It's Etiquette Week at SFist, in which SFist's editors dole out some prescriptive advice for how to behave in this city we all share in order not to overly annoy, offend, or otherwise piss off your fellow citizens. Please read carefully.
The Bay Area has a quirk in common with places like Paris and Japan where polite commuters queue up at demarcated spots along BART platforms waiting for arriving trains and allowing those ahead of them to get on first and snag any available seats and it's something that, daily, drives New York transplants insane. Curiously, the same phenomenon does not occur on our other train-based form of public transit, the Muni Metro, perhaps in part because trips are shorter, seats are less precious, and there are simply fewer doors so trying to tame a rush-hour crowd is just impossible.
But the question remains: Is it necessary to participate in this?
The simple answer is no. You can take a seat on a bench or hover near whichever door you wish at rush hour, and basically squeeze your way in sideways or jump in behind people as soon as the line mostly clears for an arriving train, being careful not to cut in front of anyone who is clearly making a beeline for an available seat. At station stops like Embarcadero and Montgomery on the East Bay-bound platform in the evenings, for instance, finding a seat is going to be impossible anyway, so the line becomes just about who gets on first though with over-packed trains, those who aren't at the front of the line may not get on at all.
Inexperienced commuters will notice that because trains with different destinations arrive within minutes of each other, some people will step aside anyway because they're waiting for a different train, but want to hold their place in line. This is why it becomes perfectly fine, as SFist's Eve Batey puts it, to "swim into the flow" as people start moving. She adds, "But I'm not waiting in line like it's recess. Fuck that."
While it's civilized to participate in this local tradition and get in queues 20 people deep at peak commute times, when that Fremont train arrives, only six of those people are going to board, and it starts to become an exercise in stupidity to maintain this orderliness, especially if you don't require a seat. Out of respect for the rule-followers and the elderly, though, some of whom have to ride that train an hour out to Pleasanton, you had better not force your way in front until the proper moment arrives and all of them have gotten on, or else risk censure, and/or nasty looks, from a fellow commuter.
When those new cars from the Fleet of the Future arrive, with more doors, more standing room, and fewer seats, will the door lines still be as necessary? Perhaps. But sometimes people just get way too polite and sensitive about their personal space! This is public transit! Get some humility! Maybe we need to hire some of those designated train-shovers like they have in Tokyo, where yes, people line up, but then someone just comes along and physically pushes everyone into the train doors so they can shut. That, my friends, is called public transit.
All previous editions from Etiquette Week 2016.