Courteous commuters could become a rarer commodity as ridership continues to increase on the Canada Line, leading tempers to flare and elbows to be thrown as personal space shrinks.
The situation is already worsening, according to Vancouver-based etiquette expert Margaret Page. While she typically teaches manners to business owners, decorum on transit is a recurring problem. Only last week she was told a story about a woman, eight months pregnant, who wasn't given a seat on Calgary's C-train.
In November, 2011, TransLink started a campaign populated with colourful animals and memorable alliterations to reverse a perceived slide in manners. Vancouver's commuters voted poor personal hygiene as the biggest etiquette problem – a "Funky Ferret" according to the agency. Blocking doors on the SkyTrain was a close second.
"Taking transit means sharing space. Literally and figuratively, we're all in it together," TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said of the campaign.
While most men understand that surrendering their seats to seniors and pregnant women is one of the basic tenets of respectful transit use, some do worry that they could misinterpret a few grey hairs and pass an unwelcome judgment on a woman's age. "Some men do feel uncomfortable because of the message it sends," Ms. Page said.
For most people who commit a faux pas, the reasons rarely go as deep. "People just put on their headphones and shut off the world, just ignoring other humans," said Christopher Rouleau, a graphic artist who started a subway etiquette campaign in Toronto. "I've seen aggressive language, messiness, not giving up seats."
People have also reported incidents of nail clipping, flossing and picking toes while riding the subway. "It's pretty gross," Mr. Rouleau said.
While loud cellphone conversations are a recurring problem, Ms. Page says the content of the conversation can make a bad situation worse. She described a recent "mental hijacking" while taking transit and listening to a description of a hysterectomy.
"No one wants to hear that," she said. "It just isn't a good place for a cellphone conversation – texting is great, though."
While cellphone service isn't available in the darkened tunnels running under most of Canada's major cities, Vancouver is the exception. Any trip on the Canada Line will reveal that a majority of people are on their phones and texting.
For those travelling south on the Canada Line, toward Vancouver International Airport, large bags are a persistent problem. Ms. Page faults poor design on transit vehicles. "Unlike in Europe where they have fantastic trains," she said, "here in Canada, there's a problem with bags, bikes or big backpacks sprawled out in the aisle."
10 things to remember while riding transit:
1. Surrender your seat to someone who needs it.
2. Keep calls to a minimum and remember a passive audience is hearing your every word.
3. Tap your umbrella a few times before you fold it up and don't leave wet umbrellas on empty seats.
4. Stand right, walk left in congested stations and escalators.
5. Wear headphones and keep the volume down when playing games or listening to music.
6. Don't rush through the doors, let people get off transit vehicles first.
7. Remember other people's allergies when enjoying a snack or drink.
8. Hold your backpack in front of you on crowded trains.
9. Personal grooming is best done at home.
10. Don't litter.