A debriefing on subway etiquette: The Do’s and Dont’s of being a courteous straphanger

There are some types of human decency that are universal, others that are so nuanced they apply only to a single train line within the vintage labyrinth and testament to the worth of public transit that is the New York City subway. While the act of forfeiting your seat to the elderly, disabled and pregnant should be a given, not so obvious is that the person closest to the doors in the Clark St. elevator is expected to hit the street level button, or that if you can take either the F or the M at Delancey you can join a symbiotic call line of people between the two platforms.

As anyone who has lived here knows, or otherwise refuses to admit, despite the stereotype New Yorkers are some of the kindest, most open-minded people on the planet, even if we are covered in each other’s filth, live in shoeboxes and ride a metal tube to work each morning. At least so long as you are in our city, we are not the rude ones just because we walk fast and refuse to constantly flash fake smiles: it’s the people who don’t understand the laws of the land, AKA that the seat next to you is a wholly unacceptable place for your backpack on a crowded train, who are the deplorable ones in this town.

So take a moment to learn up on the do’s and don’ts of NYC’s beloved subterranean infrastructure, for your own sake and that of your fellow straphangers. We’re all in this together, after all.


The official MTA etiquette  ads aren't always accurate. For instance, there is nothing inherently wrong with the Showtime Kids.
The official MTA etiquette ads aren’t always accurate. For instance, there is nothing inherently wrong with the Showtime Kids. Photo via New Yorkers in Leotards Re-Create Hilarious NYC Subway Etiquette Ads


These are less than obviously acceptable subway behavior.

  • Wear your short shorts, two-foot tall bouffant wig, full drag attire, wedding dress or any other outfit that suits you. Fuck the haters.
  • Bring your well-behaved pet on your subway ride.
  • If you can put on your eye makeup, elbows-in, without taking up more than your single allotted seat or making a mess, power to ya.
  • Glare at people who are not being courteous straphangers. Or speak up if they’re acting truly out of line. May you be tomorrow’s Snack Man.
  • Talk to your neighbor. Don’t harass or hit on them, and shut-up if they look like they’re having a bad day, but just because everyone’s plugged into the cloud doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to ask if that’s a good book, get directions, or tell them you like their shirt.  Judging from a number of other subway etiquette guides, that talking to your neighbors is acceptable is a controversial opinion, but so long as you’re not proselytizing or ranting and are paying attention to social signals, there’s nothing wrong with chatting up strangers. It may be 2017 but come on, Tinder isn’t the only acceptable place to meet new people. If you want to live in a bubble, there’s always LA.


Photo via New York Transit Museum
Photo via New York Transit Museum


For this section a point system will be utilized to rank the atrocity of each uncouth subway deed.

1 – Meh.

  • Using your laptop on the train.
  • Not putting your backpack on the floor when the car is packed.
  • Taking your bike on a rush hour car.
  • Consuming more than your fair share of pole space by leaning on it with your back.
  • Taking a phone call on the train about a non-urgent matter.

2 – Really man?

  • Eating dank food on the train. Only non-dank food is acceptable, and technically no food is MTA approved.
  • Watching videos or playing phone games with the speaker on.
  • Getting on the train while people are still actively getting off.
  • Putting your bag next to you on a seat when there’s less than a majority of sitting space open.
  • Standing your ground in front of the doors so people have to push past you to get out of the car.

3 – Everyone on the train actively hates you.

  • Vomiting, defecating, urinating, spitting or releasing any other bodily fluid on the train.
  • Holding the doors so long the conductor gives you a personal shoutout on the PA. Another train will come, eventually – let this one go.
  • Getting on your racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive soapbox loud enough for all to hear.
  • Taking a seat out of commission by putting your rain boots, umbrella, wet or leaky bag on it. For shame.
  • Cutting your fingernails on the train. May god have mercy on your soul.

Leave a Reply