For the first time since its launch, I’ve started travelling on the light rail each day, zipping down Northbourne from Watson to the city for work.
I have to admit that as one of the lucky Canberrans for whom the light rail is in my local area, I’m quite enjoying the convenience of the tram (although I still have to drive to the nearest tram stop as it’s painful to get from my house to the stop by bus, and my partner, who works in Barton, would have to do the tedious bus-tram-bus routine, so he still drives). But the intricacies of the tram as a public transport solution is a topic for another day!
On each of my journeys, I’ve noticed a frustrating lack of etiquette from a portion of my fellow passengers.
Every morning, without fail, I watch people deliberately sit on the aisle seat, blocking the empty window seat beside them, or carelessly dumping their things on the seat next to them and then staring at their phones, ignoring the people trying to find somewhere to sit. I’ve also watched people play videos loudly on their phones without headphones, refuse to step further into the tram when there’s standing room only to allow other passengers to board, and generally behave in antisocial ways that seem unnecessarily selfish.
I’m not the kind of person who usually polices social etiquette. I’m a firm believer in common sense, and it usually prevails. It goes without saying (though I’ll still say it to ward off the outraged comments) that not all light rail passengers are rude. I have observed one person to date offer their seat to an elderly passenger (though they refused it, and seemed a little offended at the implication that they couldn’t stand, so I guess you win some you lose some). This suggests that there are nice people out there, who remember the lessons of childhood in respect and kindness for others.
It has been pointed out to me that the reluctance to allow a fellow Canberran a seat could be down to people wanting to socially distance with COVID-19 still lurking as a threat.
I would be more sympathetic to this if it wasn’t for the fact that the entire time I’ve been using the light rail I’ve seen passengers wearing masks a total of two times. And arguably, forcing people to stand over you, breathing down your neck is more likely to spread infection than if they sat beside you. Not to mention the fact that by hogging two seats, you’re selfishly consigning more passengers to having to stand clustered together – ripe for the spread of the virus!
Yesterday morning, I watched a woman dressed in the gear of an office worker sitting on an aisle seat, an empty seat beside her, looking each new passenger in the eyes as they boarded as if to challenge them to sit next to her. No one did. She smiled smugly (I checked several times to make sure I wasn’t mistaken) and triumphantly stared out the window for the rest of the journey, while people stumbled and swayed in the aisle. Opposite her, another woman sat with her handbag on the seat next to her, resolutely staring at her phone and ignoring the multiple people who tried to get her attention to ask her to move her things. Across the aisle, a man watched loud music videos on his phone, filling the carriage with an annoying tinny whistle, seemingly oblivious to how rude it was to dominate a public space like that.
Yes, if I find the behaviour so bothersome, I could always ask the offenders to turn their music down or move over. I personally have no problem with tapping people on the shoulder when I need a seat and asking them to free up the one next to them, or clambering over people’s knees to get to the seat I have my eye on – but it’s a bit sad that I have to. When did common courtesy die?
I’ve lived overseas in a city where public transport is the primary means of getting around (buses in this case, in Edinburgh), and people were so automatically polite and obliging. Seats always went to the elderly, pregnant or less mobile, and everyone filled up seats from the window first to allow others to find somewhere to rest. Even when I lived in Melbourne, I never noticed the regular rudeness I’m seeing on the light rail.
Are Canberrans just not used to public transport and therefore oblivious to basic polite passenger behaviour? Am I just travelling with a particularly obnoxious crowd? Or is it time for me to put my headphones in, stare out the window, and join the majority in ignoring my fellow light rail users?