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January 13, 2010

Would You Mind Turning That Down? I’m Trying to Ride Public Transit

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I’m sorry sir, but would you mind turning your music down?  I’m trying to ride transit here.

By definition, public transit is a common space, a place where people of all backgrounds come together to travel.  It’s such a cross-section of ages and backgrounds brought together, sharing a space without directly interacting, that psychology researchers routinely use public transit to observe human behavior patterns. Transit riders travel together, but they usually aren’t directly interacting with other. Of course, that changes when people are rude, disruptive or lack courtesy. We share a common rider experience, and a few bad apples can seriously ruin someone’s trip.

Following in the example of New Jersey Transit and NYC’s MTA, Metro has launched an ad campaign, “Respect Your Ride”, on our MetroBuses and MetroLink station platforms and elevators to help remind people to be mindful of other riders and to curb undesirable behavior. The posters also include the phone number for Passenger Assistance in case riders want to report a problem.

It’s difficult to govern other people’s behavior, especially if they don’t realize that they are being bad fellow riders.  But we can bring it to their attention.


“Loud Music is Loud”

Sometimes its difficult to gauge this, but the rule of thumb for me is if other people can clearly hear what you are listening to, it is too loud. Even if you are listening with headphones. Not everyone is going to share your taste in music, and some people like to read and relax while riding. Or sleep. Or just not listen to your music.  The same goes for loud and obnoxious speaking aloud and on a cell phone.

“Foul Language is Offensive”

We all know foul language can be offensive. But curses words or choice phrases can seem aggressive and confrontational as well. No one wants to experience that from fellow riders. If it would make Grandma blush, its not appropriate to share on public transit. And if you are saying it aloud on transit, you are sharing it with everyone.

“Undercover Officers on Board”

This sign is to remind riders that Metro partners with St. Louis City and County to have undercover police presence on the system to deter illegal or disruptive activity.

“Public Urination is Illegal”

Saved the best for last. These signs will only hang in MetroLink elevators, where public urination has been a particular problem. The elevator not a private place to relieve onself; they are actually heavily monitored. In addition to the signs, every elevator has a camera linking back to our communications dispatch center, and have a speaker that security can engage to talk to the perpetrator. Public urination in elevators is a significant issue since individuals who cannot take the stairs must use the elevators to reach street level.

Another reason to focus on quality-of-life issues for riders is that it help make public transit more efficient. Problems like these direct resources for customer service, security, and maintenance away from other issues. Courteous behavior encourages more discretionary riders to take transit. It’s a win-win for Metro and our riders.

As a transit user, I find my trips in St. Louis are mostly calm. During the peak times of the day, both MetroLink and MetroBus are fairly quiet. But we all have stories too. Jennifer mentioned that feet on her seat was a real pet peeve. @u2acro on Twitter said she hates it when people take up two seats with their bag/person when people are looking to sit down. Whatever your pet peeve, the ads will hopefully remind people that when you keep other riders in mind and act with respect and courtesy, you are a better public transit rider.  Will everyone listen?  No.  But we hope that many will.

13 thoughts on “Would You Mind Turning That Down? I’m Trying to Ride Public Transit”

  1. Eric says:

    People don’t pee in elevators because they want to be disrespectful, they do it because there is no where else to go. Install a bathroom in/near metrolink stations and 100-1 it solves the problem better than a sign.

    Likewise, what’s with the “Undercover cops on board?” sign? “Respect your ride” sounds like a good message — one of reminding people to be adults, follow the golden rule, respect yourself, respect each other. “Undercover officers on board” sounds a bit too much like “You are a potential criminal and you are being watched” to me. Same with the fare cops publicly dressing people down and humiliating them for riding without a ticket.

    Can we think about ways to create a vibrant and safe and clean transit system that don’t seem like they are treating the riders of that system like children?

  2. Daron says:

    “Public Urination is Illegal” lol

    I agree that every station should have a bathroom, of course (not a small and smelly plastic box either). Something nice and permanent would be great.

    Cities should have public bathrooms everywhere, not just in train stations. Victoria station in London has a bathroom that charges a fee (and has CCTV!!!). I think paying paying a quarter to use a public toilet is fair. I’ll pay a dollar if its clean.

    I think this is better than the bizarre self-cleaning bathroom in George Orwell Square in Barcelona. Once you enter, a countdown begins, and you better get out when the red light starts flashing. The door locks and water sprays the whole bathroom down. Needless to say, the toiletseat is always wet. It is my sincere hope that no other city in the world ever installs something so sinister. I can’t imagine being caught inside of that thing.

  3. Courtney says:

    In Russia there were pay restrooms by the Metro stations. A free public restroom was very rare.

    Pay restrooms is an interesting option. One consideration though is safety. How do we keep these restrooms safe for patrons, especially later at night?

  4. Paul says:

    I agree the “pay” restrooms idea is intriguing.

    Personally, I don’t buy the “there is no where else to go” explanation. As a transit rider, there have been many times where the “urge” has come upon me as I am riding. Never have I considered urinating on public property nor on my neighbors lawns when I have to walk from the stop to my home. I simply hold it.

    The issue comes back to safety and expense and education. Safety will forever be a concern with public restrooms. There is no easy answer there. The expense for installing bathrooms is a one time deal. It is the operating/maintenance expense that is ongoing. Do riders want to see Metro spending their money to support restrooms? Lastly, Metro does have to engage in some kind of public education effort. I do not think Metro is treating anyone like a child. It may be shocking, but some people just don’t know. Metro cannot ultimately change anyone’s behavior. But, for example, there are numerous signs within MetroLink trains put there by health care advertisers encouraging readers to take some kind of health action or to raise awareness. To some people those healthcare concerns seem like a no-brainer, but for others, it may be the first time the thought ever entered their head. Are the Metro ads any different?

