December 3, 2009

Put Down the Sandwich: Why No Eating and Drinking on STL Transit

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Hey, no eating on the train!

I demonstrate what NOT to do on MetroLink.

There is no eating or drinking allowed on MetroLink, MetroBuses, or Call‑A‑Ride vans.  Technically, even drinking water is prohibited (exceptions are made for emergencies).  And yes, that includes your morning coffee.  You can still carry food or beverage onto the vehicles, but you are asked not to consume them, and security can issue citations for violating the rule.  Why so strict? 

The answer is simple in explanation, but more rigorous in practice: cleanliness.  Anytime you get large numbers of people together, dirt and messes are bound to happen.  But that makes for a less desirable ride, and we take a lot of time to keep vehicles clean.  After trains, buses and vans go to rest for the night, they are thoroughly vaccumed and scrubbed down in their various garages to remove debris and dirt. And to help prevent flu transmission, they are currently more rigorously sanitized to kill germs. 

Food and beverage spills create a lot of problems – walking hazards, pests, odors – and increase the time and cost to clean and maintain vehicles.  And honestly, while you might think your BBQ pulled pork sandwich is extra delicious, watching and smelling you eat it might be the last thing your fellow riders want to do.  So while it may seem inconvenient, save the McMuffin for the office.  You’re doing your part to help everyone have a more pleasant ride.

28 thoughts on “Put Down the Sandwich: Why No Eating and Drinking on STL Transit”

  1. Daron says:

    Boo! Boo!

    I ride public transit because I like the freedom of not owning a car. I will flaunt your no food rules and publically disobey it whenever I feel like it.

    Where I currently live, in Seoul, they sell food on the platforms and the only rules on the train are that you give up your seat for expecting mothers, elderly, and disabled.

    If you’re worried about cleanliness, fix the horrid seat layout and removed that disgusting patterned seat covers.

    You can’t see it here,

    but most seats on Seoul’s subway are uncovered stainless steel (heats up in winter).

    Koreans, I’ve observed, tend to puke everywhere. :o) This comes for over drinking, eating primarily spicy fermented foods, and having a high index of stomach cancer. People throw up on the station platforms and occasionally on the train.

    The train should be designed with cleanliness in mind (buses too).

    My comment might seem harsh, but this draconian anti-eating rule is harsher.

    Civil Disobedience on this one. True, Americans are dirty and tend to trash parade grounds and movie theaters, but that’s a cultural issue we need to overcome. We can act like adults. We should be treated like adults too.

    (no disrespect to you or to metro, just the rule you support)

  2. Daron says:

    edit! edit!
    If you’re worried about cleanliness, fix the horrid seat layout and remove those disgusting patterned seat covers.

    The grooved floor is also quite hard to clean. The metrolink and city at large are horribly dirty in winter from the cinders put down on the roads thats tracked into buildings and trains in the form of nasty black slush.

    The train should be designed to be easily cleaned. One row of seats on each side and there is more room for everyone and less dirtiable space that needs to be cleaned. (no seatbacks)

  3. Courtney says:

    Hey Daron,

    I know the rule seems harsh, but it does serve an important purpose. It helps lengthen the life of a vehicle and cuts down on overall cleaning and maintenance costs. It’s seen as the more cost-effective approach. So I don’t recommend civil disobedience on this issue.

  4. Courtney says:

    But, Daron, I do understand your sentiment. (; It is a cultural issue that causes a lot of problems, not just on transit. My neighborhood segment of River Des Peres is gunked up with litter and refuse…it’s a mess. How do we encourage better habits, changing the cultural norm?

  5. RTBones says:

    As you say, Courtney, the rule is strict. So WHY, at various metro stations, are there VENDING MACHINES?

    If you dont want folks to consume food and drink on the train/bus, then why would you ever want to give them the chance to buy it just before they board?

    1. Courtney says:

      Good point, RT. It’s a tough call, and I think this is the compromise. You want to keep vehicles clean, but you also want transit travel to be enticing (and I should say STL transit travel, because as Daron is pointing out, transit travel is a little different everywhere). In Moscow, Russia you could buy food and drink at every station, but I rarely saw people eating in the cars. Just not something they did. But its a more common occurance in the US.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Hmmm, what kind of sandwich is that? It looks tasty, and I’m hungry.

    That is a fantastic photo, my friend!

