Manspreading, hogging seats: Why are people such jerks on public transit?

As journalists, we’ve got the leeway to demand answers that you might not be able to get on your own – and we take that mission very seriously, whether it’s about the best places in Miami to hear jazz or what the hell that jargon on your ballot means.

So when we started getting e-mails from readers with questions, we decided to not just answer them, but share the questions with all of you.

We got this one from Christine Rupp a couple weeks back:

I use public transit and commute by bike as I am car-less by choice (it wasn’t court ordered). When I ride the bus and train, I am always curious about the riders who sit on the aisle when there is a an empty seat beside them. This requires one to basically go around them to sit down? Why don’t people just sit by the window in an empty row so the next person can simply sit down?

Is it rudeness, or human instinct to just want our space? The Internet is full of people asking the same question and cities across the world have launched etiquette campaigns to try and get people to be a better seat neighbor

Maricel Cigales, an Associate Dean for FIU’s psychology department, admits she didn’t consider the seat-saving rude. But she pointed out that the way the scenario is perceived by the person looking for a seat and the person sitting in a seat and saving space are two very different things.

For the rider who hops on looking for a seat, Cigales said asking to get around someone else can seem like an annoying extra step to take.

“Part of it is our own personal preference and perception, and I think part of it is… we don’t like being inconvenienced,” she said. “We may feel shy when asking someone to move out of our way.”

But for the person doing the sitting and space saving — they’re probably not consciously thinking about taking space away from others.  

“Miami has different cultural practices. I think it depends on what you’re used to from where you come from,” she says.

In other countries, saving space on a bus or train could be the cultural norm. We know that Miami’s a melting pot of what different people are used to, but that also applies to taking public transportation.   

What’s your theory? If you’ve been in this situation, let us know what you think.

Next up: Why we don’t have CitiBike stations right at the MetroRail stations.

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  • grace beloit

    I am an aisle sitter. Like Christine, I’m also car-free (by choice) and depend on public transit to get to work each day. That means everything I need to have has to be on me (agenda, books, umbrella, lunchbox, etc). I also usually go to a gym in downtown before heading home for the day. What this means is that outside of my personal bookbag (filled with all of my day-to-day things), I usually have a tote filled with my workout gear. I find it really difficult to sit close to the window with all of my things. I usually sit in the aisle in order to place my bookbag on my lap and my tote hangs off my arm in the aisle. I try my best to always offer the seat next to me when someone walks up the aisle, but I’ll admit that there are definitely people who do not want you to sit next to them. Their body language makes this very clear but if I need a seat, I’ll usually take it no matter what. What I really loathe are the pole huggers and leaners on the MetroMover. First, those poles must be gross and second, it takes away the possibility for other riders to gran a hold of something on an often bumpy ride.

    • Caitie Switalski

      Thank you for sharing your perspective and public transit experience, Grace!

    • MW

      Stupid excuse. I used to take two buses to work and school–books, umbrella, gym bag, groceries, you name it. You can sit by the window. You’re just a douche. I will sit by the window, and people will sit by the aisle. Sometimes, they may lean a little bit and put their legs outside. But who will want to climb over you to get the window seat? Seems like an excuse to get the two seats.