Public transport etiquette: 28 ways you’re doing it wrong

Packed train with people trying to get in before the door closes.

Tianna Nadalin

Posted October 30, 2019

These are the most annoying public transport etiquette rules you’re probably breaking.

Forget bungee jumping and parkour. There’s a new extreme sport in Victoria and it’s one that many of us participate in every day: Catching Public Transport. 

Increasingly crowded trains and trams, coupled with waning common sense and basic courtesy, means catching public transport has become an involuntary game of Gladiator-meets-Survivor where passengers exhibit their most irritating behaviours in an attempt to psych out fellow commuters. 

In true reality TV style, patrons eschew the unwritten rules of commuting, instead employing a mix of space invasion and psychological warfare to battle it out for the title of most obnoxious, oblivious or blatantly annoying traveller. 

Given the prevalence of poor public transport decorum, it comes as little surprise that the number of etiquette complaints received by Metro Trains has trebled since 2017.

So, for those who find backpack wielders, pole huggers and loud phone talkers as grating as fingernails down a chalkboard, this one’s for you.

The 28 cardinal sins of commuting - commit at your own risk 

1. Talking on your mobile phone at the top of your voice 

We don’t care how your Tinder date went or how annoying, lazy or narcissistic your boss is. If you must make or take a phone call, try to keep it short, sweet and, above all, hushed. 

2. Leaning on the poles 

Give your fellow commuters something to hold on to.

3. Hogging the rails

If you’re a tall person who can reach the overhead bars but you’re using the pole or rail, swap with that awkwardly teetering shorter person. 

4. Wearing your backpack 

For the love of gouda, take it off. It’s uncomfortable enough being squashed on a peak-hour train, without someone’s backpack jabbing you in the ribs/face/back.  

5. Ditto handbags

Hold them in front of you or put them on the floor. And if you don’t want to put your Armani arm candy on the ground – don’t bring it. Sitting down? Your handbag belongs on your lap, not the seat next to you.

6. Hitting the volume without headphones

Nobody wants to hear the oontz-oontz of your crappy pop music crackling from your crappy phone speakers, nor do they care about whatever bombshell was dropped on last night’s Love Island

7. Not giving up your seat

Pretending you’re too busy on your phone to notice that elderly, pregnant or disabled person who needs it is no excuse.

8. Manspreading

It’s a train/tram/bus, not your couch. 

9. Hanging by the doors

Moving down the aisles instead of crowding near the doors will maximise standing room. Simple.

10. Eating on the train

Especially hot, smelly or pungent foods. 

11. Over-the-top personal hygiene, or not enough

Use deodorant but don’t reek of perfume/cologne/Lynx. People have allergies. And, if you're feeling a bit sniffly, bring some tissues. We didn't ask for free tickets to your symphony of snorts concert.

12. Not taking the window seat

Don’t sit on the aisle and make people try to climb over you. Only going one stop? You probably don’t need the seat. 

13. Shoving your way onto, off or along the aisles on public transport

This is a surefire way to aggravate fellow travellers.

14. Trying to hold the doors open

This will just result in an angry announcement from the train, tram or bus driver.

15. Using the bus/train/tram like it’s your bathroom

We can't believe we need to say this but, please, no clipping your toenails on public transport (or, in public, just generally). And, yes, this happens. 

16. Pushing off the train like you’re the only one with somewhere to be 

During peak hour we all need to disembark the same way we do when we’re leaving an aeroplane – one at a time.

17. Giving your feet their own seats.

They can rest on the floor like everybody else’s.

18. Leaving your leftovers behind 

Take your rubbish with you. Nobody needs a smelly apple core rolling around the carriage all day.

19. Holding your doorway spot when the doors open

Step off for a few seconds to let others off, then get back in.

20. Noising it up in the V/Line quiet carriage

It's called the quiet carriage for a reason.

People packing into a tram with doors about to close.

Cardinal sins of commuting #9: Not moving down the aisles.

21. Trying to reach the door on a packed and still-moving train/tram/bus

It doesn’t matter how many times you say “excuse me”, there’s nowhere for people to move. Even if yours is the next stop, be patient and move when the doors open.

22. Sitting on the floor

Why, though?

23. Standing on the tram steps

It can’t move unless the opening-side steps are vacant. 

24. Not taking the spare seat

If there’s an empty seat within coo-ee, take it. If you don't sit, you’re adding to the congestion.

25. Trying to board while a stampede of people is trying to get off 

The bus/train/tram isn't going anywhere. Step aside and let people off before squeezing on.

26. Standing in the middle of the escalator step 

Walk right, stand left. Don't be that person who holds everybody up.

27. Reaching for your myki at the ticket barrier 

Have it ready to keep the flow going. And if it doesn't work the first time don't stand there trying it another 15 times, go to an attendant.

28. Stopping directly in front of the barriers when entering the station while you figure out where you need to go

Take a few steps forward or stand to the side so you don’t add to the pedestrian chaos.


While the daily commute is filled with frustrating moments, there are plenty of heart-warming ones, too. 

To the people helping mums with prams get off the tram, students giving up their seats for elderly/pregnant/disabled people, the good Samaritan who chased a bloke at Richmond Station off the train because his wallet had fallen out of his pocket, or the perfect strangers who help tourists and transport newbies figure out where they’re going – we salute you. 

What do you love/loathe about your commute? Take our survey and have your say on Victoria’s rail network.