Bus Etiquette (or How to NOT be a Bus-hole)

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

Reposted from an older blog… because it isn’t getting any better.

Every day I take two buses to work and two buses home, and nearly every trip I am amazed by the number of flagrant violations of basic bus etiquette. Most of these violations seem to fall under the “I am a special butterfly” clause that tells people that certain societal mores (using the bus as society-in-microcosm) do not apply to them, but they would quickly condemn others for the same actions that they display.

So, as a public service (since I am nothing if not a giving, generous person), I will provide some basic bus etiquette rules for everyone to use as a guideline when asking themselves, “Am I a bus-hole?”

First we will cover off some basic rules that most people follow (though, as always, there are exceptions). Even if they ‘go without saying’, we still need to say them as groundwork for the more advanced topics later on.

RULE #1: Try not to touch anyone.

Now, this may sound a little extreme, but the reason it isn’t is the word ‘try’. You are not actually expected to never touch anyone on the bus, but keeping this simple rule in mind will stop you from over-crowding, pushing, or hitting people with your oversized purse or bag.

RULE #2: Whether using the regular two-person, forward facing seats or the sideways bench-style seats, do not sit next to someone you do not know unless there are no seats that will allow not doing so.

Personal space will be at a premium once the bus starts filling up, but there is no need to violate it until absolutely necessary.

RULE #3: There are no exceptions, barring physical limitations.

Remember that “I am a special butterfly” clause that I mentioned in the intro? There is no such clause. You are not special. These rules apply to everyone. (With the caveat that all these rules assume that you are able bodied and do not need special assistance. We will touch on the courtesy seats a little later, but otherwise I am assuming that you are physically able to follow these rules as presented.)

Now I will get into the more comprehensive bus etiquette rules. If these ones seem obvious to you, congratulations, you might not be a bus-hole.


RULE #4: The courtesy seats shouldn’t be used until the bus starts to fill up, unless you are one of the people the courtesy seats are there for.

It amazes me the number of people who get on the bus, don’t give the rest of the vehicle a second glance, and plop themselves down in the courtesy seats, when there are plenty of other empty seats to choose from. You should never forget why those seats are there. Saying “oh, I will move if I need to” is not really a good answer because most people don’t. The next answer usually is “I’ll move if someone asks me”. This is also unacceptable because you are putting people with enough other things to worry about in the position of having to point out their own infirmity. That just sucks. Don’t sit there until all the two-person seats have at least one person in them.

RULE #5: If you are in one of the courtesy seats and someone gets on who needs the seat more than you, get up and move.

This is a really simple rule and one that any decent human being follows already. If you are in one of those seats and someone gets who is elderly, or pregnant, or has some sort of physical handicap of any type etc. MOVE. Don’t look around and wait for someone else to move. Don’t sit until someone asks you to move. Don’t pretend to be asleep or too engrossed in the latest Danielle Steele novel. Just move. Not moving is probably the biggest bus-hole violation you could make.

RULE #6: If you have a stroller, try to keep it out of the way.

This one is tough, because there is only so much you can do, but if you get on the bus with a stroller, do whatever you can to make sure that stroller doesn’t block the aisle. Nothing else much to say here… just do your best.


Obviously some of these sorts of rules don’t apply if you are on a bus that is mostly empty, but if you are to the point where half of the regular seats have at least one person in them, you need to follow all of these.

RULE #7: Do not sit by yourself in an aisle seat.

If you are fortunate enough to get on the bus when there are still completely empty seats, do not take one of those empty seats and sit on the aisle. You aren’t fooling anybody. You are doing it so that as the bus fills up, you will be one of the last people to have to share a seat. It is just rude and a violation of RULE # 3. The only way for anyone else to sit down on the seat will be to ask you to move, which nobody should be expected to do. Just sit by the window like everybody else.

RULE #8: Do not put your purse/bag/knapsack/whatever on the seat next to you.

This is basically the same violation as RULE # 7. Just don’t do it. Put it in your lap.


RULE #9: Just because you can see the seat, doesn’t mean you should sit in it.

This one is a bit tough because the bus manufacturers for the last couple of decades have installed ‘helpful’ little cushions that assign space for each person. That leads you to think that if a bench has four of those little cushions that four people can sit there. The problem is that not everyone is the same size. When you see a space on a bench between two people (or between a person and a seat back, a person and a post, etc.) look and see if your shoulders will fit in that space. If it is too narrow, do not sit down. Remember RULE # 1.

RULE #10: Try to leave as much space as you can when you sit down.

This is the corollary to RULE # 9. Don’t try to take up more space to stop someone from sitting down. We’re all in this together. Let’s try to get along.