  7. RTBones says:

    I just think the vending machines send a mixed message. You want clean vehicles and don’t want folks to eat and drink on the trains/buses. That is fair enough. At the same time, however, you tell people “hey, buy our snacks – just dont consume them on the trains!” It is a bit like telling a child he can’t do something, then right in front of his eyes, doing it yourself.

    Transit enticing? In St. Louis? Forgive me, but I find that statement hilarious! I suspect outside of areas that Metrolink touches, very few people in the greater metro area will acknowledge transit even exists in St. Louis. For it to be enticing, as you put it, and awful LOT of things need to change.

    1. Jennifer says:

      Like what? Give me your top five.

    2. Courtney says:

      Jennifer, it was a veggie sandwich from Cafe Mattinos. It was fantastic, even if it was made three hours earlier.

      RT…I’m a transit advocate as well as employee, so I like to shoot for enticing. I’m an optimist. In reality, its a dynamic process. That’s why we need your feedback. So keep it up, fill my inbox.

  8. RTBones says:

    1) Metro needs to build/rebuild the trust of the community (and by this I mean everybody, not just your core ridership). Frankly, right now, you dont have it.

    2) As part of that, Metro needs to actually build an image. As its been said many times throughout this blog, Metro (in particular, buses) are seen in St. Louis as transport for poor people. That image is reinforced by our signage and bus stops. They are, in many places, poor.

    3) As part of THAT, MetroLINK needs to expand. When I am taking transit to work in the mornings, I see full trains with people from every walk of life. When I connect to my bus that gets me to work, that demographic shifts dramatically.

    3a) To go along with that, all these public planning sessions are fine, but Metro has plans coming out the wazzoo. Nothing ever seems to get done.

    3b) In the same vein, quit telling us funding is scarce. Everybody (transit riders and transit non-riders alike) knows this. Find it already. Convince state leaders its necessary. Convince the COUNTY (which is where the money is in the St. Louis area) its necessary. You arent going to do that by running buses hither and yon.

    3b1) Remember your history when thinking expansion – St. Louis was at one time a streetcar city. Several of the old routes (Grand and Lindel, for example) are still quite viable as streetcar routes

    4) Metro needs to go on a publicity offensive. If it is going to survive, it has to expand. If it is going to expand, it needs a steady stream of funding. You arent going to convince folks in the county to pass a tax if you cant convince them its worth it. See #1 and #3.

    4a) Just because BRT has support in the federal government doesnt necessarily mean its what we need.

    4b) When you DO expand, dont just choose a right-of-way because its cheap/easy. Run transit where people WANT to go.

    5) The city and county need to either work together or become one. Period. Until both realize that what is good for one is also good for the other, we will be stuck as we are. This is generally outside of Metro’s control, but you need to _sell_ transit to the county – thats where the money is.

    Sorry, thats a few more than 5. 🙂

  9. Jennifer says:

    You know what? More than five is fine. I’m just happy when people take the time to be specific, so we know exactly what you want. Thank you! And yes, #5 is a bit out of our scope. 😉

  10. RTBones says:

    Hey, I’m always happy to share my opinion. Not saying you’re going to agree with it, or even that I’m right. But I am happy to share what is on my mind. 🙂

    As to Number 5 — from a political perspective, it _is_ out of your pervue. From a transit perspective, however, its Metro’s JOB to sell transit to the County. If money is scarce, then Metro needs to look where the money sits in the area – the COUNTY – and try to tap into it. That means convincing the COUNTY transit is worth it enough to pass a tax. That means convincing the COUNTY Metro can handle the job. That means Metro has to EXPAND to the COUNTY — and NOT just by adding more buses.

    1. Courtney says:

      RT, I think you should take a job as professional rabble-rouser!

  11. RTBones says:

    By the way, I am an advocate for transit too. 🙂

  12. RTBones says:

    Hey, Jennifer is the one that threw the gauntlet down. 🙂

  13. Jennifer says:

    My bad, too – this is clearly becoming off-topic. For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with you re: vending machines. I think grownups can handle buying a bottle of soda – note it’s bottles, not cans, am I right? – and taking it on the bus and not succumbing to the temptation to drink it on the bus.

  14. RTBones says:

    Yes, we sort of took a bit of a turn off course. I apologize for charging down that rabbit hole, but you did ask. 🙂

    Can grownups handle buying a soda and not drink on the bus/train? Absolutely – in the same way I can buy a coffee from a coffee shop and take it on the train and NOT drink it until I have detrained at my destination. Not all of your ridership is grownups…and some of your grownup ridership doesnt ACT like grownups.

