Morning commutes on public transit can be a challenge. If you live in Vancouver and rely on Skytrain, Canada Line or the bus to get you where you want to go, I don’t need to say any more. To others, let’s simply say sometimes it sucks. And it really sucks when you get to the bus stop on time only to have three buses pass you by, “SORRY BUS FULL” scrolling across the digital display.
Last week, I joined a lineup of twenty or so other folks who’d obviously been waiting a while for a bus to pick them up. When a near-full bus pulled up, I was certain that being near the end of the line, I wouldn’t make it on. But you know what? The driver just kept prompting everyone to move back until he’d loaded us all. I was one of the last to get on, standing in the space immediately to his right, in front of the coinbox—talk about having a driver’s eye view!—and thanked him profusely. At the next stop another long line of folks were waiting. There was really no way he could fit all of them on as only three people got off the bus. But you know what he did? He stood up to face the crowd and said “Let’s fill up the space those people left. I want to get some of these people on the bus.” He opened the door and pointed to the woman at the top of the line and said “I’m going to take you, because you look so disappointed, and you, and you.” He apologized to the rest for not being able to take them and continued on. He did that at every stop. His actions were all the more heroic that day because it was about -5°C out, not exactly ideal stand-and-wait weather for us fair-weather-acclimatized Vancouverite. And that got me thinking about how much more pleasant that ride was because the driver was kind and the passengers were grateful. If only it were always so. What if we were all superheroes on public transit?
Here are a few small ways you can be a hero too:
- Take off your backpack. I cannot stress this enough. Take. Off. Your. Backpack. When you take off your backpack you create space for more people. Also, when you lean back to let someone pass, you aren’t giving a seated passenger a face full of backpack. This goes for big courier and tote bags, too—get them off your shoulder and into your hands so you can hold them down low and control where they’re going. If there’s one thing that I hope my children will remember as they go off into the world without me, it’s to take off their backpacks when they get on the bus.
- Move to the back of the bus. Yes, you. Not everyone but You know that feeling when you’re waiting on the sidewalk with ten other people and only the first two get on the bus because you can clearly see people in the middle of the bus are not taking up the empty space at the back. Why oh why do people think they shouldn’t stand in the back part of the bus? Those two steps up really aren’t that daunting. Trust me. I’ve even ridden on them. Do your part to get your fellow commuters on the bus and move. back.
- Offer your seat to someone who really needs it. The elderly. The pregnant. The wounded. The tiny. If you can stand firmly on your own two feet, backpack in hand, then get up and offer your seat. I feel like this is not something people need to be told. And yet. How many times have I seen able-bodied individuals (in the courtesy seats at the front, no less!) so engrossed in reading the device in their hands that they can’t spare a glance up to see the pregnant belly looming over them or the frail woman with a resigned look on her face white-knuckling the cane in her hand as she tries to brace herself? Too many to count. If you sense someone is too shy to ask for a seat, ask on their behalf (politely, I might add).
- Don’t engage in unnecessary jostling. Don’t assume that no one in front of you is going to get off the bus. I’m sure you’re familiar with this scenario—your stop is coming up and you want to be ready to get off quickly. But you realize there’s no point in moving yet since there are people in front of the door. In front of you. But someone behind you figures they’ve got to jostle their way to the door. Don’t be that person. Hold on. Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop. You can bet that some of those people ahead of you are doing the same thing. When the bus stops and the doors open, you can go with the flow.
- Use your voice. If you see someone struggling to get the back door open and the bus is about to move, call out to the driver to hold on. Sometimes people are too focused on the task at hand and forget to use their voice, or they’re just too quiet. Guilty as charged. But I sure am grateful for those times that someone had the presence of mind to holler out “hold on!” for me.
- Let someone know if they dropped something. There’s nothing worse than getting off the bus and realizing you dropped a glove. Or left your umbrella on the floor. Heck, once I was so distracted by my then preschool-aged son that I almost got off the bus without a shopping bag of freshly snagged sample sale finds. Luckily for me, someone noticed and called out to me.
- Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you ought to spend your entire ride with a manic grin on your face. But if someone makes eye contact, give them a smile. You might get one in return! You might even engage in some pleasant conversation. Not only that, a research study1 published in 2003 found that people received more help when they smiled. Keep that in mind when you ask someone if they’ll remove their backpack to make room or if they’ll offer their seat because your pregnant feet just can’t take anymore.
- Thank your driver. Thank them when they reopen the door for you because they spotted you in the mirror before they drove off. Thank them when they squeeze you on no matter how full the bus is. Thank them on your way out just for doing the driving!
What are you superhero moves on public transit?
¹Gueguen, N., & De Gail, M.-A. (2003). The effect of smiling on helping behavior: Smiling and Good Samaritan behavior. Communication Reports, 16(2), 133–140.