To kick off National Etiquette Week here at SFist, we're going to tackle a topic which we're sure is close to many of your hearts: The unspoken rules for entering, exiting, and riding Muni and BART, which many a visitor and newly arrived citizen of our fair city do not always understand.
We'll begin with a simple rule of etiquette that far too many of you do not follow, and which is essential to keeping the peace and making both Muni and BART entry pleasant for everyone:
Stay to the Right on Escalators and Stairs
Just do it, for god's sake. It's a rule that is ingrained in the minds of every New Yorker and former New Yorker, because there is just no other way to navigate an ancient subway system with warrens of narrow staircases that, every five minutes, fill up with a thousand people going both directions. You stay to the right on stairs, just like you were a car and this were a street, so that faster people can pass you on the left, and so that people heading the opposite direction don't have to weave around you. Two columns of traffic, two directions. It's really very simple. As for escalators, not moving to the right as you ride up or down them is just plain unforgivable unless you are a tourist just arriving from the airport. In the cases of tourists, it is perfectly acceptable for the San Franciscan in the know to stop behind said tourist's enormous piece of luggage and say, kindly, "Sir/Madam, would you mind moving your suitcase over so that we commuters in a hurry may pass on the left? Thank you kindly." In the case of visitors from the East Bay, or people who clearly live here but are willfully ignorant of this rule, it is perfectly acceptable to take a sterner tone, or passive-aggressively hover too close to their backs until they voluntarily step aside.
Step In To the Middle of the Car, or the Back of the Bus at Rush Hour
This goes for both Muni and BART, though the most egregious violators of this rule tend to be on Muni, where everyone seems to fear they will be trapped and the robot doors will close on them unless they stay within three feet of said doors. We understand that short people really love to hold the poles closest to the door, and we sympathize with their plight. However, when too many people have boarded a car and clung for dear life to the closest pole, when there are in fact other poles at the center of the car where no one is standing, it offends and angers those of us trying to get on the train at rush hour, not knowing when the next L or T or might arrive. It is especially angry-making when everyone looks really put out by the crowding of the train, and blames you, the late-arriver, for suggesting that you might fit aboard the car if several people would step further in. This is public transportation, people. If you don't like being crowded, you should a) buy a bike, b) hire a limo, or c) move to a place where you don't live in such proximity to so many people.
As for busses, moving to the back can be difficult, we know, and it is harder to walk through a crowded bus, especially once it starts moving. But nevertheless, review the above alternative options, and consider not relying on bus travel if you can not abide by the rule of moving to the rear at rush hour or whenever the bus is crowded. The driver shouldn't have to tell you twice. And if you find it hard to get to the door in time to off-board before the driver starts moving, it is perfectly acceptable to scream "Getting off!" at the top of your lungs to prevent the bus from moving.
Step Out of the Door Briefly If You Are Blocking It at Rush Hour
If you are blocking the door, especially on the Muni Metro, even if it is not your stop, kindly step out onto the platform and stand to the side of the door so that people may exit. This will all go much faster if everyone is not required to squeeze around your ass to get off the train, and you can step right back on. Easy as can be. You do not have to cling to that pole for dear life. The train won't leave without you. (Hold the door with your arm if it tries to.)
Always Offer Your Seat to a Lady Of a Certain Age or Elderly Gentleman
This should go without saying, but in this age of increasing willful ignorance to etiquette, it bears repeating. You should offer your seat to any woman who appears over the age of 50 (use your judgment), any pregnant woman, or any elderly gentlemen who carries a cane or looks otherwise unsteady on his feet. He or she might decline your offer because they do not want to feel old or infirm, and this is fine. However you should always offer, and not just if you're in the seats next to the door that say they're reserved for senior citizens. And DO NOT try to stare at your phone/Kindle and keep playing Bejeweled Blitz like you hadn't noticed that anyone else had boarded the train. Let's be civilized, shall we?
Do Not Audibly Groan or Otherwise Protest When the Bus Stops for a Disabled or Wheelchair-Bound Person
Their lives are hard enough as it is, so even though you are in a hurry and the whole process of extending that lift thing and situating the wheelchair on the bus can add an extra five or ten minutes to your trip, you have to shut up and deal. At this point, however, you may want to consider getting off and walking if you are not too far from your destination.
Take Off Your Damn Backpack Or Enormous Purse
Ladies, we know that purse cost $800. We do not care. It just stabbed us in the arm and slapped us in the back, and you should remove it from your shoulder immediately. If it can not touch the floor, then you should hug it to your chest or squeeze it between your thighs until you arrive at your stop, or carry a smaller purse. As for the backpack-carriers, any confusion about the etiquette of this is inexcusable. Take it off and either put it on the floor at your feet, or sling it from one shoulder but hold it in front of you, so that you are in control of it and aware of its proximity to others at all times. When exiting the train, do not put the backpack back on until you are back on the platform carry it low in front of you so that it only bumps into peoples' legs as you exit, if at all.
Singing Is Never Allowed
As we saw recently, a gregarious teenager was cited by a Muni enforcement officer for singing too loudly aboard an underground J train. It's actually against the rules to make your own kind of music or sing your own special song. But it's also a violation of etiquette to impose your music upon others, play anything over your iPhone speaker, or sing along to your gym playlist, no matter how quietly. Zip it.
To Hold Muni Doors, Or Not to Hold Muni Doors, This Is the Question
It is often seen as an act of great kindness to come to the aid of a sweating, harried commuter whom you can see is about to miss their train by a mere second, and stick an arm into a door so that it does not close and they are able to board. The noise of the door alarm can be offensive to those on the train, and it is a violation of Muni rules, so this is a tough one. On BART, it is rarely necessary given that conductors tend to be watching out the front of the train and leaving doors open an ample amount of time. On the Muni Metro, with the doors operated by computer while underground, the system is a little less forgiving. We are torn on this question, especially because of the erratic scheduling of trains that can leave one stranded for fifteen minutes or more if one misses a train by seconds. Also, in places like New York, it's a de rigeur part of city life that people are going to hold doors, and pack themselves in, and it mostly all works out. In S.F., it's much more taboo, and Muni would like you to believe that by putting your arm in the way of a door, you might break the fragile thing, despite the millions that were spent on those rail cars and the fact that the engineering should really be more robust than that. We would advise that you only ever engage in the act of holding open a train door in the rarest of circumstances, if the person running for the train is extremely hot, for instance, or if they are old and infirm, and not doing so would feel cruel.