  15. RTBones says:

    One more comment on this and I’ll shut up. 🙂

    Like Daron (and it would seem, Courtney) – I don’t care for this rule. I do understand why it is in place, however. If adults would act like, well, adults, we wouldn’t need this. But because of the actions of a few, the many will suffer without food or drink on buses and trains – if we didn’t, Metro would spend copious amounts of cash constantly conditioning (and reconditioning) carriages, be they bus or train. I agree with Jennifer’s point above, but think that as long as we have a “no food or drink” rule, vending machines should be removed from platforms.

    OT: While most of our conversation deviated from the topic at hand, thank you Courtney and Jennifer for responding.

    OT2: Jennifer’s right — that is a cute picture, Courtney. 🙂

    RT going quiet. Have a good weekend, y’all!

  16. Jimmy Z says:

    Rules are only as good as their enforcement. How many people have been cited recently for eating or drinking? Or, for my pet peeve, loud music? I’m guessing not very many, and that those that were actually deserved some “special attention”.

  17. Courtney says:


    I’ll see if I can pull those numbers for you. But we are launching a new “Respect Your Ride” campaign next week that talks about not playing loud music, using foul language, and yes, public urination. Encouraging riders to take responsibility for their behavior for the good of everyone riding. Hopefully it will encourage less of your pet peeve.

  18. BillikenAron says:

    I have to admit, when I see a vending machine at a station I pretty much assume it would be ok to buy a soda and bring it on a train.

    The one thing I took away from Daron’s post was the idea of stainless steel seats. It doesn’t immediately sound enticing but I imagine if well designed that could be comfortable and easy to clean.

    Courtney, you ask how we can change cultural norms. Personally I think outside-the-box thinking and creative enticements can be effective. Example:

    As for rules enforcement, and I understand you are already looking into this, I like the idea of harnessing the power of the crowd through things like text message reporting to security etc. Obviously you do not right now have time to place a guard in every bus or traincar and most people won’t take time at the end of a trip to report something. But I for one would report someone smoking or misbehaving, particularly if I could do it discretely from my phone.

    One other thought unrelated to this post: I’ve notice you have a lot of add space at stations that is either empty or merely advertises that it is available ad space. Have you considered giving this space for free to small businesses or non-profits on a temporary basis to prove to them the effectiveness of such ads? You might be able to win some customers by giving them a no risk trial.

  19. Jimmy Z says:

    Courtney & Billiken – I was mostly thinking about the fare inspectors – they’re on Metrolink frequently, and they would be the obvious “first line” when it comes to enforcement of what are essentially good manners. But I doubt they either want the added responsibility nor do they really have the time to do it effecitively.

  20. Courtney says:


    I love the videos. I have to say, I think the bottle bin game would increase recycling in my own household, and definitely in public spaces like transit stations. I noticed that a lot of submissions deal with public transit. Sometimes I like to think of these “fun” incentives to change behavior…applause and encouraging words piped into bus shelters?? That would be tough to pull here, but its a cool idea.

    As for advertising, Lamar and J.C. Decaux currently handle the advertising contracts on trains, buses and bus shelters, and I will pass along your idea to our contacts.

    We are currently looking into text-based communications systems, from alert delivery to bus schedules, etc. If you have any knowledge or experience with systems in other cities and want to share, let us know and to help compare applications. Since many of our passengers have phones, we figure text will be a great way for us to communicate with each other; and like Jimmy said, it can be done discretely.

  21. RTBones says:

    Billiken — I have wondered about the advertising space as well. Seems like there is a lot of it that goes unused.

  22. Daron says:

    I’m just saying. Standing on the platform in winter is quite bearable when you can buy a hot red bean paste bun and a hot bottle of soy milk. Hold them very close to your face and enjoy.

    Trash bins on the platforms are a must BTW. Korea lets me eat on the train, but I never have anywhere to go with my waste. I always put it in my backpack and then forget to dispose of it later. :o/

  23. JB says:

    How fun is this! I agree. There are enough smells to deal with on enclosed public transportation, keep the food to yourself!

  24. Courtney says:

    For further discussion on the point: takes on the etiquette of eating on the subway in New York, where passengers are allowed to consume food and beverages on transit. So here’s the other side of the coin!

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