Brian Lehrer Show's Unspoken Rules of Subway Etiquette

All this month on the Brian Lehrer Show, we are looking at the unspoken rules of etiquette that, if followed, would make commuting in NYC pleasant - or at least more bearable.

Last week New York subway riders spoke out about what drives them crazy about traveling underground. Over 200 comments were posted on our website. The BL Show's Maureen Sullivan has sifted through the submissions and reduced them to a simple mantra:

‘Groom, but not on the subway, make room and make way!’

Now, if we can get people to repeat this over and over in their heads as they ride the subway, perhaps we'll all enjoy a more pleasant commuting experience.

More specifics about the rules we've developed below...

This picture was brought to our attention Priya George, friend of the show, who happened to be visiting the NYC transit museum the day we did our segment on subway etiquette

This picture was brought to our attention by Priya George, friend of the show, who happened to be visiting the NYC transit museum the day we did our segment on subway etiquette

And here are some of the most common rules that our listeners’ suggested to put this mantra into practice:


• Body odor is NOT appealing – bathe please! And yes, it’s nice to look your best but we don’t want to see what you need to do to get there, so….
• Absolutely no grooming on the subway. High on the disgust-factor list are:
• Nail clipping (there’s even one report of TOE-nail clipping)
• Nail polishing
• Make-up application
• Teeth flossing

• Spread eagle legs that take up more than one seat – you’re causing people to go insane! (gentlemen, it seems you’re the main culprits)
• Pole-leaners – where’s your backbone, you slouchers?
• Those of you who don’t remove your backpacks in a crowded subway – do you know how unpopular you are?
• When carrying shopping bags, a satchel, etc., put them on the floor, not in the seat beside you.
• No full-fold paper reading during rush hour
• Whose seat is it anyway? If a seat opens up directly in front of you, this means you have first dibs on that seat. You have the right to sit there yourself or give it to someone else. No one should sneak in without your permission.


• Push in to the middle of the carriage – do not block the doorways.
• Wait for people to get off before you get on please.
• Don’t cut people off who have been waiting on the platform before you.
• Don't stand in the stairwell leading down to the subway to talk on your cellphone.
• Don't stop once you reach the top of the subway stairs to look around.
• Don’t block the turnstiles while digging for your metro card.
• Keep moving in the subway station. Don’t dawdle at the top of stairs if you’re lost and don’t stop to check your voice mail to the detriment of everyone behind you.

• Give up your seat to pregnant ladies, the elderly and the disabled. Pretending to be asleep fools noone!
• The old rule for PDAs still stand – get a room!
• No spitting
• Coughing or sneezing? Use a hankie!
• Vulgar language is not acceptable
• Headphones are for a reason – dial it down.
• Eating smelly food and drinking hot drinks on the subway – not cool.
• Parenting your kids at the top of your voice – they’re not that cute to the rest of us.
• Apologize or say ‘excuse’ me when you smack someone with a bag, bump them or step on their feet. A kind acknowledgement of those around you, a small apology and a smile will go a long way.
• And a soft-hearted word from one harried veteran to another about naive and clueless non-natives who clog the subways: “Do not snort at out-of-towners or people doing something that bothers you: if you have a problem just tell them or if you do, don't wait until you are about to get off the train - that is lame.”


Some positive experiences listeners shared:
• I see people offer up seats all the time (A line uptown). just last nite a guy got up so I could sit since I was wearing high heels.
• As a white-haired old lady (76) in perfectly good health, I get a bit annoyed when people offer me their seat, ALTHOUGH I ADMIRE THEIR GOOD MANNERS AND SAY NO THANK YOU WITH A BIG SMILE.
• I have a six month-old baby, and I am continually amazed at how many people go out of their way to help me by giving me a seat in the subway or carrying my stroller for me. One guy was coming UP the stairs to the street and saw me preparing to come down into the 103rd street station. He turned around, carried my stroller back down, and even swiped his own card to get me through the turnstile and down the stairs to the platform. When I was pregnant, people regularly gave up their seats to me. To all of you out there who do things like this, THANK YOU!