RULE #11: Move to the back.

Considering how many times you hear those words if you are a regular bus-rider, it is amazing that we even have to say it. It doesn’t mean move back if more people are getting on and it might get crowded. It means to move back. Now. If you are standing and there is room between you and the back of the bus, occupy it. Move back.

RULE #11A: (On articulated buses) Move away from the doors.

This is the version of RULE # 11 used if you are on a bus that allows back loading. You don’t have to move back per se. Instead you have to move away from the doors to allow people access on and off. This is one of those rules that seems like such common sense but is ignored constantly.

RULE #11B: Do not stop in the aisle to talk to a seated friend.

Remember RULE # 11? (How could you have forgotten it?) If you find yourself in a situation where you get on a bus with a friend and there is one seat open and they take it, or you get on a bus and happen to run into a friend who is seated and you have to stand, DO NOT stand in the aisle to talk to them and expect people to push past you to move to the back of the bus. Look at RULE # 3 again. There are no exceptions. If they really cared about talking to you they would stand up and move to the back of the bus with you.

RULE #11C: The doorway is not your personal nook.

Still with RULE #11, if you are in the process of moving back and reach the back doors (assuming that the bus you are on is not one of those buses where the door is at the VERY back), DO NOT stop and step into the doorway thinking you are “out of the way”. Keep moving to the back. By stopping in the doorway, rather than being in the way of the people moving back, you are now in the way of anyone who plans to get off the bus at any time. In other words, everyone. Just don’t do it. Move back. (This also goes for any other little crannies, like the buses that have a spot behind the driver.)

RULE #12: When someone needs to get past you, move.

When you are standing there will likely be many times when people have to squeeze past you to get off the bus. Yes, it sucks and yes, it is an unavoidable clash with RULE # 1, but there is no avoiding it. When it happens and someone has to get past you, just move. Don’t whine or give a dirty look. Don’t move two inches when the person trying to get past is built like a linebacker. Just move.


RULE #13: You don’t have a ‘right’ to read a newspaper.

Feel free to read a newspaper, but when it gets crowded, that newspaper may be crowding your neighbours. When that happens, fold it up and put it away. If you are standing, you just don’t get to read. Get over it.

RULE #14: If you are going to have a conversation with someone on the bus, keep your voice down.

This is pretty self-explanatory.

RULE #15: If you are talking on a cell phone, see RULE # 14.

Better yet, text.

Are there more rules? Assuredly, but this is what pops to mind just now. Remember, these rules aren’t here because I am being a crotchety old bastard, they are guidelines that can make a somewhat unpleasant experience that much better. Follow them and everybody is better off.

  1. nadinethornhill says:

    Oh, god. Number seven is my personal bus peeve! I annoys me so much, that I will often sit next to those people because forcing them to MOVE OVER, FOR PETE’S SAKE, soothes my ire.

  2. i would add one that truly annoys me – let people get off the bus before you push your way on.. the same goes for elevators,

    • cindy says:

      Exit using the rear doors and not the front door for getting off the bus. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to wait in the rain for people to get off the bus using the front door while the rear doors are not being used. The bus is not over crowded that they could not have made their way to the rear or side door. Using the rear or side door frees up the front door to let people on and therefore less time wasted at the stop.

      • rpriske says:

        That depends on the bus.

        Many buses allow rear-door boarding, which means it does not matter which door you exit as peopel will be getting on.

        I am actually not a fan of the idea that people should have to leave by the rear doors. I think the problem is usually the people getting ON the bus, who should be waiting for everyone to get off first.

      • richard says:

        I keep my bike on the front of the bus, if i get off the back then the driver will likely leave before i can get to the front to get it off.

        Also, people leave big items like strollers at the front. Why would they go out the back if they are already sitting at the front and pick their stroller up there?

        Its a situational thing, but if im already standing up 3 feet from the door when the bus stops, then you can wait an extra half second to let me off instead of clogging the door and forcing me to squeeze past you.

      • rpriske says:

        People with strollers are already covered since they are some of the people that need courtesy seats.

        The bikes, however, I did not consider. Good point.

        (And I am not sure about the last point. I never said anything counter to that.)

        [Wait, cross off everything I just said… I got notification of this post and I thought you were commenting on my initial post, not the person who said always get off at the back. It’s cool. We are in synch.]

      • People with bikes generally are asked to exit through the FRONT door so they can alert the driver. I’ve seen someone exit the door through the rear, shout (not exactly very loud) BIKE, and the driver acknowledged. Mission accomplished.

      • Inigo says:

        Amen Cindy!

