Is Public Transportation Too Public?

Public Transportation

Does public transportation feel icky? Maybe that's because it is literally as claustrophobic as being trapped in a crowded elevator. And isolating? Just remember that more than half your fellow passengers pretending to be reading or listening to their iPods are intentionally ignoring you. And, oh god, what is that smell?! Yeah. It stinks. That's the conclusion of Jared Thomas, a consultant with Opus International, who surveyed more than 1,700 train and bus passengers in New Zealand.

The basic problem, Thomas says, is that the system is too public. Bench seating creates assembly-line rows of passengers unable to make eye contact with each other. Not to mention some three-across benches leave that middle person uncomfortably pinched. Thomas's suggestion: Increase ridership through redesign. Make bus and subway rows more carriage-style to encourage people to talk. Maybe even provide TVs to give 'em some shared topics to get started. Until then, he says that even basic eye contact with the person across the row can help combat that soul-crushing feeling of a long ride home. (And if your fellow passenger avoids your gaze, then you know he probably just ripped one.)

[Via DiscoveryNews]

Image: / CC BY 2.0

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  • andrew kresge

    What prompted this short article? It seems that individuals use public transit for the convenience and not because they are hoping to make a friend or have a great conversation on the commute to their destination. It seems that this same argument could be made for airplanes, which have TVs and a more comfortable atmosphere, but do these trigger more interaction between commuters?

  • r d

    Shouldn't the title of your article be "Is Public Transportation Too Private?"

    Public = open, social
    Private = closed, isolated

    I'm just sayin...

    Also, I find making eye contact with the person across from you incredibly awkward. I usually stare at the ground or out a window rather than make eye contact with a complete stranger(?!). We have buses in Chicago that make everyone face each other and still nobody talks. And if friends get on the bus, they sit next to each other, not across from each other. If friends prefer to sit next to each other, why would sitting across help social interaction. The sole reason for this seating design was to allow more people to stand in the isle's and to cram even more people on the bus. The Chicago Transit Authority doesn't care how much people enjoy the ride, the care about the bottom line (money). Maybe things are much different in New Zealand, but I sort of doubt it...

  • Amanda Bee

    Is Public Transportation Too Public? Hmmm, I don't know.... Let me ask the hideous, troll-like-barely-20 year olds, that are making-out in the seat next to me.

    Uhhh, apparently, they want some privacy.

  • Bruce Barnett

    As a commuter to work, I have a lot of suggestions to improve transit. I wish they would take a look at how hotels and cruise ships treat their customers. Maybe a pilot project to improve safety by adding a concierge to collect fares, issue transfers, answer questions, call 911 if
    necessary and let the operator not be distracted to drive the bus, keep on schedule and call out the stops? Move the farebox to the back door, have all people embark/debark there? Sell drinks and food on longer runs? Sell ads on the TVs you suggest? Allow regular passengers to have packages delivered to them on their bus home? Allow regular commuters to schedule their ride between their home and work? Use smaller vans to transport people from hubs/stations to their home/business?

  • Kaliya Hamlin

    Do you actually take transit? Cause if you did you would know the seats "facing each other" are the LAST to be occupied. No one wants to look at other people on the bus. You want to be left alone. I would rather bench seating sideways where I am not "trapped" to seating facing forward against a window someone between me and the isle.

    Designers can "think" all they want about the "ideal" nature of a transit bus for "the public" - they should ride them for years with the public. Why not work with the public who actually uses these vehicles. Transit needs to actually be relevant to local communities and connect things.

  • Gustaf Redemo

    I agree with Robert Caldera. I think Jared Thomas should rethink a little bit. I myself love to sit and gaze or read or whatever except speaking. I have a very social job, which means that I do need a break from people, even though I am among them.

  • Robert Caldera

    Yes, there are problems with public transportation (the ickiness, the smells, the occassional claustrophobia) but I would rule out isolation as a problem. I don't know about everyone else but I like my quiet time on the train. It's the only "me-time" I have in the day. It gives me a chance to catch up on reading (or sleep), relax to some music, or if I'm really swamped get some work done on the laptop. We interact with people at work all day. I come home to my wife and two young children so it's anything but quiet there. Train time is the only down time many of us have.

    I wouldn't want to sit carriage style with people facing me. It's kind of creepy when you want to just be left alone and TV would just be a distracting nuissance to those of us who prefer to read. While this might sound like I'm anti-social, I'm not at all...with the exception of between 7:30 - 8:30 every morning.

  • Ivana Lencakova

    :) I'm not sure TV might help this situation... there are TVs with ads in Bangkok skytrain and i think that makes people even more "isolated" staring on that screen... but well, i don't know anything about situation in New Zealand :)