    1. Courtney says:


      Actually, the maintenance crews and dispatch that most closely deal with this problem find people from all walks of life engaging in this ahem, destructive behavior. I imagine that is true among all transit agencies and other public facilities.

  5. Spokker says:

    Paul, your argument misses a crucial point. You say, “Never have I considered urinating on public property nor on my neighbors lawns when I have to walk from the stop to my home.” The people p***ing on public transit are less likely to have a home. They aren’t likely to even know what they are doing. Some people don’t just whip out their d*** and start peeing, but p*** or s*** themselves, which tracks it onto the bus, train, whatever, when they sit down.

    Signs will not fix the problem. Pay toilets will not fix the problem. These people have no money. That’s just a futile band-aid on the ultimate solution of better health and human services for the homeless and mentally disabled.

    [Editor’s Note: Comment was modified to remove profanity.]

  6. John says:

    While it’s true that urinating in an elevator is distasteful (even potentially hazardous to other riders) if the transit system doesn’t provide any bathroom facilities, what can they expect? Not everyone can predict their urinary habits accurately. All transit agencies should be required to provide restroom facilities in all permanent stations as a condition for receiving federal funding.

    In the San Francisco area, the BART transit agency shut down restrooms in all underground SF stations back after 9/11 for “security reasons” and hasn’t managed to address these unspecified “security concerns” in the 9 years since then. Other transit agencies, like say, New York City, manage to somehow keep their restrooms open. It’s clear that this is just a sham to save money at the expense of passengers who can face 1+ hour commutes in peak hours (my record is 1:45 due to a delay).

  7. Courtney says:


    It comes down to priorities. Right now, focus is on restoring service. We want to ask the question, “How do you want us to spend your money?” In the first round of our public workshops, restrooms were the least preferred amenity compared to transit center, security and lighting, and shelters and seating.

    It doesn’t mean that restroom are off the radar. It just means we have to prioritize, and public feedback is important.

  8. Eric says:

    New York is the last place I want to emulate as far as bathrooms go. As someone with an *ahem* small bladder, NYC is my least favorite city to try to find a bathroom in. Really this isn’t a Metro thing, it’s a US city thing. Nearly every European city I’ve ever been in has public restrooms (some pay, some not) around the city. Here we just have “Restrooms are for customers only” signs.

    Quick, you really have to go and you are at the Grand Metrolink station waiting to xfer to your bus. You have 15 minutes before the bus comes, and 20 minutes until your stop, and a 20 minute walk home after that. Where do you pee?

    For better or worse Metro elevators tend to be places in the city you can duck into for a little privacy. (even though as mentioned, they really only have the appearance of privacy)

    *sigh* how do we even have to have discussions prioritizing lighted stops or public bathrooms when there always seems to be money for wider highways or new military excursions. (And yes, I realize the DoD budget doesn’t take away from any city agency budget, no need to be pedantic). In my ideal world Metro has money to expand service, fix buses, have restrooms, lights, clean and warm shelters, bike racks….

    In the meantime, I expect that the public urination signs won’t make much difference. When you gotta go, you gotta go. More aggressive ticketing and policing of elevators probably would help, but then again you’re just cracking down on the symptom when the cause is fairly obvious.

    Maybe plant large and strategically placed bushes around most stations? 🙂

  9. Spokker says:

    “Actually, the maintenance crews and dispatch that most closely deal with this problem find people from all walks of life engaging in this ahem, destructive behavior.”

    Maybe. But I have a hard time believing that someone who urinates in public is not mentally unstable or drunk. In either case, they aren’t going to heed the signs. All you can really do is clean up after them. I pity the high school dropout who falls into that job.

  10. NN says:

    Courtney “Destructive behavior” is too harsh. I agree that it is bad on ones part but may be they did not have any other choice. I strongly believe that it is the responsibility of county health department to provide one. Isn’t this a public health hazard? Does Metro need volunteers to support this initiative? I am more than willing to be one!

    Why is it only a particular problem in elevators? What about on staircases (and station premises) where majority of your passengers climb up and down? Grand station, Union station, Forest Park station? A free public restroom at Grand station is a good place to start…

    — Pay restrooms are hilarious at best. Paying two dollars to ride to the station so that they can pee for a dollar. Public restrooms should be accessible and “affordable”.

    — Public education is not going to work either. Who do you think is going to attend?

    >>> “Will everyone listen? No. But we hope that many will.”

    That “many” that you are talking about are people who are already great transit riders.

    I do not want to ignore the great effort and resources put into this campaign but this is NOT going to work. You should think about other options. This blog is a great platform for getting feedback and ideas and I hope someone will come up with a solution.

  11. Jennifer says:

    I, too, appreciated all of the public restrooms in the European cities, especially traveling with kids. (Though don’t get me started on how access to restrooms doesn’t mean they will use them – I climbed nearly all the way to the top of the famous Bruges bell tower only to be told by my 12 y.o. sister that we had to immediately go back down and find a restroom for her, even though she had just refused to use one upon finishing our lunch!)

    Since St. Louis doesn’t have the money to be building a lot of restrooms right now, how about something like this as a (gender-preferential, but still better than nothing) solution?

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