  3. Illiberate says:

    i generally agree, except on disabilities. not all are visible. don”t assume someone sitting down on one of the front seats is not using it because they need to because I find it really difficult. sometimes i get hounded into getting up. I shouldnt need to stick something over my face saying what my disability is, or have it vetted by the world when its enough to be on disability pensions and such. My other gripe is men who overcompensate. its not that big. close your legs.

  4. macuser_e7 says:

    Another rule: if you are wearing a backpack or rucksack, take it off when you get on the bus. If you are sitting, put it on your lap; if you are standing put it on the floor between your feet.

  5. Hester Luke says:

    Hi, would you consider having your feet resting on the upstairs stair-rail (behind the stairs, seats facing forward, legs out in front but resting the on the rail) rude?

    • rpriske says:

      I’m not sure why that would be considered rude. You are not interfering with anyone else’s ability to ride in comfort.

      I will say that those bloody awful double-decker buses force you to throw out a whole bunch of these rules due to their poor design.

      Move back? Well, I can’t actually, because I am taller than 5’6″.

      Slide over and sit by the window instead of the aisle? Well, that sloping roof would put the kibosh on that idea.

  6. Lujiax says:

    I think a really good one for students is to take off your backpacks when you’re standing up and hold them at your feet. I’ve been blocked from the aisle/door by over sized backpacks, hit by giant purses, and, while seated, invaded by a backpack 2 inches from my face. Also just taking off your backpacks gives more room for people to fit in or move past you. My bus drivers have to yell this at people at a few times a week and it’s unfair for them to have to remind people of basic etiquette.

  7. Thagar says:

    Here’s another one: don’t rag on people who don’t follow your chivalry code. So I’m at the bus stop and in line to get on the bus, and the guy in front of me turns around, gets out of line and gives me this look and then he’s like “let the lady on first bro” because this (able-bodied) teenage girl is standing behind me. I just ignore him, then when he gets on the bus, he’s like “didn’t your mom ever teach you to let ladies on the bus first? You’ll get better results that way” Seriously what a tool. Then I’m pretty they knew each other anyways since they were talking loudly the whole ride. There is nothing polite about treating women as inferior beings, much less harassing men who don’t give a shit about your attempts to enforce medieval morality them.

    • I have one probably these days. This lady refuses to get on the bus first. I wouldn’t mind, except the bus always stops in front of her, so I wait and see if she gets on, and when I know she doesn’t want to get on first, I have to rush into the bus. The bus driver never gets the hint.

  8. Jamie says:

    I have a few I think;
    1. Always be ready to flag down your bus. An extra outstretched hand might mean the difference between being late and early, do not rely on others to do this for you (rather than huddle up like penguins I knew “someone” would have to make that move. Luckily for me we all made it to work on time this morning)
    2. Just because you see a pretty girl doesn’t give you a right to invade their space and attempt to get “noticed”
    3. (I used to follow the rule of “if I can hear the bus, then my music isn’t loud enough”) Recent reflection has made me think the opposite. I would rather hear the chug of the bus than someone else’s music.
    4. (Like your rule states) Refrain from touching other people, the most awkward thing (not everyone thinks the same, sadly enough) is yours and someone else’s thighs touching for 20 minutes – it’s awkward to shrink away and awkward to leave it there, think of your seat as being a box – no “open legged” sitting if you have to sit next to someone else
    5. Don’t stare are people are you are leaving the top-deck of the bus down the stairwell, it’s just creepy
    6. Let people off of the stairwell whilst waiting to for the bus to stop (if room allows)
    7. Let the bus empty from front to back. There is nothing worse than being stood at the top of the stairwell waiting for a conga of people to make their way down the stairwell, to then have to actually thank someone for letting you get off before them. If you are that desperate to get off, prepare yourself and stand up early.
    8. If you are able-bodied (and height applies), go to the top deck, even if the bus is relatively empty (unless it’s a short ride)
    9. Just because you are starting to sweat from running for the bus, do NOT open the window above you. You will get no benefit and will just make other’s towards the back FREEZING. Undo your coat/jacket, or just take it off ASAP. Even better, look for an open window and sit a few seats behind it. Don’t even think about asking someone else to open a window for you either. Also, you are an absolute bus-hole if you get on the bus in your winter gear and open a window. You ought to feel the burn of a thousand eyes on the back of your head.
    10. If someone gets on the bus with both hands full of bags, give them space too! If you have both of your hands full of bags, occupy as little space as possible (stack the bags, don’t spread them out. Don’t even think about rummaging through your bags, you’ve just bought the crap, how bad must your short-term memory be?)
    11. Although you might have your “favourite” seat on a regular bus, try and situate yourself at least 1 empty seat away from another passenger. Why would you want to be that close to another stranger if you don’t need to be? (my rule number 2). Don’t even think of sitting behind someone who has just sat down either, it’s nothing short of intrusive.
    12. Don’t constantly glance at other people to the side of you, occasionally it’s fine if they seem to have MSD (Make a Scene Disease). Whatever you do, do NOT crane your neck, do NOT spin your head around and “look” at who else is at the back of the bus with huge seeking eyes. If there was someone who wanted to see or speak to you, they would have called your name when you got on the bus.
    13 (This applies to the commute rides) Unless you have traveled to the bus stop with someone, do not attempt to make idle chit chat unless it is incredibly important, or you can fill your whole bus ride with interesting conversation. There is nothing worse than peeling off your headphones for the bog standard “hey, how are you?”, to then either be that “douche” who puts their earphones back in, or that “douche” who makes you take them out for incessant pleasantries. Also, if someone has earphones in, do not ask them any useless questions like “how long will it take to get to XYZ?” “what time is it?” “what are you up to tonight?”. Just because you see someone you know with headphones in, doesn’t mean they want to be interrupted. If they take out their headphones when they see you, they are pleased to see you. Engage.
    14. If you are in a group of more than 1 (i.e you and a friend, you and 2 friends), try not to occupy more than Ax2 seats. Do not have 2 on one side of the bus sitting in 2×2 seats, and a 3rd on the other side of the bus sitting in a x2 seat, so you have to talk across the aisle. Cluster together (this doesn’t apply to all rides, late night/last buses can sometimes accommodate this)

