Principles for Riding a Shared Vehicle [1]

How to get everyone where they’re going

Intro:
Many public transportation industries, from airlines to trains to buses to taxies/ride shares/Ubers/lyfts/etc. are in dire need of the reform of their set of passenger expectations. If someone is behaving inappropriately in a shared vehicle, it is frequently because they have not been educated in the Principles for Riding a Shared Vehicle.[2]

This article quotes no sources for facts and figures because no sources were consulting in the writing of this article (however, there is one link). There is no scientific research or study to back up any of what I am saying. The closest thing would be David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College, “This is Water.”

Principle:
If you are lone and unencumbered, situate yourself as far from the door as possible, seating only if necessary to get further from the door. The spirit of the rule is that you’re trying to make it as easy as possible for groups [3] and/or encumbered [4] folks to adjust their positions as possible.

Examples:

  • You’re getting into an empty shared car (e.g. lyft line). Get in the front seat. That way, people for whom it is difficult can enter more easily, and people in groups can stay together.
  • You’re in a bus and there is a seat open near the front. Don’t take it! Check if there are seats or places to stand near the back. Feel free to take a seat because it gets you out of the way.
  • You’re getting onto an airplane. Shit, looks like you have an assigned seat. But, trade your seat with those around you who would like to sit near their loved ones.

Principle:
If you are aware of common trauma or fears that may excite emotions in your fellow passengers, act in such a way (to the best of your abilities) to prevent excitement of those emotions. In order for us to get where we’re going, we have to be real calm.

Examples:

  • You are a large person and there are two seats open on a bus — one next to another large person, the other next to a smaller person. You sit down next to the other large man. [5]
  • You are a person with an obvious illness on a bus. You cover your face with a mask. You do not wipe your hands on people. You try to sit as far away from others as possible. [6]
  • You are a person who others might associate with violence. E.g. military personnel, Timothy-McVeigh-looking-mother-fucker, large person with many tattoos. You try to sit as far away from those who might be frightened by you. [7]
  • You see a passengerless Uber/Lyft/etc. pull up. Get in the front seat. It will make the driver more comfortable. Most non-taxi cars do not have a shield, and many drivers (especially female drivers) are assaulted on a regular basis.
  • You see a taxi pull up. Do not sit behind the driver if you can sit on the other side. Many drivers hate this — it feels bad to have someone sit directly behind you.
  • You get into a shared car and you are forced to sit directly next to someone. Be aware of whether they would like to talk or not before initiating conversation. Read body language. Look to see if they’re wearing headphones or looking at a book or phone. Do not interact with them if they are signaling that they do no want to be interacted with.

Principle:
If another passenger acts in a way that is inconsistent with these principles, do not assume it is because of some personal failing. Educate them in the principles.

Examples:

  • A man on a train in Vancouver was freaking out and some sweet old lady held his hand (see Here)
  • If people are not moving into a bus or train to fill it, speak to them individually, rather than as a group. Ask them to kindly fill in so that you can have a place to stand.
  • If a passenger runs for the door of a Bart/Bus/etc. at the last moment, holding it up, be kind to them. Perhaps there is a good reason that they are in a rush and, if there is, you might not want to find out about it.

Conclusion:

Why? What’s the point? Obviously this essay isn’t about riding in vehicles. What it’s about is attentiveness to the needs of others, and the deeper principles that allow us to peacefully and harmoniously co-exist.

May you ride in love and peace.


Footnotes/Commentary:

[1] A shared vehicle here is defined as a vehicle in which two or more groups of people (where a group of people can be one person) who don’t mutually know each other can ride. Riding in a group of friends or mutual friends doesn’t count, because hopefully you can work things out (you’re friends). I suppose these rules might apply to riding in a group of enemies, or acquaintances, but in those situations special rules might apply. Note that having a driver makes the vehicle shared. Some of you might say “of course it does,” but some of you might not, which is why I bolded that line.

[2] Alternatively, they may not be interested in the presumably shared goal: getting everyone where they are going safely and quickly. E.g. a passenger may want to be in the shared vehicle for reasons of warmth, safety, or entertainment. If a passenger is using the shared vehicle for reasons other than what the vehicle is intended for, they should be allowed to proceed unmolested. Unfortunately, our public services do not always accomplish their goals (e.g. shelters, mental health facilities, etc.), and in the spirit of allowing everyone to make do we should still treat these folks with dignity and respect.

