Commuter Etiquette: The 10 Commandments of Sloppy Weather SEPTA Riding

How to ride public transit in this, the winter of our frozen discontent.

Photo | Joel Mathis

Photo | Joel Mathis

Philadelphia might lead the nation’s big cities when it comes to bike commuting, but this winter it feels like every single person in the city is cramming onto a SEPTA vehicle at rush hour. This winter’s holy-shit-it’s-cold temps and this week’s storm smörgåsbord are forcing cyclists, walkers and other non-transit-taking commuters to reconsider their options for getting around. Good for SEPTA revenues; bad for those of us who regularly commute by bus and train.

As annoying as meandering tourists and as lacking in self-awareness as toddlers, these people have taken over SEPTA without any regard for the rules of the ride. I now find myself wistful for the days when rowdy teenagers and well-rehearsed beggars were the people I ignored on the way to work. Here, a rundown of the unspoken commandments of commuting:

Commuter Etiquette Rule #1: Thou shalt not tweet on crowded trains

On an ordinary day, you can do whatever thumb exercises you want for the duration of your commute, but when the snow is pouring down, you have to kick your digital codependency for the sake of space. As more people squeeze into the vehicle, you should assume the following position: Stand up very straight, with one arm at your side and the other arm extended to the nearest pole for stability. Crooking your elbow to hold your iPhone takes up precious inches and makes you more likely to topple over.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #2: Thou shalt not trash talk fellow commuters

Not to other riders and especially not on a cell phone (since it should be in your pocket!).We know you’d much rather bike to work, but since you’re stuck with us, the very least you can do is keep your opinions about our sensible shoes and our travel mugs to yourself.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #3: Thou shalt sit when sitting is an option, even if you’re getting off at the next stop

If the train is very crowded, squeeze into whatever space is available to you. This means playing human Tetris whenever new riders get off and on. Sometimes this means you have to sit when you don’t want to because it makes more space for people in another section of the car. It’s not ideal, but commuting, like parenting, is all about making sacrifices.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #4: Thou shalt not hog the aisle seat

Legroom is a luxury reserved for the expensive seats on Amtrak and your couch.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #5: Thou shalt remain seated until the vehicle reaches your stop

You’re going to get off at your stop. Cross my heart. No one wants you to stay on this train a second longer than necessary and we will gladly help you extract yourself when the time comes. But trying to wiggle your way to the door two stops early is needlessly disruptive. Chill out, wait your turn, and don’t be afraid to shout “Coming out!” when the doors open.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #6: Thou shalt have exact change ready

We probably agree on this: The fact that SEPTA rides now cost $2.25 — instead of the easy-to-grab $2 — is a ginormous pain in the butt. But when you stop at the turnstile to fumble for that extra quarter — or worse, to huff and puff about SEPTA’s inadequacies — you make those of us who have made our peace want to stampede over you.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #7: Thou shalt not let your hand touch my hand for more than five seconds

We are both holding the same pole for stability. Sometimes, our gloves or our sweat — because despite it being nine degrees outside, it’s a balmy 85 on the MFL at all times — makes our hands slide into each other. This is an accidental thing and should be immediately corrected. Because, ew.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #8: Thou shalt let people off before you try to get on

The train is not going to leave without you. In fact — and this will blow your impatient mind — there will actually be more space on the train if you let departing passengers get off the train.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #9: Thou shalt clench thy stomach muscles

This will help you stay upright and prevent you from flopping into my very limited personal space every time the bus hits a pothole. And if you want to use this as an excuse to skip your Jillian Michaels tonight, that’s between you and her.

Commuter Etiquette Rule #10: Thou shalt thank your bus driver

Manners, people. It doesn’t take any time at all.

Follow @errrica on Twitter.

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  • matthew brandley


  • matthew brandley

    Keep your snow covered feet of the seats!

  • How To Love Commuting

    Translate this into every language and make it law worldwide!

  • edward

    This is a ridiculously pompous article. Are you really trying to tell people how to stand and when to move. Get over yourself.

  • BlueEyedDevils

    #8 needs to be tattooed on some people. The same people everyday at city hall on the BSL everyday.

    • Jayfar

      Amen! Waiting on the platform, I always spot where the door will be as the train stops and then take 3 or 4 steps back from the door alongside the train from that point. Invariably, numerous others step in front of me to block the exiting riders, one guy even pushed me aside to get to the door.

  • Malby

    # 8 should be #1

  • Joyce Oxfeld

    Please let Septa run, and the boarding areas be cleared enough of wintry mess, so I can go shopping for food, get to my appointments without falling on the slush and hitting my head on the bus I was boarding after a Doctor’s appt. Someone has to be responsible even in this weather for passenger safety, if not those responsible for snow, slush ice cleanup. No I don’t sue either.

  • Joyce Oxfeld

    While it doesn’t look like it because I don’t use a cane, I have balance problems and must get to a standing position before getting off a stopped vehicle. Many bus drivers don’t understand this. I also often, especially with ice and snow, need the step lowered without pleading. I don’t use a cane because it doesn’t help my situation and I need to carry stuff as well. I can’t pay taxi fare all the time, just to shop for food. No supermarket near me in Holmesburg. I have a bus driver to thank for saving my life three weeks ago, whether He knew it or not because He didn’t move the bus I slipped on because of uncleared slush and fell and hit my head hard on his bus. My right side wasn’t OK for a day or so either. This is serious stuff. I am not ready to give up my right to ride Septa after paying for my Month Pass and relying totally on Mass Transit to get to most places. I don’t want to have to wear a sign that says, I must sit close enough to the exit, to get out safely, because my balance on a moving bus is not always great. Other people can get hurt when I fall too, and it’s happened.

  • Marie B.

    And if you can’t say thank you to the driver, at least wish them a nice day.