    I feel like I’m an absolute Nazi on buses, but come on, it might be a public vehicle but doesn’t mean we are in a public place and part of the public population. Yes, it might depend on availability of seats, but at least try and travel with some decorum and leave others to a peaceful journey.

    • Jamie says:

      Wow, that was really building up for some time!

    • rpriske says:

      I haven’t even touched on double-decker buses yet (they were introduced here after I wrote this).

      I hate them with a passion, but there are some etiquette rules people should follow. You touched on some of them here. Good job.

      I heartily agree with #2. That doesn’t just apply to bus travel, but to life in general.

      I will add a specific one that people don’t generally realize. If you are over six feet tall, there are a grand total of eight seats on a double-decker bus that you can sit in without either taking up a courtesy seat or risking brain damage from concussion. Those are the forward facing seats right behind the rear door on the bottom level. If you do not need to sit in these seats, consider sitting elsewhere.

  9. Clover says:

    Awesome post, and so much that needs to be said both there and in the comments! I would disagree with the commenter that says those with strollers are people that need the courtesy seats, at least not as a hard and fast rule.

    Yes, they have it really lhard. But I, despite being young, have an obvious disability. The courtesy seats are not a courtesy for me, they’re a necessity. They’re the only aisle-facing seats on my city’s buses. I literally cannot bend my leg enough to sit in the front-facing seats. It’s bad enough that in this college town students will actively race me or literally physically push me aside to get on first and take the courtesy seats, but I often find a lone woman and child taking up 7 seats: one for mom, two for said child to lay down across and sleep, three blocked by the stroller and one for the diaper bag. I’ll also see a couple with 2 kids take up 8 seats or more. These are busy buses that are rarely not jam-packed, so it’s not that they don’t know they’re taking up space others will need, disabled or not.

    They’ll see me get on with a cane on good days,crutches on bad days, and flat out refuse to try to condense the whole setup into fewer seats.

    I can’t ride standing up, and I have had, on more than one occasion, to get back off the bus, wait for the next one and be late to work. The drivers will get involved on occasion with students or other riders won’t give up their seats when I ask (and I always have to ask) but the drivers will not challenge anyone with a child.

    Also, I’ve had situations where there were multiple disabled and older folks sitting up front along with a parent and baby, and even if the stroller rider and baby are only taking up 3 spaces (that’s the minimum: mom or dad holding baby and stroller blocking 2 more seats), the older and disabled riders are more likely to try to move to help.

    I truly feel for anyone having to take a bus with a baby or young kids; it’s got to be a nightmare and they deserve consideration over regular able-bodied riders if at all feasible and any help we can give, but honestly it is possible for such riders to sit in the other seats if needed and I’ve never seen a bus that mentioned reserving those seats for strollers. I fear that the widespread attitude that the front seats are specifically for parents with strollers has brought about the situations I’m encountering daily, where they feel entitled to those seats ahead of seniors and the disabled.

