Rules for Avoiding People on Public Transit

Photo by /\/\ichael Patric|{

Muni rider Charles alerted us to a recent study which lead Yale sociologist Esther Kim to establish the rules for avoiding strangers on public transportation. Color us intrigued.

Kim’s totally unsocial rules:

  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Lean against the window and stretch out your legs.
  • Sit on the aisle seat and listen to music to pretend not to hear people asking for the window seat.
  • Place a large bag or multiple items in the empty seat to make it time-consuming to move.
  • Look out the window with a blank stare to appear crazy.
  • Pretend to be asleep.
  • Put your coat on the seat to make it appear already taken.
  • If all else fails, lie: Say the seat has been taken by someone else.

While much of Kim’s research was done on long-distance bus rides, some of the same conditions apply to intra-city travel. And this rang all sorts of bells for us:

Kim found that the greatest unspoken rule of bus travel is that if other seats are available you shouldn’t sit next to someone else. As the passengers claimed, “It makes you look weird.”

Read more about Kim’s work, including what people tend to do when drivers announce a full bus, here.

How do you handle strangers on Muni and BART?


  • beestar

    A friend of mine had the best strategy of all.

    When someone approaches, pat the seat beside you encouragingly, and smile up invitingly with your best psycho killer leer.

  • French Twist via Facebook

    I love you guys and the blog and all, but this is a silly post. If you don’t want to be around strangers, don’t take public transportation. Doh! As to the ..holes who pretend to not see you and take up 2 seats, shame on you!

  • Jeff Hunt via Facebook

    The article cited in the post talks about when there are plenty of open seats, but someone takes the seat next to you. THAT is an a-hole, if you ask me.

  • There is always the occasional-to-rare MUNI rider who clearly doesn’t want to be there. Car broke down? Can’t get a cab back to the Marina? They think if they sit on the aisle they can keep the window seat empty. And it usually works, unless I want to sit down with a courteous but firm, “Excuse me.”

  • French Twist via Facebook

    ^ point taken. Thanks!

  • Jeff Hunt via Facebook

    And I agree with your point about the reverse situation, hee hee.

  • Erik

    If no empty rows are available then I usually make it a point to ask someone to move who has sat on the outside or tried to reserve the seat next to them with a coat or purse or something. It brightens my day.

    • Eric

      Serious question: if I’m sitting with my knees facing the exit stairs on an LRV, I usually choose the outside seat because I have a hard time squeezing my legs into the more-cramped-than-other-seats space on the inside seat. As long as I am engaged in my surroundings and am sure to make way for other passengers to squeeze into the inside seat, am I OK? Or am I still being a d-bag?

  • fermata

    i get onto the N-outbound in the evenings at the second stop, so there are usually plenty of open seats. BUT I also know that it will be packed after Embarcadero/Montgomery. Therefore, I will sometimes sit right next to someone even when other seats are available if it positions me closer to the exit door & can save me from having to push and climb through a crowd. As Eric-with-a-C asked, am I okay or a d-bag?

  • loren

    really? part of living in the real world (esp the city) is having to come into contact with real people on occasion. as someone with social-anxiety, i can understand being uncomfortable letting people into your physical bubble… but if you want to be a functioning adult- and not look like a totally selfish, entitled, d-bag… scoot over/move your bag, and deal with your mild discomfort internally like the rest of us.

    [and i don’t mean the folks that sit in the aisle seats, but actually acknowledge folks when they want to sit next to the window… y’all are alright. it’s the ones that ignore you when you ask that are total d-bags.]

  • asdf

    Muni Diaries pandering to it core audience, xenophobic transplants. No surprises here.

  • boZannical

    Disappointed that the tips, except for one, encourage being a self-entitled douche. Because your bags are more important than a paying (?) rider? What a maroon!

    That being said, a coworker and fellow commuter friend of mine used to keep a seat clear by putting her finger in her nostril and giggle. Very effective. 🙂

    • The original research is about long bus rides, not transit commuting, I can see a bit of difference between trying to grab a seat on a Greyhound bus for the next 2 hours vs. choosing whether to sit or stand on a 10-min MUNI ride. Which is also why there’s a shift when the bus driver says the bus is ‘full’ (all seats paid for) which is completely different from a commute ride where you can sardine in an indeterminate number of people.

  • Susan

    Last week I had to say “excuse me” to a woman who had her large purse next to her on the 1ax…. so I could sit down. I got a HUGE sigh from her, as if it really ruined her day by wanted to sit down & make her hold her purse! I agree with Erik on deciding which row to sit in when all rows have one person!

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