, which they didn’t in 1993. This has made the subway far more crowded than it used to be.

kynes June 10, 2009 - 9:04 am

I think its still illegal to sleep in the subway/stations but I’ve only seen people get ticketed for it really late at night and if they are laying down.

Julia June 10, 2009 - 3:09 pm

Yes – I think this policy target[s/ed] homeless people, not people just nodding off.

petey June 10, 2009 - 11:56 am

“This sort of behavior is actually bothering more over the years, I think mainly because its getting more and more common. And alot of it is pointless. Why on earth block the doors unless you are passive aggressively taking out some weird stress issues.”

i agree with all of this.

Chickenunderwear June 10, 2009 - 6:20 am

I can deal with almost anything on the Subway.

But the person who has to cut their nails on the train, now that is just plain wrong.

Adam June 10, 2009 - 10:17 am

I have an ethical quandary. My evening commute takes me from Chambers to 181st St on the A line. Sometimes, when the train is crowded, I will lean my back against the little wall that is directly inside the doors on the r46 cars (I do not lean against the doors). Because the doors on the left side of the car (going uptown) only open at Chambers, 34th, 168th and 175th Streets, I am able to stand there relatively undisturbed for most of my ride. When the doors on that side do open, I make myself as flat as possible against that little wall so as to not block anyone’s entry, but I don’t move because I don’t want to lose my spot. I feel that being out of the way for most of the stops makes being slightly in the way for two stops (I normally move to the other set of doors at 175th because they are the ones that open at 181st, where I get off) a minor transgression at best. Am I evil for standing near the doors even though I might only be considered “in the way” at two of the 12 stops of my ride?

charles lee June 10, 2009 - 1:43 pm

you’re ok man… just stay under 10% of the total stops.

Julia June 10, 2009 - 3:05 pm

That would be totally fine with me, as long as there was room for people to get out. It’s the effort that counts!

Beer? $5-$6. Pizza? Priceless. - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com June 10, 2009 - 11:41 am

[…] on the subway cars in the morning, people don’t always behave with courtesy, as they should. An underground ethics survey takes a poll. [Beliefnet via 2nd Ave […]

charles lee June 10, 2009 - 1:42 pm

The subway is also a place where people show their disobedience towards the government via: nail clipping, eating buffalo wings coated in vinegar with red food colouring, loud music, scratchiti, graffiti, stealth farting, loud music playing, seat hogging, hair grooming, beer drinking (in a soda cup of course), door blocking, ad mocking (my favourite, I used to write captions on gov ads for services), ad stealing, or just plain old sleeping on the seats.

Others may be mad at the system or the establishment so they just show us through microscopic levels of “civil torture”, like loud “music”.

As long as we don’t go back to the days of boom boxes, crappy tagging everywhere, and piss filled corners in subway stations, it’s all good right now…

Phil June 10, 2009 - 2:08 pm

I agree with that the door-blockers are a major pain. I call them campers because they pick their spot and camp out. At crowded stations like 42 or 59, people can get on and off much more quickly if they can walk through 2 at a time rather than 1 at a time. And many times they will be the first to enter a car so they step in, camp out, and everyone behind them has to push their way around.

And yes, mention should be made of people with smelly food, and don’t forget the coffee drinkers. I don’t drink coffee so I don’t know why people have to take it with them everywhere they go, but inevitably it will be spilled on the floor.

One other type of person that I find amusing, is the person on the platform who walks alongside the train as it slows down. I have actually had people walk into me as I stand in place waiting for the train to stop (especially if I know where the door will be).

Julia June 10, 2009 - 3:07 pm

And many times they will be the first to enter a car so they step in, camp out, and everyone behind them has to push their way around.
This! This is my subway pet peeve, along with the people who blow past the line of people waiting to board and shove themselves on the train first. And people smacking me with their backpacks/huge handbags.

TFB June 10, 2009 - 2:20 pm

The MTA announcements on the newer trains are just as annoying as ipod users (“…not only is it unsafe, it is a violation to ride or walk between cars, except…), as are the safety messages that loop endlessly from speakers next to escalators (“push carts, pull carts and hand carts are not permitted…).

Passengers with ipods are ill-bred, or from the sullen underclass, or not mentally capable of being considerate. What is the MTA’s excuse?

Vin June 11, 2009 - 2:49 pm

Adam: I sometimes lean on the door on the subway, and, at most stops, I do the same thing. As soon as the train pulls in, I move so that I am facing perpendicular to the door, leaving plenty of room for people to get on the train. At busy stations, however, I’ll exit the car and get back in.

Personally, I find music-sharers and leg-spreaders to be the worst offenders, followed closely by I-will-not-give-up-my-seat-and-I-don’t-care-how-old-disabled-or-pregnant-you-are people. As a general rule, if seats on a subway car are limited, I just don’t sit unless I’m carrying some stuff or exceptionally tired. I figure there are people who need it more than I do.

herenthere June 12, 2009 - 2:14 pm

Proper Subway Etiquette: I usually step off onto the platform
The Music-Sharer: I absolutely HATE these ppl

Oh, and there were 2 cops stationed at 33/Rawson Sts on the 7 line one morning, and even though people were exiting the station via the emergency exits, they just stood there. Great job they’re doing.

Travis October 22, 2009 - 9:48 am

My pet peeve are people who get up and try to get to an exit door in a crowded train before it has even arrived at the next station. Why? Because they get up, expect you to move and then stop in front of the pole you were holding on to so that you have nothing to hold onto when the train makes a sudden stop.

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