How to Ride the Bus…A Guide to Public Transit…

I’ve got a limo that’s forty feet long,

I’ve got a driver who won’t steer me wrong…

Saint John Transit radio jingle

I’ve been a bus passenger for most of the last 27 years, so I feel eminently qualified to offer these handy tips on how to ride the bus:

My 40-foot limo...

Getting on the Bus

1. Know where the bus is going, before you get on.  If you are unsure, ask the driver.  It was pouring rain in Ottawa one day, and I was too lazy to cross the street to catch the bus.  I assumed it was a circular route…it wasn’t.  An hour-and-a-half later, I ended up in a suburb of Ottawa, and had to get on another bus to get back home (the one I should have gotten on in the first place!).

2. Have the correct change, or better yet, invest in a monthly pass or a punch card.  Have it ready (in your hand) when the bus pulls up.  No one wants to wait while you dig around in your purse or search in your pockets for something besides lint.  Do not use your child’s pennies to get on the bus!

Exact change please...leave pennies at home!

3. When you board the bus, be seated immediately after you’ve paid (and received your transfer, if you require one).  The bus driver is not your best friend, and has no desire to hear about your Great Aunt Martha’s gall bladder surgery.  If the bus is late, it was probably caused by some fool who wanted to tell the driver his life story – do not chew out the bus driver.  Remember that unless you are elderly or physically disabled, to leave the seats closest to the door for people who need them!  The bus driver might be really cute, but he is not in love with you, and needs to concentrate on his driving.  Do not distract him with idle chit-chat.

Behaviour on the Bus 

1. Don’t wear highly-scented products on public transit.  The person next to you may have allergies, or may not like the smell of lavender.  If you’re using the bus to get home after a workout at the gym, your fellow passengers will be grateful if you shower first.

2. Respect personal space.  Be aware of any large purses, packages or bookbags you’re carrying which could whack unsuspecting passengers in the head on your way by.  Try not to step on people’s toes (apologize if you do!).  If forced to stand on the bus, leave a reasonable space between yourself and the person beside you.

This lady's purse could be a weapon of mass destruction on public transit...

3.  Your personal electronics devices should not disturb others.  Keep iPods at a minimal volume.  Resist the urge to sing along with the music…it is unlikely that you are as good a singer as the performer.  Do not call your ex on your cellphone to tell them exactly how you feel about them.  If your phone rings on the bus, answer it promptly, and keep the call short.

4. Do not disturb people who are reading.  Reading on public transit is universal body language for “I vant to be alone.”  Do not attempt to engage these folks in conversation unless their shoes are on fire, or there is a tarantula crawling up their leg.  

5. Be friendly to people around you, but not too friendly.  If you feel the need to communicate with fellow passengers, small talk is the safest avenue to travel: the weather, how the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing this year, or where “those cute boots” came from.  Do not discuss politics, religion or sex.  If a person is talking to themselves, do not interrupt them (and perhaps move to a different seat).  If someone has fallen asleep, alert the driver – he will wake them up so they don’t miss their stop.

6. Do not do anything on the bus that you would not do at a dinner party: throw garbage on the floor; swear like a sailor; French-kiss your significant other; or perform personal grooming tasks such as cleaning your ears, flossing your teeth, or trimming your nails.

Please don't do this on the bus...

7. If the bus is crowded, and an elderly, disabled, or pregnant passenger gets on, offer them your seat.  This is basic, common courtesy.

Travelling With Small Children

1.  If you need to bring a stroller on the bus, have someone travel with you to help get it on and off.  Some drivers and fellow passengers will provide assistance, but that’s not always the case. 

2. Respect personal space.  Do not drive over people’s toes with your stroller, run it into their shins, or block the exit.  Do not allow your child to play with items belonging to other passengers, especially with sticky hands.

3. Bring a snack/toys for the child if you’re on a long commute.  Your fellow passengers do not want to be stuck for twenty minutes listening to a cranky kid scream.  If your child makes a mess, do your best to clean it up.  No one enjoys sitting in a puddle of juice.

4. Make sure your child stays seated and under control.  If the driver jams on the brakes, little Johnny will be airborne if he’s standing on the seat looking out the window.  Make sure he does not disturb other passengers by kicking the seat in front of him, or making unnecessary noise. 

5. Do not allow your child to ring the bell until it’s really time for you to get off.  Hold his hands if you have to…there’s nothing more annoying to the driver and other passengers than the bus stopping for no reason.

Little hands should be kept away from this until it's time to get off...

Getting Off the Bus 

1. Do not ring the bell too early.  The best time is right after the bus passes the stop before yours (or pulls away from it if someone else got off there).

2. Do not ring the bell too late.  If the bus stops suddenly because you waited too long, your fellow passengers are likely to spill their coffee,  break a tooth on the metal bar on the seat in front of them, or fall down if they’re standing up.

