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Public Transport Etiquette

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A red London bus

Whether you're travelling by plane, train, bus, taxi, dolmus, tuk-tuk, jitney, boat, subway or buggy, the one thing every traveller should be aware of are those unwritten rules of conduct which govern mass transit systems throughout the world. Those rules which tell us how to pay, how to queue, when to talk, when to tip... the list is endless. But that's not going to stop the h2g2 Community from at least starting the list.

Russian Public Transport

In urban Russia's crowded trains and buses, the hapless Westerner will inevitably step on someone's foot. Be forewarned: tradition in Russia permits the 'steppee' to reciprocate the act by stepping on the offender's foot in a usually (but not always) playful manner. Perhaps this helps bring a sense of balance and fairness to the oft unstable Russian world?

Also, don't be confused when someone behind you politely asks, 'Are you getting off now?' (Vy vyhoditye seychas?) He or she is not planning to follow you home. In Russia, this question is the roundabout way of saying 'I'm getting off now, and if you aren't, move!'

Finally, those who wish to avoid too much public transport stress in Russia would be advised to stick to the trains. Although they have far fewer stopping points than the surface buses and trams, they are always swifter and less crowded. One of our Researchers told how they'd never experienced such a claustrophobic experience as being on a tram in downtown St Petersburg at rush hour:

Without exaggeration, it can be said that the doors bulged out and some people were pressed together so tightly their feet did not need to touch the ground to remain stable.

Probably the most entertaining part of riding the public transport in Russia is the recorded announcements you will hear on the trains. The messages have not been updated since the Communist era. In the St Petersburg subway, you will feel a deep effusion of joy within your being at the words 'Ostorozhno! Dvery zakryvayetsya!' ('Caution! The doors are ready to slam shut on you!'), exclaimed as they are in a voice full of the warmth and optimism of Soviet 'progress'.

One of the nice things about etiquette on Russian public transport systems, though, is the alacrity with which people stand up for the elderly and the infirm. Unless, of course, the bus, tram, train etc, is packed to the brim.

My mum came to visit me in Moscow. She walks with a very bad limp and a stick. Every time we got on any kind of public transport someone gave up their seat for her. One time, we got on a bus and the press of people meant that nobody noticed her for a stop. Then a few people got off, and mother was revealed, whereupon one chap shot out of his seat crying 'Lady with a stick!'. They whole bus took up the shout and not less than five other people immediately catapulted themselves into an upright position and vied for the honour of getting her to sit in their seat. My mother went down fighting to convey the fact that, really, she was in fact getting off at the next stop and it wasn't necessary.

Bulgarian Public Transport

If you ever have to use the Bulgarian public transport system, be advised that conflicts between passengers may arise, especially when the vehicle is packed ('Hey, don't step on my foot!'; 'Out of the way, I'm getting off!'; 'I'm not gonna buy no ticket for that poor service!'; 'If you put your hand in my pocket again, I'll skin you alive!'). It is important not to take either side in such a conflict, because usually the whole bus gets involved and it starts to feel like you're in Parliament.

While reading the other message about the Russian public transport, I found that in Russia 'Are you getting off?' is a polite way to say 'I am getting off, so if you aren't, then move!'. I'd like to note that it's the same in Bulgaria ('Shte slizate li?')

It is also interesting how passengers here unite their massive forces against the evil inspectors who surprisingly show up in buses to punish the innocent people for doing something as insignificant as taking a free ride. The poor inspectors have resorted to working in couples in order to be able to deal with stubborn passengers who decline to pay the fine for not having a ticket.

Bangkok Station Anthem Etiquette

If you arrive at Bangkok's train station during rush hour, you'll see mayhem in its purest form: this is, after all one of the world's busiest cites. It's hot, pollution blows in, the capital's workers have ended their day, and the battle is on to get out to the suburbs. However, at exactly six o'clock, the Thai National anthem is played across the nation, on radio, on television, and in public places, including Bangkok station. A lot of respect is accorded to the sovereign, King Bhumibol, and everyone stands to attention. It's as if the world has frozen in an en masse game of musical statues, only in reverse. One minute chickens and small children are being jammed through the windows of the trains to guarantee a seat, then the music begins and all is completely still. When the anthem ends, off everyone goes again, and the madness ensues once more.

Turkish Minicabs

Also known as dolmus (pronounced 'dol moosh'), these can take about eight to ten people in cramped but not desperate conditions, and operate in tourist areas. After picking you up, the driver will cruise around until he has picked up a full cab. Then you'll roar off to your destination (the verb here has been chosen very carefully). Dolmus drivers provide the sort of dizzy high you usually only get from riding rollercoasters or wrestling alligators, and their destruction-derby brand of driving is made worse by the Turkish roads, particularly in the country. The drivers have a friendly competitive spirit among themselves that often leads to 20 terrified tourists being dragged along as they live out their private 'Days Of Thunder' fantasies on a crowded motorway.

