How bus commuters avoid each other
A new study has revealed the tactics commuters in buses use to avoid each other, a practice which has been described as 'nonsocial transient behaviour'.
The study was carried out by Esther Kim, from Yale University, who chalked up thousands of miles of bus travel to examine the unspoken rules and behaviours of commuters.
Over three years Kim took coach trips across the United States.
Kim's first trip, from Connecticut and New Mexico, took two days and 17 hours, which was followed by further adventures from California to Illinois, Colorado to New York, and Texas to Nevada.
"We live in a world of strangers, where life in public spaces feels increasingly anonymous," Kim said.
"However, avoiding other people actually requires quite a lot of effort and this is especially true in confined spaces like public transport," Kim said.
Kim found that the greatest unspoken rule of bus travel is that if other seats are available you shouldn't sit next to someone else. As the passengers claimed, "It makes you look weird".
When all the rows are filled and more passengers are getting aboard the seated passengers initiate a performance to strategically avoid anyone sitting next to them.
"I became what's known as an experienced traveller and I jotted down many of the different methods people use to avoid sitting next to someone else," Kim said.
"We engage in all sorts of behaviour to avoid others, pretending to be busy, checking phones, rummaging through bags, looking past people or falling asleep. Sometimes we even don a 'don't bother me face' or what's known as the 'hate stare'.
"This all changes however when it is announced that the bus will be full so all seats should be made available.
"The objective changes, from sitting alone to sitting next to a 'normal' person," Kim said.
Kim found that race, class, gender and other background characteristics were not key concerns for commuters when they discovered someone had to sit next them.
They all just wanted to avoid the 'crazy person'.
"One rider told me the objective is just 'getting through the ride', and that I should avoid fat people who may sweat more and so may be more likely to smell," Kim said.
"Motivating this nonsocial behaviour is the fact that one's own comfort level is the rider's key concern, rather than the backgrounds of fellow passengers," Kim said.
Kim found that this nonsocial behaviour is also driven by safety concerns, especially for coach travel which is perceived to be dangerous with ill lit bus stations. Kim also found that passengers expected each other to be jaded by delays or other inconveniences.
"In a cafe, which is more relaxed, people often ask strangers to watch their stuff for a moment.
"Yet at bus stations that rarely happens as people assume their fellow passengers will be tired and stressed out.
"Ultimately this nonsocial behaviour is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time.
"Yet this deliberate disengagement is a calculated social action, which is part of a wider culture of social isolation in public spaces," Kim added.
The best advice Kim's got from fellow passengers was:
Avoid eye contact with other people
Lean against the window and stretch out your legs
Place a large bag on the empty seat
Sit on the aisle seat and turn on your iPod so you can pretend you can't hear people asking for the window seat.
Place several items on the spare seat so it's not worth the passenger's time waiting for you to move them.
Look out the window with a blank stare to look crazy
Pretend to be asleep
Put your coat on the seat to make it appear already taken
If all else fails, lie and say the seat has been taken by someone else
The study has been published in Symbolic Interaction.