Rusty’s Primer on Bus Etiquette (or How to Avoid Being a Bus-hole)

February 1, 2010

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 they 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.