The fare can be quite cheap, but the drivers will try to rip you off if they think you're unfamiliar with the currency so make sure you're clear on the amount. Also, make sure you have something to hold on to. Either that or walk.

Ah, the dolmus - a fun form of transport if ever there was one. And in some areas they tend to be a little more 'energetic' about their driving - sometimes simply slowing down to let passengers out, then speeding off to their next destination. The drivers also have an uncanny ability to take your cash and give you the correct change without looking at your money - or the road, for that matter.


Prague's public transport is very good, with integrated Metro, tram and bus services. The knack is to buy a ticket in advance (or even a book of tickets) from a shop. Then, when you nip on the tram or bus you stick your ticket in the little slot and it stamps the time. Your ticket is now valid for the next hour if it is a standard fare. This standard fare will take you anywhere and on any form of transport for that hour. If you first get on a tube you will find the stamping machines at the head of the escalators. If caught without a valid ticket you will be fined. And beware - the inspectors are plain clothed. At the time of writing it costs 12 crowns (about 25 British pence) for a standard ticket.


Glasgow buses operate an exact change system, where the money is dropped into a transparent hopper for the driver to check. This means that he has no access to the money, thus he's protected from attack. At least that is the theory. Hence you cannot get change back and you have to pay over the fare if you are unable to find the right coins.

The Glasgow Underground operates a flat rate fare and at the time of writing it is actually cheaper to buy an all day rover ticket (unlimited journeys on the Underground after half past nine in the morning) than a standard return. The Glasgow Underground is nicknamed 'The Clockwork Orange' due to the colour of the trains.


A good hint when using Berlin's transport system is to buy a carnet in advance (or a seven day ticket) and remember to validate it in the red boxes you will see in stations or on the buses/trams. Failure to do so will result in you being humiliated by the guards, fined, and thrown off at the next stop. They don't have undercover inspectors, but there is a guard on every underground train.

Have you ever been on the underground trains, trams and buses in Berlin? They are fab! You only have to buy one ticket which lasts for two whole hours and lets you on all three forms of transport during that time. It's called an integrated transport system.


Isle of Wight Ferries

When on a ferry, don't talk over the...

The captain of this vessel would like to draw your attention to the following safety announcement. In the unlikely event of an emergency the Captain will make seven short blasts followed by one prolonged blast on the ships whistle and alarm bells, followed by an announcement on the public address system. Remain calm, and proceed to the muster stations. The muster stations can be identified by a large green sign with arrows in each corner pointing towards a family group. There lifeboats and buoyancy apparatus will be distributed by the ships crew. We hope you enjoy this vessel, and thank you for travelling Wightlink.

...announcement. But do talk over the 'The gift shop and cafe/bar are now opening, with a wide range of gifts and refreshments' announcement. And try not to laugh at those who look sea-sick.

Irish Sea Ferries

Some sound advice here is that it's best to try and avoid travelling on the Irish Sea Ferries on a Saturday first thing in the morning to Scotland, and last thing at night back. The reason for this is, you will come across a boat load of Celtic or Rangers fans heading up to Glasgow for the football matches. Not pleasant.

Scottish Ferries

Don't try to get a Western Isles ferry on a Sunday; there aren't any. Also, when on any Cal Mac ferry, queue early for the bar, have your ticket ready for inspection early and (certainly a few years ago) and be aware that all cars are charged by length, not height, so pile 'em on high. Also, remember that almost all the public transport runs to the ferry times, so don't worry that you'll miss your connection, it's waiting.

Unless as happened to me once at Stranraer - I was stuck on the ferry in exceptional high tides for four hours, unable to disembark.


  • Always have the exact fare and always keep your ticket until your journey is complete. If you chew your ticket or lose it, you can bet your bottom dollar the inspector will get on and demand you pay again.

  • Sit next to the most innocuous-looking person on the bus. That way when the 'bus weirdo' gets on, he can't sit next to you.

  • Give up your seat to someone older than yourself who can't find a seat. Starting off a good circle, it will eventually come back to you and someone some day will do something nice for you. Guaranteed.

  • Tip the driver a sweet, preferably wrapped, although most aren't that fussy. They'll be so chuffed that you've tipped them they won't care.

  • Ring the bell before the stop at which you wish to alight.

  • Thank the driver.

And next time you want to vent your anger at the driver, think twice. The following is a testimony from an h2g2 Researcher who is also a bus driver.

