Green Line Graciousness: A Guide to MBTA Etiquette

Green Line Graciousness: A Guide to MBTA Etiquette


Call me a pessimist, but the ride to work is the worst part of my day. Averaging about ten hellish hours underground a week, my commute has pushed me to frown at babies on a D Line car in rush hour. I’ve place curses on anonymous commuting techno fanatics, the kind of passengers you can’t see but just know are there from the faint, unmistakable sounds of early '90s acid house at 8am on a Tuesday.

Simply put, the T is a magnet for all things unfortunate, awkward, and slightly left of appropriate. It seems an astounding few acknowledge the standard of etiquette that comes with riding the T. And for a long time, I’ve tried to let that ignorance slide. Of course, everyone slips up now and again, especially in a place so common to our everyday routine. But these days, I’ve just about had it with the earsplitting phone calls, the drunken Red Sox fans, and the cattiness an open seat can provoke from a woman dressed in a power suit and New Balance sneakers. Here’s a few MBTA rules to take to heart, to memorize like the message from a green line driver, “Please ring the bell for all street level stops.” 

1. To Each Their Own
We’ve all seen the guy sitting on the T like it’s his living room couch. And we hate him for it. Legs spread, arms out, completely unaware of his monopoly on personal space. Sure, it’s collective tax dollars that fund this depressing caravan of dislike for the common passenger, but that doesn’t mean a row of seats can be colonized like Otto von Bismark on Park Street. Which brings me to my first rule. To each his (or her, or their) own. Own seat, that is. I should probably mention the golden rule of always offering your seat to adorable senior citizens, pregnant women, and the handicapped. If you’re a saint, you could even consider forfeiting those same accommodations to anyone appearing to be having an absolutely terrible day. But I’m not looking to start a revolution. Use your best judgment.

2. Raising the Bar
Like the seat rule, the same can be said for railings. Earlier this week I watched a grown man knot his perplexingly serpentine body around a crowded car’s railing to play Nintendo DS. Absorbed in pixilated fun, he failed to notice as passengers around him balanced themselves like surfers riding non-existent waves beneath the subway floor. With railings, passengers should allow themselves a handful of bacteria-coated aluminum to grip on their way into town. Allowing yourself two hands during rush hour is up there with walking in groups of three on the sidewalk. You just shouldn’t.

3. Leave Your Baggage at Home
Living in the educational hub of this great nation, we see a lot of backpacks. Book-bags, knapsacks, call them what you may, these bags stand as a tangible encapsulation of the forty grand a year students fork over for self-realization and alcohol poisoning. Okay, there’s also books inside those backpacks. Lots of books, which makes these bags so cumbersome, and such a burden to stand next to on public transit.

Which brings me to my next rule. Backpacks, purses, suitcases—basically anything larger than a gallon of passive-aggressive milk—should be stored in the place least likely to bother other passengers. Countless times I have been shoved against T windows, walls and worst of all, other humans by heavy baggage. It’s almost as if these knapsacks and satchels have minds of their own, becoming detached from their owners like twisted versions of that goofy backpack from Dora the Explorer. So please, leave the briefcase by your feet and make this ungodly ride the tiniest bit more bearable.

4. Breakfast, Lunch, You’ve Gotta Be F*cking Kidding Me
Tuna sandwiches, burrito bowls, entire pepperoni pizza with ranch on the side, we’ve all seen strangers eating completely unacceptable things on the T. Or better yet, we’ve smelled them while making our way towards an empty seat, repulsed by a simpleton’s audacity to stuff their face with greasy, delicious looking trash-food as we battle our own growling stomach. The first rule of eating on public transportation is not to eat anything at all. After all, the average commute for most is roughly forty-five minutes. Can’t you wait?

Of course, for some travelers, the ride into Boston is their only time to get in a bite or two. For those truly unable to muster the slightest ounce of self-control, I’d suggest inoffensive snack foods. Think apples, pretzels, and if you’re really feeling crazy, a granola bar or two. Or better yet, wake up five minutes earlier than your usual time and make yourself a bowl of oatmeal. Eat dirt for all I care. Whatever it is, just don’t scarf it down it in front of me as we pass through Hynes at 8 a.m. on a Monday.

5. What’s That Noise?
Living in the city, we’re constantly surrounded by noise. While we should be able to tune out the creeping drone of whatever godawful music our upstairs neighbors are playing, it seems that with our species, the more annoying a sound becomes, the more we focus on it. We hear all sorts of disturbing rackets on the T, why add half of your phone call?

It’s also essential that passengers consider how loud their music is. Hearing the beat of some crummy Mumford and Sons song is almost worse than hearing the song in its entirety. The same goes for Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, or whatever underground punk band you happen to be into this week. Movies and games should be approached in the same manner. Please, just turn it down.

6. Help, I’m Drunk on the B Line!
What came first, the B Line or public intoxication? Get on the T in Allston past 9pm and it’s impossible to avoid a wasted BU freshman shouting to their comrades in a series of clicks and hashtags. Not that age confines this drunken demographic by any means. Every weekend the B Line is an unbearable mess of tipsy bar hoppers, impaired sports fans, and the miscellaneous few you know were doomed long before that last shot of Jäger. Because of this, I’d say avoid the B line entirely. If you can’t, brace yourself for an abrasive, “BROOOOOOO!”

7. (Literally) Paying Your Dues
If you happen to find yourself at an above-ground T stop with money in your hand, it’s common courtesy to allow passengers with prepaid cards or passes ahead of you to board. This rule is best observed during harsher conditions, like summer thundershowers and Boston’s seemingly ten-month long winter. Allowing others the privilege of scooting in front of you makes the transition from street to godawful T slightly more bearable. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, the T driver will see the cash in your hand and wave you on. Sure, it’s likely this happens because their machine is broken, but let’s just call it karma.

8. The MBTA Tango
It’s safe to say this hostile dance is the biggest strife of human interaction on any MBTA line in the city. And it doesn’t know specifics. We’ve all experienced the panic of being trapped in a crowded car at our stop, being barred from the exit by a flood of miserable humans rampaging towards the doors like Greeks on Troy. And we’ve all been on the other side, when the T doors open and we think attempting to board is the right idea, only to have passengers fly at us in an unending stream of contempt.

Though no specific group is to blame for this troubling phenomenon, general inattentiveness certainly plays a part. So here it is. When the T stops and the doors open, look around. If the person to your right is trying, and failing, to make their way towards the outside world, do what you can to accommodate them. If you’re standing near the doors, this may even mean stepping off the T for a second or two. You won’t lose your place, and on the plus side, you may even get a breath of fresh air. What’s that? This train is running express to Washington Street? At this point we’re better off walking.

Originally published with BDCwire