Public transport etiquette: 18 ways you’re doing it wrong

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

Tianna Nadalin

Posted October 14, 2022

From loud conversations to leaning on the poles, these are the most annoying public transport etiquette rules you may not know you're breaking. 

Public transport usage hasn't quite returned to pre-pandemic levels of crowding, but that doesn't mean the rules of etiquette no longer apply.

For many of us, our daily commute is less congested - and far more enjoyable - than the sardine-tin days of yore, but the pandemic hangover hasn't quite extinguished all of the obnoxious, oblivious, or blatantly annoying behaviours that have long been exhibited on public transport.

For those who find backpack-wielders, pole-hoggers and loud-phone-talkers as grating as fingernails down a chalkboard, this one’s for you. These are the unwritten rules of commuting you need to know.

Before your next journey on public transport, check out the arevo app which integrates Victoria’s public transport networks, giving a range of travel options based on personal preference.

People packing into a tram with doors about to close.

Not moving down the aisles makes it harder for people to board the train/tram/bus.

The 18 cardinal sins of commuting

Talking loudy on your mobile phone

If your phone rings or you need to make an urgent call, consider those around you and how interested they are in what you have to say. Most of us 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, keep it short, sweet and, above all, quiet. 

Leaning on the poles 

Leisurely leaning against the support poles is fine if the train, tram, or bus is empty, but not when you're catching peak-hour PT that's standing-room-only. Allow your fellow commuters something to hold on to if the vehicle hits a rough patch or has to brake suddenly. Also, if you’re a tall person who can reach the overhead bars but you’re using the pole or seat rail, swap with that awkwardly teetering shorter person. 

Wearing your backpack or handbag 

It’s uncomfortable enough being packed in on a peak-hour train without someone’s backpack jabbing you in the ribs, face, or back. If you're toting an oversize handbag, hold it in front of you or put it on the floor. If you don’t want to put your Armani arm candy on the ground – don’t bring it. Sitting down? Your handbag/backpack belongs on your lap, not in the aisle or the seat next to you.

Hitting the volume without headphones

Public transport is not a dance club. Nobody wants to hear the oontz-oontz of your pop music crackling from your phone speakers, nor do they care about whatever bombshell was dropped on last night’s Love Island. If you want to listen to music or catch up on the latest TV episode on your commute, by all means feel free to do so - with your headphones in. 

Not giving up your seat

Some transport sins are unforgivable and this one is up there with one of the worst. If you're sitting in the priority area and someone who needs it more than you boards, stand up and let them take it. You don't need to make a big deal about it. Pretending you’re too busy on your phone to notice the elderly, pregnant, or disabled person is no excuse.

Hanging by the doors

Moving down the aisles instead of crowding near the doors will maximise standing room. You don't need to wait for the driver to announce this; it's just common sense.

Eating on the train

We get it, sometimes you just need that little pre or post-work pick-me-up, especially if you've got a long commute ahead of you. If you're hungry, and you absolutely can't wait until you get home, eat your food on the platform while you're waiting for the train to arrive (or catch the next one). Because there's nothing nice about being in a confined space with someone who's eating tinned tuna. 

Over-the-top personal hygiene, or not enough

Use deodorant but don’t reek of perfume/cologne. People have allergies, so save your Lynx Africa for the weekend.

Not wearing a mask

You may not be required to wear them on public transport anymore but, if you're feeling a bit sniffly, it is strongly recommended that you do. If people can't  physically distance, they probably don't want front-row seats to your symphony of snorts.

Using public transport 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. 

Being impatient to get on or off the train

During peak-hour we all need to disembark the same way we do when we’re leaving an aeroplane – one at a time. This goes for those people who try to board while a stampede of people is trying to alight. The driver knows you're there and isn't going anywhere immediately. Step aside and let people exit the vehicle before squeezing on. This also includes shoving along the aisles before the vehicle has arrived at the station. 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.

People tapping off at Southern Cross train station in Melbourne

Have your myki ready to touch off at the barrier.

Giving your feet their own seats

As well as potentially risking a $277 fine, putting your feet on the seat is, simply, rude and unecessary. Your feet can rest on the floor like everybody else’s.

Leaving your leftovers behind 

Again, unless you want to risk scoring a $277 fine for littering, take your rubbish with you. Nobody needs an apple core or sticky soft drink bottle rolling around the carriage all day.

Not being quiet on the V/Line 'quiet carriage'

It's called the quiet carriage for a reason. If you want to talk on the phone or have loud conversations with fellow passengers, feel free to do so in any of the other carriages. Do everyone a favour and switch your phone to airplane mode.  

Standing on the tram steps

Nobody likes delays, especially when they're because people keep standing on the tram steps. The tram can’t move unless the opening-side steps are vacant, so move down the aisle. If you can't fit, wait for the next one. 

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.

Reaching for your Myki at the ticket barrier 

Have your Myki ready to go so that you don't create a traffic jam at the barriers. If it doesn't work the first time, don't stand there trying it another 15 times, cut your losses and go to an attendant - they're there to help.

Stopping in front of the barriers

If you're new to public transport or you're using a different station from your normal, don't stand directly in front of the barriers while you figure out which platform you need to go to. Stand aside 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 parents with prams; students giving up their seats for elderly, pregnant, or disabled people; the good Samaritans who return left-behind wallets; and the perfect strangers who help tourists and transport newbies figure out where they’re going – we salute you. 

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