International Public Transit Rules

taipei MRT
Photo by Jennifer

A little holiday traveling to Taipei reminded me that, just like there are unspoken rules in gyms, there are unspoken rules on public transit all over the world. For example, when riding the subway in Taipei, you’ll see that nobody sits in the reserved seats no matter how crowded or empty the train is. And if those seats are taken, everyone seems to offer up their seats when an elderly person gets onboard. Everyone seems to stand on the right side of the escalator even though the city’s transit authority had stopped encouraging standing on right hand side some time ago. I saw a sign encouraging riders to hold on tight to the escalator handrails: “The handrails have been sanitized regularly.” Hmm.

I thought about unspoken rules on Muni:
– Move back.
– Watch your backpack so you don’t hit people in the face.
– Step down to exit and yell “Backdoor!” for the uninitiated.

What else?


  • Jayrot

    On the bus, if you have a Fastpass, you are allowed to sneak past people feeding money into the machine. Bill feeders, please stay to the right so people can get by.

    For god sakes, move to the back please.

  • Heek

    I just got back from a trip to Buenos Aires and had to learn all of the unspoken “rules” of their transit system. The most interesting “rules” result from the city’s severe shortage of coins for change.

    As a result of the lack of coinage, you can often get a free ride on the Subte (subway) because the booths selling tickets will have literally run out of coins to give customers as change. So their solution is to just open up the turnstiles for free rides. I think I got more free rides than paid-for rides in the two weeks I was there.

    The buses (or collectivos) on the other hand only take coins as payment. Thus, getting and holding onto coins throughout the day is a daunting tasks, especially since merchants do not want to give you any of the precious little coinage they have.

    Once you manage to obtain enough coinage for a bus ride, getting on the bus has its own quirks. For example: the bus drivers DO NOT wait for you to fully board before speeding off, with the front door still wide open. Very exciting.

    I did also notice (as is generally the case on Muni buses) people getting up from seats in the front of the bus for the elderly riders.

    Anyway, I’m very happy to be back using Muni, a system I’m much more familiar with.

    • eugenia

      Wonder how the budget for the transit system in Buenos Aires is doing, given the free rides that you can get when you don’t have coins?

      I remember that in Amsterdam and Rome you have to stamp your bus ticket, which I found a little confusing initially but helpful bus riders pointed me to the machine.

  • JC

    Hmmm. Not sure it’s a rule but here goes: MUNI is a public space. Many of my rides recently have featured, for lack of a better word, performances. There is a small (but committed) group of people who see their fellow MUNI riders as an audience for a speech, a loud dialogue with a stranger, a dance routine, playing of music, etc… I’m not criticizing but it’s struck me recently.

    Wondering how that compares with Taipei or elsewhere…

    • eugenia

      JC: The times I have been on the Taipei MRT, things seem really orderly…I guess Muni Diaries wouldn’t exist without the performances, as you call them, on the bus! Perhaps it’s very cultural. In any case, would love to hear more about what you see on our buses!

      • JC

        E & J-
        Two things. I was actually referring to both “actual” performers and the day-to-day typical MUNI. Here’s a couple of quick 19-Polk stories.

        Once, a few months ago, I was on the 19 pretty late on a weeknight and there was a group of folks congregating on the back. They had a microphone stand and were doing a stand-up comedy show while facing the back. I don’t really remember anyone’s routine as being particularly memorable, but the whole event was definitely out of the ordinary. I even captured the tail end of one guy’s routine on video – here’s the youtube…

        The second is much more recent and probably what I originally had in mind when responding to the post (but thanks for reminding me of the comedy). A week or so ago I was riding the 19 through Civic Center and sitting in the back row of 5 seats. (Probably my least favorite seat location.) It was mid-day and was one of those days where few of us were working, so the bus was really light on office types and heavy on everyone else. One woman was in front of me and willing to engage anyone who wanted to listen on any topic whatsoever. Most riders picked up on this and kept the discussions to a minimum. One goth type guy, however, was all too happy to be engaged for reasons which (to me) quickly became clear. After he commented that he was considering asking a butcher friend for some blood he could use to spread on the bus floor to “make people scatter and free up some seats” (all together: “ewwwww”) he engaged talkative lady. The two of them quickly worked up a conversation about Anton LeVey and the church of Satan. (Apparently Sammy Davis Jr. and Ann Margaret were big fans and the stupid public who appreciated their art would never have appreciated their fandom of LaVey. Also, LaVey was just trying to “push the envelope in the name of art to see what people would do.”)

        Which is all well and good. Who can’t use some really loud colloquy on the 19 about the church of Satan? And, hey, this is what the iPod was made for. But what really got me was an aside from the goth guy, something about how “the singer in my band agrees with me” about something. Not “a buddy of mine” or “a friend of mine” but the “singer in my band.” Yes, this guy was dying to be asked about his band. And once talkative lady picked up on the band and asked, well, we were off to the races. We were all treated to the details of “the band” even though they apparently haven’t recorded anything or ever performed publicly. They do know the bouncer at some club though (I forget which). Because otherwise the talkative lady was prepared to make an introduction.

        Maybe we can get them a gig on the 19.

  • Heek

    Oh that’s right! JC, you totally reminded me. The Buenos Aires Subte had actual performers (and not “performers,” as I take it JC was referring to) performing on the train.

    One time it was an elderly man singing some beautiful music with a younger (mid-20s?) man playing classical guitar and singing back up. It was awesome. The second time it was a guy playing clarinet on the train.

    They of course then went around looking for handouts after playing, but they had performed so well I didn’t even hesitate to share some cash (albeit paper money, not my precious coins) with them. And when I say they were performing on the train I mean ON THE TRAIN, not like in SF where people are singing or playing outside the turnstiles. It was a very welcome escape from the otherwise monotonous sound of the train system.

  • I wrote a post on my blog about rules people can follow to make the Muni experience more enjoyable. OK, so maybe it turned into more of a rant than a useful list, but either way you can check it out at

  • citi-zen

    I like that most of the express busses in the afternoon have a nice, orderly line – except for the 30X, which is just a mad rugby scrum to get on!

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