10 July 2014

Unwritten Rules Of Commuting

I've been spending a while thinking about commuting, an activity I have to endure regularly. Spending a sizeable chunk of your day just travelling to and from work on the train gives this tedious activity a high degree of importance...

Those in the London area have the longest commuting times compared to anyone else in the UK - they spend an average of 56 minutes a day getting to and from their places of work. My own daily commute is 140 minutes - just over an hour each way, door to door. Workers who live in rural Wales spend just 28 minutes travelling per day on average.

Just surviving the daily commute is an art. Some have even begun to devise a set of (unwritten) rules. Here are a few of these, gleaned from the internet and from personal experience...


Go with the flow: as you arrive at the train station, remember that you need to keep moving! Be sure to maintain a brisk walking pace - I've seen people pushed out of the way by a less than polite commuter because they were walking too slowly. If you can't find your ticket, step aside and rejoin the throng once you've found it.

Be on time: decide what train you need to catch and give yourself time to board, remembering that doors can close up to 30 seconds before departure. Angry passengers who have missed a train by seconds are regularly spotted.

Let the passengers off first: A familiar cry from the tannoy - reminding you to be polite, allowing thise who are getting off the train to alight before getting on yourself. Surprisingly, not everyone seems to think about this...

Things change: The job of the train company is to transport people in bulk, so sometimes things have to change. However, even something simple like a platform change can have a big effect. Display boards are sometimes wrong. Platform staff aren't always given the true picture and can therefore give you incorrect information. Get used to it.


Move right down the train: If you like your personal space, I'd suggest you avoid rush hour trains. Empty seats on commuter services are rare, and therefore highly coveted. Boarding an already crowded train is a skill you will need to develop - you'll be surprised how many people can fill one small carriage! They counted the number of passengers on one London-bound commuter train in 2013 - it was at 65% over-capacity, carrying around 300 excess passengers (source: LBC).

Tempers can get frayed: You will also be surprised how many people lose their temper on commuter trains - I see at least two examples every day.

Be assertive but polite: If you see a space, make a move for it. "He who hesitates is lost."

Luggage etiquette: Bags or cases should go on your lap. Although there are luggage racks, these are rarely used - by the time you've got these down at your stop, the doors will have shut again and you'll have missed your chance. Bags don't go on seats - unless you're prepared for a row.

Choosing your seat: If you do get this rare pleasure, remember to never sit next to anyone that you don't know. They'll probably think you're a stalker. Keep your distance, until the train is so crowded that there's no choice.

Giving up your seat: I am, on occasion, pleased to see people offering their seat to elderly passengers, to pregnant women, or parents with young children. It's rarer than you might think.

Socialising: A smile at a stranger can be welcome. It can make someone’s day just to bring a bit of humanity into the day. However, be conscious of your conversations - if you are chatting with friends, be sure to keep it down, so that your conversation doesn’t disturb others passengers. Perfect strangers are not interested in overhearing your personal conversation on a train. Same with mobile phones - keep it to a minimum and keep it low. Phone ringtones should be on silent or very low out of respect for those around you. No talking is the general rule. Some train services even run 'Quiet Carriages' where this is the 'written rule'.

Music: If you are going to use a portable music player, invest in a decent pair of headphones. The cheap ones are awful. Generally, no-one wants to hear what you are listening to.

Food: not recommended on a commuter train!


Take up a hobby: I have developed a love of reading during my time commuting. Actually, modern technology means that I can also blog online, so part of my time commuting was spent editing this very article! Why? Because I would rather be anywhere else than stuck on this crowded train, between stations!

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