3. Wait until the bus slows down or stops before standing up.  I’ve seen people fly around like rag dolls if an inexperienced driver applies the brakes too enthusiastically.  Always hold onto a seat or a bar if you are standing or walking when the bus is in motion.

These people are holding on properly while standing on the bus...

4. Exit through the rear door, unless you are elderly or disabled.  Your fellow passengers might be standing outside in the rain waiting for you to get out of their way so they can board.

5. Thank the bus driver as you go out the door, and then make your way to the curb as quickly as possible.  Do not continue talking as if you’ll never see the driver again…there are other people waiting to reach their destinations!

If every bus passenger followed these simple rules, riding on public transit would be much more pleasant!


Filed under rants, satire, travel

57 responses to “How to Ride the Bus…A Guide to Public Transit…

  1. So much to think about! I’m glad you included showering. That’s an important tip that needs a bus billboard campaign.

  2. duke1959

    These rules could also apply to church!

  3. Thanks for including the bit about offering your seat to the elderly, handicapped and with-child. In high school, I regularly rode the bus to some retail job I had downtown, and I could never figure out why even grown men would look the other way when someone honestly needed a seat.

    How great is that St. John Transit jingle? Love it.

    Happy weekend!

  4. Oh how I miss the days of riding the bus to work. I loved having time to read. No public transportation where I live now and my commute is way too short for work (4 miles).

    I love your tips in number 6 and tips for traveling with small children. Riding the subway in Boston was an entirely new experience for me, my husband and four kids. I wish I would have read a few tips before our first trip on the subway.

    • Glad you liked it, Jeanne! My own subway experience is limited to the one in Toronto…have ridden it only a few times, but it’s pretty easy and clean compared to some systems I’ve heard about.


  5. After reading your post it struck me that I’ve never ridden a transit bus, ever. I’ve had to drive into town many times to pick our daughters when they were coming home for University, but I’ve never so much as seen the inside of one…My, I must lead a sheltered life!

    Lots of good information here, Wendy.

    • If you’ve always lived in small towns, Laura, you probably haven’t been able to ride a city bus. It’s funny how many people are absolutely terrified of it! Glad you appreciated the information! Wendy

  6. Great idea for a post, Wendy! Love it!

  7. I spent my entire childhood and all through college using public transportation. Now it’s rare, except for the Metro. Luckily, I’ve never had a negative experience. But i’ve read some doozies from others.

    • Glad you could relate, Rene! I think riding public transit is an experience that everyone should have at least once! We’ve always been fortunate to have pretty good drivers on our buses… Wendy

  8. This was great, Wendy – as you know, I’m learning all about public transport in London, so all of your suggestions and tips rang true for me! This is so funny!
    I love the tips about not assuming the bus driver is your new best friend!
    Brilliant work, as always
    Sunshine xx

    • Thanks, Sunshine! I was waiting for your comment, because I knew you were a public transit user like me! Thanks for picking up on the funny parts…no one else has mentioned them so far! I have to admit your “Freshly Pressed” post was the inspiration for this one! Hugs, Wendy

      • Wendy, I nodded and chuckled at every point you made! Everything sounded familiar and funny!
        I thought of another one this morning … if you’re going to fall asleep, try not to fall on to the person sitting next to you! That happened to me once when a huge guy sat next to me and I think he’d just finished a night shift … he kept nodding off and leaning and falling towards me (I was next to the window and couldn’t move!). He eventually dropped off and dropped his lunchbag – he got such a fright it woke him up again! hahahaha
        Sunshine xx

      • I’ve fallen asleep on the bus too, Sunshine, but I’ve never gone to sleep when I’ve been sharing a seat with a stranger! Glad your guy woke himself up eventually! Hugs, Wendy

  9. Congrats on living someplace with effective mass transit. Lots of places don’t have that.

    • Yes, Todd…I appreciate the system here…we have service on the major routes from 5:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Saint John has one of the best transit systems I’ve ever used! Wendy

      • Sometimes, I have to travel to Washington, D.C., for work, and it’s great. If I fly into Reagan, I take the Metro, and if I fly into Baltimore, I take the Amtrak. It’s so nice.

      • I’ve never tried Amtrak, Todd, but I’ve heard great things! We used to have good train service in Canada, but now it’s the same price to take the train as it is to fly, so most people don’t bother doing it any more. Wendy

  10. I’ve used our bus system here a few times to get to the airport. I’m amazed at how many people get on, then search for their fare,as you described. I can’t figure out what they’re thinking

  11. Wendy – I’ve never been on a bus, but these sound like helpful hints if I ever have occasion to. Personal space and electronics are two of my pet peeves in public. Hugs, Diane

  12. duke1959

    Some of the most rude behavior happens in church.

