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.)