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20 things a good NYC subway commuter should know

Riding the subway has a lot of unspoken rules—these are the most important

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Susan Sermoneta
By Nick Leftley |
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Have you ever noticed how unhappy most people look when riding the NYC subway? Guess what: A lot of that anger is due to the number of people who have no idea how they’re supposed to act down there. It’s not surprising; there are dozens of ways to potentially irritate your fellow riders, from standing in the wrong place to a basic lack of consideration to wearing no pants on the wrong day. So instead of praying for an empty NYC subway, just act better and, in doing so, hope you inspire others to do the same. Here’s our 20-point guide to being a better commuter.
1. Move down the platform.
That staircase/escalator/elevator spat you out on this spot, huh? Yep, you and 1,000 other people. Help ease the congestion by walking further down the platform. It's okay, the train goes the whole length of it (well, except the G train, but that's another story entirely), and honestly, you're more likely to get a seat that way.

2. Let other people off before you try to get on. 
We're living in a society here! But seriously, this one's just common sense.

3. Don't block the doors.
Hey, asshole, all 500 people on this train want to go home. If your friend is too drunk to run for this train, stop holding the doors open, get off and wait for the next one. No one is going to care if you hurt yourself when some brave soul steps forward and shoves you off the train. 

4. Stand on the right, walk on the left.
Instead of clogging up that escalator, move to the right and stand there, and let those in a hurry rush past you on the left. Hooray! You just made the lives of dozens of people that much easier! Don't you feel good about yourself?

5. Help people with strollers.
The previous point only actually applies in about 2 percent of stations, of course, so for the love of God, when you see someone struggling to get their double buggy and three extra kids plus groceries up two flights of stairs, lend them a hand.
6. Don't eat stinky takeout.
A little consideration, please? That Big Mac might smell great to you at 7am, but the rest of us are trying not to barf.

7. Don't play music without headphones.
Never. Never. NEVER!! If you do this, then you are the worst person in the world. Contrary to what you might think, we are not all sitting there admiring your DJ skills. We just think you're a dick. The same applies to games, videos or anything else: If you want to shut your kid up by letting them play Candy Crush, turn the volume off first.

8. Move to the middle of the car.
If you're traveling more than a few stops, move to the interior of the subway car. This means other people can actually get in and out and has the bonus effect of making your ride more comfy in the airier interiors. It's a win-win!

9. Stand up for the elderly, pregnant and disabled.
You don't need to be a martyr about it, and no one will thank you for rolling your eyes and tutting at the less chivalrous folk who didn't offer up their seat, but it's the right thing to do, so do it graciously. Virtue is its own reward!

10. Don't lean your whole body on the pole.
Other people need to hold onto it, and you're not in Showgirls.
11. Be careful with that wet umbrella.
Gravity and water still act the same on the subway, so don’t clutch that dripping umbrella in the same hand that’s gripping the bar above some other poor commuter’s head.

12. Watch that fabulous mane.
If you have long hair, don’t toss it around without looking behind you. Yes, your Brazilian blow-out looks fabulous, but we still don't want it whipping around our mouths.

13. Never take up a seat with your bag.
Has your bag just worked a 10-hour shift? Does it desperately need to rest its weary legs? No, because it's a bag. Put it on your lap, and let someone else sit down.

14. Remember your “inside voice.”
If you’re talking, try and do it at a respectful volume. We don’t all need to know about how Kayla totally made out with Neal, and "oh, my God, did you see what Chantel was wearing?" and "like, Kevin totally puked, because he had like eight Jägerbombs," and you’re so tired, and, like, this is your fifth pumpkin spice latte this week, but really they’re so good, and you can’t help it and stuff. Naturally, the inside voice goes quadruple for your kids.

15. Respect boundaries.
If there’s just a teeny tiny opening between two people on the bench, don’t try to squeeze into it and then nonchalantly pretend like you're not basically sitting on their laps.
16. Don’t be a seat-hog.
Related to the previous rule, don’t take up more than one space on the bench. Scoot over so you’re sitting close to the next person (not that close, creepy Romeo), and open up more room for another person to sit down. They won’t acknowledge it as such, but inside, they’ll love you for it.

17. Let people see the map.
If you're sitting in front of the subway map, don’t complain or refuse to move when people try to look at it. We know, we know, it’s annoying, especially since the MTA refuses to make looking at the map any easier, but it’s the right thing to do.

18. Don’t make eye contact.
Not much, anyway. It’s only really acceptable when the train driver makes an irate comment over the intercom—then you can share a knowingly raised eyebrow or two with the person opposite you.

19. Mind that backpack.
You are basically taking up the space of two people, one of whom whacks a stranger in the chest, back or face every time you twist round to see if this is your stop yet.

20. Don’t talk to strangers.
All anyone wants to do on the subway is forget they’re on the subway. Some people read, some play games, some doze, some let their body stare aimlessly at the floor while their mind frolics in idyllic green pastures with Benedict Cumberbatch or Jessica Rabbit or a talking pony or something. The point is that talking to them is going to drag them back to painful, rattling, fluorescent reality, and they are not going to be happy about it. Just let them be, and keep your (probably crazy) thoughts to yourself.
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