Now you might be asking “well, what if everyone on the bus is just hanging out, not going anywhere — what if the bus is always full!?.” Then talk to people. In your community. Figure out who the leaders are. Tell them to build better public facilities. Give them money and support. Rally money and support. Help those people, because those people are not sleeping on that train because they’ve got somewhere else to go and just don’t want to go there. They are not sleeping on that train because there’s a warm bed for them but they’re like “fuck it! I’m going to sleep on the BART tonight.” We must not let our empathy die, but we must accommodate it lest it overwhelm us — by helping our brothers and sisters.

[3] “Groups” is used to refer to any group of more than one person. Throughout this essay, the goal is not to give additional privilege to the group, except as a secondary effect. E.g. if a large family with children gets onto a bus, it should not be expected to separate, and certainly should into be expected to separate caregivers from care-receivers (e.g. parents & children), unless it severely inhibits the other passengers. The primary goal of these rules is to allow the vehicle to proceed to its destination in the safest and swiftest fashion. In short: they get a small bonus for being in a group, life isn’t fair.

[4] “Encumbered” is used throughout this essay to refer to anyone who self-identifies as having difficulty moving. You might have difficulty moving because you are feeble, you might have difficulty moving because you are carrying shit, you might have difficulty moving because you’re lazy as fuck (which, some people are just lazy because they want to be, but some people are lazy because their blood sugar’s all fucked up, or because they’re depressed, and there aren’t really that many people who are lazy cuz they want to be, so we should just be nice to them all). The point is that if you self-identify as having difficulty moving, you should not be required to bear the humiliating investigation of the other members of the shared vehicle. I suppose in some rare circumstance in which everyone pretended to be low-energy or feeble or whatever you’d need to draw straws, but this isn’t realistic. The deeper point is that you should not be required to identify the source of your lack of mobility, because it may be embarassing.

[5] This section is difficult to write, because it doesn’t feel fair. Why should a large person have to sit next to another large person? Empathy. We are all aware of the facts relating to violence against women, perpetrated by men. Women are aware of those facts. These facts can make them scared. The fact of being smaller than someone can also inspire fear, regardless of gender. I feel fear when I’m around many men who are much larger than me.

But why empathy? Because empathy is the key, here. These are principles. They are not rules or laws. Much of this is fungible, given your intuition. Maybe some feeble old guy gets on the bus but wants to go to the back, because his sacrifice makes him feel young. Maybe some small women likes it when big men sit next to her. The point is that you don’t know these people, and you don’t necessarily know how to read them, and your own prejudices/projections/hallucinations can get in the way. The point is you’re on fucking public. transportation. meaning you are trying to get somewhere, as your primary goal. Now, if you’re empathetic — if you can read people (and it’s easy to know if you can — ask the people you know), maybe you don’t have to follow these rules so closely. If you can genuinely feel it out then these principles don’t really apply. You’ll know if you crossed a boundary, and if you find out that you have you may want to re-assess your level of empathy.

[6] This is difficult. You’re sick already, and you have to do extra stuff? Yes. The reason is that you are the only one in control of whether these other people feel uncomfortable, or feel fear. Fear is very bad in cramped spaces full of people. This is the cost of riding public transportation, which is one of the many many reasons why we need public policy to support the ill, regardless of their social/political standing.

[7] This gets into the really tough part where we need to change our behaviors to reflect the attitudes of others which might not be reasonable. E.g. if you are a person of color, and you’re in a racist city, and it looks like white people around you on the bus are uncomfortable, you may not decide to move or cower in the corner. All the power to you. I’m not telling you to do anything. Those people are stupid. However, you should at least be aware of the attitudes of people around you. Which sucks for you. Things shouldn’t be that way — no one should have to have that level of sensitivity to the attitudes of the people around them. That level of sensitivity isn’t good for a person. Especially when the reason is so backwards.

Really, failures with respect to fear are failures of education. People who are frightened by groups which are not intrinsically, factually violent do not understand the world as it actually is. Which is something that can hopefully be corrected, and is the responsibility of their communities to correct. Sometimes entire communities fall into this dearth w/r/t education, in which case it is the responsibility of neighboring communities to intervene. This means that it’s not a person of color’s responsibility to educate a racist white person, and it’s not a gay person’s responsibility to educate a straight man.