'Thank you' goes a long way. I try to say it to all my passengers, and yes, I will even wave to people with all my fingers sometimes. It can be difficult to be pleasant after being stabbed by a snot-nosed teenager who is after the takings, but I try. You deserve a decent service, but sadly, it doesn't happen enough (there are some shocking regional variations). I see the state of the buses after a day's work; Coke cans, half-eaten sandwiches, graffiti, syringes. You can judge a country by the state of it's public transport. Japan's trains and buses are spotless. Britain's are in a mess!
I really do feel sorry for people who depend on public transport, they are being treated like garbage, especially the commuters. I am not surprised that people in my profession are castigated. We try, but it's not our fault, I promise! It's all down to the movement of small green pieces of paper.

Buses and Oldies

Respect your elders, for sure. But hey, elders! Respect your youngers, too:

If you are of pension age, please don't use it as an excuse to be rude and threatening to the younger generation. Unfortunately, yes, the younger generation do not treat the elderly with the respect they deserve, but it does work both ways: I've seen appalling rudeness, physical assault, queue jumping, shoving and fight challenging among the elderly on my usual bus route in Birmingham. Please set us an example - we're not all potential muggers and hoodlums.

Good point. Maybe a spot of karaoke will chill everyone out:

My advice is not always to judge by appearances on buses. My mom, who, to your average bus user, looks perfectly fit, is slightly disabled and sometimes needs a seat, but she is often confronted by irate old ladies who feel that they have a right to the place. Maybe what's needed is more community feeling on buses, instead of defensiveness, and suspicion. Perhaps sing-alongs would do the trick.

Dublin Buses

Dublin buses have two doors, one at the front and one at the middle of the bus. Officially the front door is for getting on and the middle door for getting off. Don't be fooled by this. The middle door is never opened. You must get off by the front door, despite the signs saying otherwise.

It is fairly common in Dublin to thank the bus driver as you leave the bus. Although, you must wonder if the following Researcher thanked their bus driver...

My experiences of Dublin buses have been poor! I managed to be in Dublin when the taxi strikes were on a few years back. Blooming awful. It was my pal's first trip over and although I had warned her that it was bad... phew! It felt like a moshpit! Mad!

Many Dublin bus routes, though, have improved in the last couple of years because they have introduced 'quality' bus lanes, which means ones that do not have cars parked in them. The buses fly along these. But many other routes are as bad as ever, apparently, taking an hour to cover five miles.

Here's what one Researcher has to say about Irish buses outside of Dublin:

The country bus drivers are... what's the opposite of jobsworths?. I live in Co Donegal, and have never failed to hail a bus between stops; unless it turns out to be a tourist coach. Or to be let off anywhere that's safe. The drivers always seem to have a few errands, too, so don't worry if the bus stops at what seems an illogical place. Despite all this, the drivers keep remarkably to schedule.
The drivers I've met are all happy to talk, and it doesn't seem to affect their skilful driving. Lots of people seem to know each other, but first names are normal here anyway, even at the bank; anything else seems rather cold after living here a while. Do thank the driver; he'll probably thank you anyway, and make you feel at home generally. Country passengers (like country pedestrians) will say hello to you a lot, too. Quite a contrast with London, where I hail from! (no pun intended). It's one of the pros of living here.

Forming Lines

People think that folk in the UK always form nice uniform lines to get on the bus, while in the US people stand or sit around (although they try not to bump in to each other while getting on the bus). But is this always the case? Apparently not...

In my experience it is not always true that nice orderly lines are formed for buses in the UK. I used to get the No. 3 in south London, as buses that were due every eight minutes seemed to arrive every half hour (sometimes in twos or threes) and there was often a rugby maul to get on.

Amazingly enough, though, the British can sit around yet still know which order they turned up in so that even if they do form a melee they generally know which order to get on to the bus.

Bus Etiquette in Canada

And here's another perspective on the whole bus trip; this time from Canada:

I don't know if this applies so much to those crazy double-layered buses you chaps have on your side of the ocean, but in Canadian single-layered buses it is considered good manners to always move to the back of a bus.
An empty bus is usually filled from back to front. This has the added bonus of leaving the front-most region for the elderly and disabled, without having to make anyone give up their seat.
If there are no more remaining seats, it is good practice to stand as far back in the bus as possible. This allows the maximum number of people to fit on a bus. If a group of people stand in the middle of an empty bus, new-comers to the bus will assume that the back is already full. They will not attempt to push past the blockade of middle-standers. Because of this, those in the front of the bus will be packed as tightly as sardines in a can, while the back of the bus remains relatively empty. Not only does this cause the bus driver great consternation, it makes for a very inefficient transit system.

