Riding the Bus is Easier with the Golden Rule

Greyhound Bus InteriorTraveling on public transportation leaves much to be desired. Travelers must contend with indifferent staff, decaying infrastructure, and inconsistencies in service. And then there are your fellow travelers. Bus travel has a poor image in most people’s minds because of the way people conduct themselves. A few years ago, I developed basic unwritten rules for bus travel. And a recent analysis by Yale graduate student Esther Kim only confirmed these rules.

The Unwritten Rules of Bus Travel

However much I know some people try to avoid the bus for intra city or inter city travel, you will find yourself on a bus one day. It might be public transit, Greyhound, or a charter.

Let’s go over how each unwritten rule relates to the Golden Rule as well as Ms. Kim’s observations of nonsocial transient behavior. If, as Kim says, people are primarily looking for individual comfort, safety, and privacy, then can following the Golden Rule in transient situation help ease the stress of the experience? I believe it can.

1. When seats are plentiful, please sit as far away from others as possible.

This seems to naturally occur, but occasionally someone will violate this rule for no apparent reason. In her paper, Kim observed that the first thing people do is avoid sitting next to another person. So if you do have the option of finding an open row, do so, because it is the way you would want to be treated.

2. Please do not put your wet umbrella or other gross things on the seat.

That’s just rude.

3. Would you remove your bags from the seat when the bus is full?

People “Place several items on the spare seat so it’s not worth the passenger’s time waiting for you to move them.” – Esther Kim.

This seems to be hard for some people. In her paper, Kim states this is one the best ways to prevent someone from sitting next to you. I see this all the time during train commutes when people pile up stuff on the way home to deter a request to sit down. In fact, I am more likely to keep going because I would feel like it was an imposition on the other person, which will only lead to irritation during the ride. I also practice the bag trick when it makes sense to. But if someone asks, I will move the bag for them.

I’ve seen larger people place a bag on the adjacent seat because they know almost no one will dare sit next to them because there is hardly any space.

While these seat avoidance tactics work, you do have to allow another person to sit down if the bus is full. When there is no other choice, please move your things.

4. Avoid doing things which are fun for you, but no one else.

I know this sounds like a teacher you had once. But there is something really annoying about being 12 inches away from someone who is smacking his or her gum for 4 hours (or even 10 minutes). Would you want someone to do this to you with loud music or something which irritates you?

Kim observed that travelers were concerned with their own comfort, which could mean chewing gum or playing music. But if you are concerned with your comfort, it makes sense the other person is too. To make the trip pleasant for all, please keep your comfort to yourself.

5. Please don’t talk loudly on the bus or on the phone.

I don’t want to hear your life story, how much you love each other, or any such nonsense. Keep your calls short—no one really wants to know the details of Aunt Betty’s brain surgery.

Kim shares a story of how even a normal voice can be perceived as offensive if the rest of the bus is quiet. This situation is difficult because sometimes you do have to talk on the phone. Be mindful of the current situation and what will be tolerable for you may not be tolerable for others. So ask two questions:

“Must I make this phone call now?”

“Would I want someone else to make a phone call now?”

6. Never eat your dinner on the bus…unless you have enough for everyone.

How many times has someone brought McDonald’s or another effervescing meal onto the bus? And they don’t share! This forces you to either be sickened or hate them or to smell like their food the rest of the day.

Of course, on a long distance bus, there is not much you can do about people bringing on food. If you can, please try to eat before you get on the bus.

7. Use the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you in the same situation.

Bus Travel Tip: Use the #Golden Rule with your fellow travelers. - Click to Tweet!

Improving Bus Travel

Kim writes, “Ultimately this nonsocial behavior is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time.” One of the goals here at Golden Rule Now is to improve how people interact. If the trend of social isolation in public places continues, no one will help each other when it really counts.

What can bus operators and builders do to facilitate Golden Rule experiences?

  • Renovate bus stops to be traveler friendly, taking into account travelers, as Kim notes, are “tired and stressed.” Instead of dusty decaying stations, create welcome centers with showers, working bathrooms, and easy places to store luggage briefly.
  • Change the interiors from the dark greys, blues, and oranges to lighter colors which enhance people’s moods.
  • Increase bus services such as wifi, in seat entertainment options like on planes, and mini vending machines.
  • Make sure every bus seat has power and a tray table.
  • Ask people to use the Golden Rule. Perhaps small, funny signs on tray tables or seat backs would help. How about posting these rules on each seat back?
  • Hire people who use the Golden Rule.

What are your experiences on the bus? What can we all do to make the experience a Golden Rule one?

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Image: Flickr: ptaff

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