    Don’t think I’m some child-hater; I live kids and I have huge stmpathy for how hard it can be. I’ve met super awesome parents who realize it’s easier on them (not just on the bus but throughout the trip) and the other riders to bring the foldable umbrella strollers that slide under the seats, but the supersize “SUV” strollers are pretty much the norm.

  10. Miss Priss says:

    I don’t know how many times I have been hit in the head by some jerk&their
    huge backpack. Take it off!!
    Recently some stranger decided to lean back on my knees . The bus wasn’t even crowded for him to stand like that.
    After a minute I moved my knees!
    And I would like to add about the queue to get on the bus at the bus stop. It’s upsetting when people just roll up and jump ahead of all the others that were waiting at the stop before them. Elderly, handicap and mothers with children get a pass. The rest have no excuse! It seems people are getting ruder.
    It’s also sickening to see college /high school students glued to theirs seats while elderly are standing(on my morning commute) SMH…. It should be automatic!!!

  11. Amanda says:

    I hate it when someone opens a window near me and doesn’t ask if I mind sitting next to the open window. Example, the man behind me has opened the window, it is raining outside and freezing cold. I am sitting in the draft as I am by the window seat upstairs. I understand I dont own the window next to me, but I would have appreciated the heads up that the man was going to open the window. And I can’t move seats as the bus is jam packed.

  12. Xxx says:

    While leaving the bus, when we form a line to leave, isn’t it a courtesy to leave the person sitting in front of u standing to leave, to just go? I try entering the space with an ‘excuse me’ but they just frown..I don’t know how to get rid of this bunch, I feel so uncomfortable in my bus everyday..

  13. erikonsax says:

    Taking backpacks off does not increase the physical space available for riding within a vehicle. It just redistributes it. Depending on the size of the backpack, taking it off or putting it on involves occupying more space than just leaving it where it is. Others’ faces and body parts can meet very hard with blows from the motion of swiping, swinging hands, elbows, etc. during the doffing/donning backpack exercise. If multiple bags (a backpack AND another bag or bags) are involved, it also creates an unseen tripping hazard by resting large items on the floor, below the visibility of unsuspecting other riders. Additionally, by reducing the floor space, tall riders become destabilized on rocking train cars or buses, increasing the occurrence of Rule #1 violations. Just saying…

    • rpriske says:

      Taking off backpacks is not about creating space, it is about control. All too often people will move with a pack on in a way that endangers the well-being of those around them, because they are not aware of the consequences of their actions.

  14. Inigo says:

    Suprised there is not an ‘Exit to the rear of the bus’ stint on this list! (NYC busses)

    • rpriske says:

      That used to be a thing here (Ottawa), but once we started getting articulated buses it was no longer practical. Leaving by the closest door makes the most sense, because people get on at every door as well.

  15. JNP says:

    It has been quite a long time since you’ve posted this, but I have a question: Where do you look when sitting directly across from someone, as you might on those seats which run parallel to the length of the bus? Do you look at the person?

    • rpriske says:

      IMO, you obviously can’t NOT look at someone sitting directly across from you, but there is a big difference between ‘looking’ and ‘staring’.

  16. Alex says:

    Don’t close windows you see people have opened …

  17. Paige Dygert says:

    Don’t force women/girls you do not know to engage in conversations, don’t touch them, don’t make comments about them, don’t grope them, don’t hump them and don’t masturbate on the bus.

  18. Sandi Harrisingh says:

    Loved all those rules but the first rule should have been when waiting at the bus stop don’t push or place yourself In front of the person already waiting for the bus. In the UK people generally cue but what I’ve noticed in the 6 months of catching public transport especially in London is that certain individuals think they have the devine right to come and stand in your immediate space and totally disregard that your there waiting for a bus too. I totally think this is rude and ignorant of certain people and had to stand my ground and say something to them for blantantly pushing infront of me as though I’m invisible.

  19. Steve says:

    should people who get on bus that says “standing room only” be given the courtesy of someone giving up the seat for them. In this case an able bodies mother with a toddler. I think they should wait for the next bus that has seats.

    • rpriske says:

      You are asking if people should give up the seats that are specifically set aside, to the people they are specifically set aside FOR? The answer is yes. Move. Telling someone to ‘wait for the next bus that has seats’ is ridiculous. If you don’t want to have to move, don’t sit in the courtesy seats in the first place.

      • Steve says:

        Understood, i see I wasnt clear, but I was not referring to one in a ‘courtesy seat’. Though when busses come every six minutes (which i also didnt include) it doesnt make sense that anyone should stand that was already sitting. they should wait for next bus IMO.

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