Tour Buses

Yes, we're talking about buses crammed full of adolescent boys, here:

We had a school tour recently down through Europe, from Cherbourg overnight down to Barcelona. The most important thing to remember if you ever find yourself in this situation is to try to remain awake. There'll always be some guy with a razor, a can of shaving foam and a grudge. I don't speak from personal trauma, but believe me, from the sidelines it looks pretty bloody funny.
It's pointless writing about the etiquette of these situations, as all forms of manners go right out the window, so concentrate instead on survival. Bring some music, a large collection of magazines and a travel pillow. A hood is a good idea for cushioning your head and foiling would-be attackers. If you want to avoid midnight terror involving hair loss, sit near a teacher - their person is sacrosanct. If you do want to play a practical joke, make it something which probably won't either scar or mortally endanger the victim. A popular ploy is getting someone who's half-asleep, putting them in a humiliating position (use of props is allowed; rubber implements, victim's limbs, other person's limbs, etc. Be creative) and taking a picture, before waking them up suddenly to general hilarity.
Ahhh... the memory will fade, but the scars will last a lifetime.

The London Underground

A couple of things not to do while on the London Underground:

  • Look through the window as you get onto the train, staring at another passenger's photographs, and then as they are getting off exclaim loudly 'Nice photos!'

  • While looking at a hatchway in the floor, exclaim 'Is this a trap-door I see before me?'

Yes, these things have been observed. And yes, it was after quite a few. And yes, it was after an h2g2 meet...

Lift/Elevator Etiquette

Lifts1 are a kind of public transport, and they have their own etiquette, too.

  • The closest to the door gets in.

  • If you are right in front of the elevator, step to the side for others to get out.

  • If you're inside and people are in your way, ask someone to press 'door open' and ask people to let you out. Be polite. Don't yell.

  • If you are one of those on the way, don't even wait to be asked. Hold the 'door open' button if you notice such a situation. Try to anticipate what everybody else will do. Who's going out next, etc.

  • If you notice someone on the way to the elevator, hold the 'door open'.

  • Inside the elevator be considerate for the entire ensemble. That is: avoid being obnoxious. And please don't fart.

  • Make sure you look at the buttons before pressing them...

...unlike yours truly, who spent an extended amount of time with my finger on the alarm button until a panicked member of staff ran up asking what the trouble was... Why do they put the alarm button next to the door open button?

'Hello?! I'm on the Train!'

I was once on a crowded, delayed, Virgin train when the girl opposite me decided to kill time by showing her friend all the different ring tones her phone could play. She got to around number 12, before a group of usually peaceful passengers threatened to smash her face in if she didn't stop.

Oooohh, mobile phones, don't you just love 'em? Well, actually, some people do:

Many train services into London have signs up suggesting that it is impolite to use mobile phones when on the train. Why? There are no signs up suggesting that private conversations between passengers are discouraged, so why not have a private conversation on a mobile phone? True, some people talk loudly on their phone, but some people talk loudly to their travelling companions but this is not discouraged at all!
My theory is that people who object to mobile phone usage are really just eaves-droppers who get very frustrated at only being able to hear one side of a conversation - it is much harder to hear good gossip that way!

But a lot of people do find mobile phones a gigantic pain in the butt. Certain train operators, though, (Virgin Trains to name but one) operate a 'quiet coach' scheme, which follows similar lines to no smoking coaches. On the quiet coach you're not allowed to use mobile phones, personal stereos or equivalent and it's at the train operator's discretion whether or not you get fined for ignoring the notice. However, the quiet coach scheme does not mention anything about people who can't shut up.

There's also a general consensus that you should be sensitive when using your mobile. For the most part, there's no need to raise your voice to speak on it, so don't. If you can put it on a vibrating mode rather (than ringing) if you expect to get a lot of calls or text messages while you're on a bus or a train or whatever, then do so. (Especially if you have a lot of texts on a Nokia phone where a large number of people are likely to have the exact same message tone as you.)

And Finally...

There's an argument that says the absolute most important rule of public transport etiquette, that which people don't seem to understand (especially on the London Underground) is that when you're planning to board, stand back and let people off first. This shouldn't be difficult, but people seem to have an awful lot of trouble with it.

I have yet to figure out where you think you're going to stand on a crowded train or bus if you're not going to let the large group of people trying to exit get off.

But then again, there's an argument that says, abstaining from the act of fornication is the 'absolute most important rule of public transport'.

If you really need to have sex, and can't wait, get off the bus/train/coach/plane first. There are few things more irritating for the other passengers.


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