Saturday 18 November 2017

How to be a perfect passenger on public transport

Noisy iPads, loud music and even personal grooming are hugely irritating on buses and trains

Annoyance: Loud music can make the daily bus or train journey hellish
Annoyance: Loud music can make the daily bus or train journey hellish

Tanya Sweeney

Margaret Thatcher once famously intoned that "a man riding a bus to work at the age of 26 may count himself a failure".

As a devoted user of public transport (I've failed the driving test five times), the quote has popped into my head more than once, but never more so than when I'm on the move and things get a little… anti-social.

On an early-morning bus ride recently, one 'gentleman' decided to really make himself at home, turning the seat behind me into an ad hoc eatery and lounge. First came breakfast (the smell of which was enough to turn anyone's stomach), followed by some light-hearted music on his iPhone for the rest of the journey.

He then decided to turn his seat into a makeshift office, ringing everyone in his contact list for a hearty chin-wag about flooring prices. He was utterly unfazed that he had managed to take over the upper deck of the bus, and entirely oblivious to the other passengers around him.

As is often the way with Irish people, we tutted and eye-rolled in a most-passive aggressive manner, hoping he would take the hint. He didn't, and I went on with my day feeling vaguely murderous.

Where I've gone for the passive-aggressive approach, DJ Ed Smith decided to tackle a similar situation head on.

"I got onto the train nice and early in the seat assigned to me, and as it was 9.30am it was pretty much the crack of dawn for me," says Smith, a Today FM presenter.

"Next thing I heard canned laughter behind me and noticed a man watching a sitcom on an iPad without headphones on. A few months ago something similar happened on a train - a guy was watching an action movie first thing in the morning, which is frankly insane - and I did nothing about it, and I thought, 'I'm not doing that again'.

"I stood up and said to the gentleman, 'It's quite early for a lot of us, so could you please turn that down or use headphones?'. I don't think he quite knew what he was saying, but his face started to fill like a coffee pot with anger."

Smith took to social media to vent his frustration and was met with dozens of comments from people who have experienced something similar. With the DJ's experience evidently touching a nerve, it soon became clear that transport etiquette (or rather, a lack thereof) is a problem very much on the rise. Nothing grinds gears faster than someone taking over public transport.

"Trains are meant to be relaxing, but it can feel a bit intense sometimes as there's really nowhere to escape to," says Smith. "I started to realise that society has become a little more self-centred, and travel brings out the worst in some of us."

But why exactly is that, and why now? We've travelled using public transport for years without too much drama. To my mind, it's the culmination of several variables: we're the first users of smartphones and iPads, and with no precedent set, we've not yet figured out quite how annoying they are to others.

We're also living in a time when public transport is more cramped than ever, creating a little moving greenhouse of low-level anxiety. Psychologists have long contended that, the closer we are in proximity to others, the more important and cherished our 'personal' space feels. People invading that, then, is a no-no.

"Manners are so important simply because from a physical point of view, were all on top of each other and we need to be respectful of people's boundaries," explains life coach Judymay Murphy.

"Manners work on an emotional level. If you look at Japanese society - one of the most polite in the world - they are squashed into train carriages at rush hour so they have to be polite, to step back and deeply bow to each other, to counteract that."

Yet modern life - and technology in particular - often gets in the way.

Often, an infraction on public transport is an accidental one: parents hand their children an iPad in a bid to keep them occupied on long journeys, little realising that the annoying Peppa Pig music that has become white noise in their own lives might bother others.

According to Iarnród Éireann's spokesperson Jane Cregan, the company is taking steps to ensure that train etiquette is at least encouraged.

"We don't have rules, but we do have guidelines," she explains.

"We have created an 'urban dictionary', the purpose of which is to reinforce the premise that people should be nicer to their fellow passengers.

"Train travel in particular gives people the opportunity to relax or do some work - but you need to balance that with being non-intrusive."

Passengers routinely take to Twitter to complain about less-than-ideal journeys, and Cregan has heard it all.

"I've heard of people cutting their toenails, picking their hair, painting their nails or eating smelly sandwiches. Most people have the manners and consideration. The basic rule of thumb is, 'would I like it if someone was doing that in front of me?'"

Another passenger bugbear is bandwidth hoggers: those who stream TV, movies or music, reducing Wi-Fi capability on other passengers' devices. Happily, Iarnród Éireann have already taken steps to counter this.

"We've had a number of streaming sites like Netflix, YouTube or RTÉ Player blocked so that more people can avail of the free Wi-Fi in each carriage," says Cregan.

And, should someone be inconsiderate, a little politeness on your part goes a long way.

"By and large, if you were to say to someone that they need to turn down the volume on a device, the majority of people are happy to do so," says Cregan.

"Altercations are isolated enough, but if they do occur, a driver can be contacted via a communications button. Nine times out of 10, people will be happy to say 'I'm sorry' and realise what they're doing."

Still, with technology developing at a rate of knots and more gadgets and devices flooding the market, interesting times are likely ahead for commuters.

Remind me to take that driving test again.

Irish Independent

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