Common Sense: Using Public Transport (part one)

11 Oct

 Matt Webb

Hello friends. Ask anyone that knows me and they’ll be able to tell you that I am a deep well of common sense knowledge, in a “don’t do as I do, do as I tell you” kind of way. I have decided that it is selfish of me to keep all of these pearls of wisdom to myself. It’s time I shared my knowledge with the world, starting with:

How to use public transport

As a Londoner, I like to think that I know how to use public transport. Although what I’m going to say comes from my years of experience of using the London Underground, London Buses etc; I’m sure it can be applied to public transport users across the country, if not the world. In fact, having encountered questions from those that live outside London (ie. that live on farms) along the lines of:

“Why are people on the tube so surly?”


“How come everyone is in such a hurry all the time?”


“Why are people always kissing their teeth and then shoving past me?”

I feel that this guide could be of great use to non-Londoners.

  1. Get out of the way

London commuters are mostly normal decent people. We don’t particularly enjoy going to work. We’d much rather sleep in and watch Jeremy Kyle/walk the dog/whatever people would do if they didn’t have to go to work. However, going to work is a fact of life. Those of us that use public transport on a daily basis do so in the knowledge that, unless we strike a deal with Satan in order to guarantee a seat, we’re going to have to travel with someone’s armpit in our face. This does not make us happy.

Also, nobody wants to spend any more time at work than is strictly necessary. In my case, this fact results in my getting a train that ensures I will get to work exactly on time and not a minute sooner. If anyone delays me, I will be late for work and might get in trouble. So, with the threat of a disapproving look from my boss hanging over me and having been angered by face/armpit proximity, anyone slowing me down on my journey is going to get short shrift.

The most common way my morning progress is impeded is by people not getting out of my way when I’m trying to get off the train. Actually, this is not entirely true. They do try to get out of my way, but they choose to do so in a completely impractical way. They are faced with three choices:

  • Step off the train onto the platform, allowing me to ease past before getting back onto the train (the sensible choice – therefore uncommon.)
  • Do nothing, leaving me to wish that I had some kind of lubricant to allow me to slip through the two inch gap you’ve left me. Tut loudly and roll your eyes as if amazed at anyone wanting to get off the train at any station other than the one you are getting off at (fairly common.)
  • Try to make space by forcing yourself further into the tightly packed carriage, pissing off EVERYBODY on board and making me feel like a bastard for getting off the train and inconveniencing everyone. If you can step on the toes of the pregnant woman you’re stood next to, so much the better (the most common.)

What annoys me the most in this situation is that, although people are trying to help you off the train, they choose the most difficult way of doing so. They crush other passengers in an effort to free up a six inch gap for you to squeeze through. I can practically hear the spines creaking as I edge past with a sheepish smile and a muttered “Thank you,” feeling like I would be making life much easier for everybody involved if I stayed on the train until it reached the terminal, missing work in the process.

I implore all users of public transport; if you find yourself having to make space for people leaving a crowded train/tube/bus, take a step off and get back on once everybody is out of the way. It will make you feel like a good person.

Another infuriating way in which people get in your way is by deciding, once off the train, that they had better take a breather on the platform. Maybe they’re unsure where to go next. Maybe they’re waiting for some friends to catch up with them. So be it. I understand. The tube can be confusing for first time users. Sometimes you need to carry out a quick headcount if you’re travelling in a large group.

GET OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY! You don’t know where you’re going, but there are plenty of people that do and are trying to get there in a hurry. I don’t mind a bit of a thrill from time to time. I like a rollercoaster. I recently went white water rafting, which was extremely enjoyable. What I don’t enjoy is the unpleasant adrenaline rush experienced when trying to edge past a large group of tourists on an underground platform. Inevitably, you are left with a twelve inch strip to negotiate, with the platform edge on one side and a gaggle of tourists on the other, just waiting for a chance to knock you onto the tracks by swinging a backpack. Those things are electrified, you know!

I don’t expect people to know where they’re going, but please try to leave enough space for the people who do know to get past you without risking death. You will find people much less likely to purse their lips at you and grumble under their breath if you do.

  1. Other people have noses

I like a shower in the morning. It allows you to wash the sleep out of your eyes and the stink out of your armpits, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. At least, that’s the theory. In practice it forces you out of your slumber and makes you realise that the day is happening, whether you like it or not. The most important part of the showering process is the removal of armpit stink.

As already mentioned, many trips on public transport take place with at least one strange armpit in very close proximity to one’s face. It is the most basic courtesy on the part of the owner of the armpit to try to ensure that it is well washed and as free of odour as possible.

The number of people who ignore this basic courtesy is simply staggering. Public transport is not known for cleanliness and sweet smell at the best of times. Why do people insist upon making it an even worse experience by stinking up the place with their armpit funk? It is inexcusable. If you know you’re going to be around lots of people, you need to make sure your smell is at least unnoticeable. If your body odour is uncontrollable then you need to do the decent thing and take to a life of hermitage.

(part two to follow)



2 Responses to “Common Sense: Using Public Transport (part one)”


  1. Common Sense: Using Public Transport (part two) « Dance ricky dance! - October 24, 2011

    […] You can read part one of our common sense guide to using public transport here. […]

  2. Common Sense: Being a Tourist in the UK « Dance ricky dance! - January 25, 2012

    […] or you are the partner/spouse of one of the columnists) you might have read my “common sense” rant about proper public transport etiquette. If you didn’t read it and can’t be bothered to click […]

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