  13. This could easily be applied to the NYC subways, except we never see the driver. Hmmm.

    Also, the image for #5 under Traveling With Small Children sparked a horrifying flashback of riding the subway with my then 10-year-old son. He sat comfortably in a seat so I had no need for concern about him while I properly held onto the bar. Until I looked down and saw he had his mouth wrapped around the pole. WHY?! Another strike against me as a parent! With that, I’d like to suggest a #6: Instruct your children to keep their mouths shut on public transportation.

    Great post! Glad I found your blog through Hippie Cahier!

  14. satya

    I have been taking the bus for only a year since my car died. It has been 20+ years since I had taken a bus and I am now in my late 40’s.

    I realized on my first trip the value of HAVING an IPOD, which I had clearly forgotten aboud bringing. All the way through our town, over the bridge and into the next town and through every single red traffic light known to the community, I had the nails-down-the-blackboard thrill of having to hear a person talking to the bus driver in excruciatingly louder decibels than Big Ben’s gong. Needless to say, the next time I brought my IPOD, but unbeknown to me when I boarded the bus, became an involuntary witness to a drunkard being kicked off the bus by the bus driver for boarding with an open container of beer. And a few rides following that, a bus driver backed out of a bus stop after parking behind an inconsiderate driver who had parked his car there, hit the car, and the onslaught of police officers questioning passengers any details of what they witnessed and whether they had a case of whiplash. Since then, it’s gotten better….but I still think I’d rather be bicycling a lot more…..

    • That sounds awful, Satya…I hope your public transit experience becomes less painful as you get used to it! Thanks for stopping by…please check out the archives if you have a chance! Wendy

  15. I think they should make your guide required reading before anyone boards a bus, Wendy. I enjoyed it a lot.

    I’ve decided not to wish for modes of public transport which will leave me with a headache to start the day off with 😉 I can well imagine what the people here in SA, who cram inside a small minibus taxi, must feel like.

    Some of the things you mentioned also reminded me a little of riding the school bus.

  16. We have no buses here in this rural county but buses (and subways) were once an important part of my life and I miss it. I always felt so much a part of the world riding on buses. I still have dreams about riding them.

  17. These rules are great for a lot more than just buses but when you’re trapped with folks who don’t follow these the results are maddening!

  18. Oh my gosh, so very true!! Actually the buses in Winnipeg have taken to a new ad campaign on the inside of the bus – a series of ads called “Busology” with cartoons of “case studies” depicting people basically doing all of the above and messages to stop doing it!

  19. planejaner

    oh man–I don’t remember the last time I was on a bu–
    oh, wait, yes I do.
    the guy in the seat in front of me knifed another guy on a seat across from me.

    last bus ride


  20. Don’t talk to the bus driver? How about the bus driver talking to you. When I road this bus it was never overly full and I would sit up front. I always ended up with a chatty bus driver, even when I had my nose in a book.

  21. Hippie Cahier

    I’m wondering if getting on the wrong bus in item 1 gave you the time to think about the list. It’s very thorough. I think the mass transit agency should hire you.

  22. This is wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I dread taking the bus but this guide made me chuckle.


    Hannah Katy

  23. I agree with all of these rules! esp. the last one: Thank the bus driver. I am surprised that this is more an exception. sigh.

  24. my goodness, so many memories of my days riding the buses in Ottawa just came to me while reading this! Pretty sure I’ve experienced every one of those rules broken! ;D And if I didn’t have to deal with it in Ottawa, I did in guelph… inconsiderate bag swinging was the worst in guelph.

    Transit system here is not so great… and now I have a car, and the bus driver’s are on strike, so I don’t ride the bus ever! Reading this… don’t really miss it 😉

    • Fun that you’ve lived in Ottawa too…I lived there for short periods of time twice, and my brother still lives in Carleton Place. I hadn’t even heard that that bus drivers in St. John’s were on strike…I was quite impressed with the transit system when I lived there…far superior to Moncton! Probably a bit better than Saint John too. Wendy

  25. Jose

    If someone wants to french kiss their significant other while on the bus, and it bothers you, ignore them.

    If someone is paying in pennies he is probally pulling an Operation Lincoln.

    Now the perfume issue, I agree.

    For the BO carry a can of febreeze or lysol with you. Some people are allergic to dedorant.

    But you might want to add call customer service for directions and not ask the driver for directions.

    I cannot say too much about Canada because I live in the United States. I don’t know too much of Canada’s laws and stuff or of it’s provinces.

    As for flossing and stuff everyone is trying to mulit task, again ignore. What may be your manners might not be someone elses.

    If we started leglislating all irratible behaviors everyone would be thrown in jail.

  26. “If we started leglislating all irratible behaviors everyone would be thrown in jail.”

    At no time, Jose, did I suggest that my “handy guide to public transit” should become law…I am not, and never will be, a politician!

    I’m afraid that if you think French-kissing is appropriate public behaviour, I won’t be inviting you to tea in Hammond River any time soon!

    Thanks for stopping by!


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