Subway Courtesy Tips

Hi! Jonathan again. This time I’ll be talking about some simple tips I picked up after a few weeks of riding the subway.


The subway is an intensely personal space in which people can become so engrossed in their destination or their diversions while on route to the destination (“destinational diversions” as I like to call them) that any disruption to their insular space can cause discomfort and inconvenience on several levels for several parties. Even though I find the subway to be a romantic and thought provoking forum for a metropolitan life, most people are just trying to get work without a hitch. Hopefully sharing these small, polite gestures will make people less likely to glare at you after simple faux-pas, fury burning in their swollen retinas, their gaze unfixed with scowls that drag your being downwards to the questionably sticky train car floor, your soul burning, burning in shame as you have accosted this peaceful commuter with your rude involuntary actions until finally, they turn away, fuming quietly as they nestle in their seat, tap the buttons on their phones harder than usual, huff in indifference towards you as a member of society, a member of the human race. But I digress, we are all culpable of subway faux-pas which is why being aware of them will not only make you a more considerate person commuting but also a more compassionate person when you are on the other side, being inconvenienced.

Johnny T, a character in the internet puppet troupe Glove and Boots, characterized as a New Yorker with serious street savoire-faire and a Brooklyn accent, describes the speed of New York City thusly:

“There’s two speeds in New York my friend. ‘Move Fast’ or ‘Get Out of the Way’!”

I find that the latter refers to me 85% of the time I’m commuting.


  1. You are in the way

You, as a human being living in the fourth dimension take up volumetric space and it’s important to be aware of this fact since it not only grounds you to reality but also helps you make important decisions in tightly packed spaces.

When you enter a train move toward the middle of the car, as far in as you can. Subway cars are in a constant flux of people moving in and out. To make it easier for other passengers to get on and find spaces to occupy, take the space that is often not taken: in the middle of the car.

Give up your seat to the elderly and disabled. If you’re sitting in priority seating made for the elderly and disabled this goes double for you. Some people aren’t sure what constitutes as elderly or disabled as those are somewhat subjective depending on their cultural background. And that’s okay. Your viewpoint is valid. Use your best judgment.

Compact yourself. There’s a saying that goes, don’t overextend yourself, which is good advice. Be mindful of your limbs and your balance as trains come to sudden stops (which is often).  Which leads me to:

Close your legs. I understand this action. After being trapped between sweaty bodies and societal contracts for so long, you revel in your newfound freedom by opening yourself up, relaxing, relieving. But even when the subway car is empty people will look at you like: :\

  1. Your stuff is in the way

By extension, you are also in the way. To rectify this:

Compartmentalize. Similar to compartmentalizing the body, keep your belongings near to you. Remove any items that may be blocking other seats or are trespassing on other passengers’ spaces.

If standing, put backpacks on the floor. If you, like me, carry a backpack which seems to stretch outward towards ad infinitum no matter how little cargo you are actually trekking around, place it on the floor between your feet. It frees up a surprising amount of space and there’s less chance of you swinging it wildly around, in front, and into passengers’ faces during transit.

Take your trash. The train is not a trashcan. While some questionable people may enter it, they always exit. Such is the endless cycle of garbage and litter of the city. Just think about the subway custodian for a second and make their life easier.

  1. You are being, as in existing, in the way (present tense)

You, as a human being not only take up space but you also have the capability to take up time. Precious, precious time. We only have so much and spending a majority of it in transit in a liminal space with people we’d rather not interact with can be uncomfortable for some.

Don’t stand in front of the doors. Inside or outside, boarding or exiting step away from the doors so people who are doing the latter two things can get in or off without scurrying through another person that’s in their way. Move towards the middle if you can.

Keep your music down. Look I know the new Frank Ocean album is great and all and is dating this blog post severely but me and several other people would rather just listen to the train rattle and clatter down the tracks as we take some time to process feelings, emotions, memories, etc. and Frank Ocean is not helping… that.

Keep engagement to a minimum. This is an iffy rule and I usually break it because there’s so many neat people that ride the subway. But unless you have a good reason or a serendipidous opportunity presents itself, don’t approach random strangers thinking you’ll be friends. ESPECIALLY IF THEY’RE WEARING HEADPHONES COME ON GUYS.

Keep your phone calls down. Trick Question. How can you talk on the phone if you can’t have a signal underground? I mean we could be taking like the 7 train but ahhh forget it.

Being generous

People love money. There’s wacky characters coming onto cars every day asking for donations for their music career. Their train ticket to Jersey to reunite with their family. Milk for their malnourished child. Or sometimes it’ll be a homeless person begging for spare change to buy a cheeseburger. If you’re not going to donate, don’t interact or look at them. You’re wasting your time and theirs. As Ellen pointed out earlier: You can’t be nice to everyone. BUT! You can be nice to some people. So carry spare change and singles around for the sole purpose of being generous. Pull them out quick. If you don’t get it out the minute they finish their pitch, it’s probably not a cause you’d want to donate to. Don’t feel guilty you can’t donate to everyone, but helping just one person out is perhaps the greatest opportunity you could have on the subway.

Remember! While you may be enjoying the city, some people have places to be! Let’s all work together to keep commuting fun, content, and uneventful!

I hope you enjoyed my take on subway courtesy. Halfway through writing this I actually found out MTA has a site and advertisements specifically for how to behave in the subway. The do-nots on that list are not only more digestible than my pedantic ramblings, the graphics for each of them are hilarious.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-11-21-54-pm screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-11-22-12-pm

I love the subway system.


You can listen to more of Johnny T’s advice on visiting New York in this video.

By Jonathan Yee_φ(°-°=)


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