Ride it right: Train etiquette to live by

Think you’ve got all your subway-riding/train-riding etiquette down pat? Source: Shutterstock.

WHEN RIDING THE TRAIN, most people want to be treated well, with some semblance of consideration and respect from other riders. Unfortunately, it’s not universal.

It’s hard to nail down exactly what makes good train etiquette since each person’s threshold for annoyance varies. But there are some common things that riders should absolutely not be doing.

In Asia, many places are pretty well-connected via rails such as those in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, China, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

But the rules could differ largely, in part due to the different cultures. For example, in Japan, passengers are required to switch their cell phones to silent mode and are advised to refrain from talking on it during their ride.

They also need to turn their cell phones off when near priority seats (seats for the elderly, commuters with disabilities, commuters with infants and expectant mothers) during rush hour and other busy periods.

In fact, there are signs everywhere and public service announcements made every couple of minutes in both Japanese and English to remind passengers.

Japan’s Tokyo Metro even offers a “Maternity Mark” keychain to expectant or nursing mothers to pay special attention to the health and well-being of expectant mothers and their children even during the initial stages of pregnancy when fetal development is less noticeable. Source: AFP.

Failure to comply with the rules will draw stares from the locals.

So whether you’re heading to East Asia to enjoy the fall foliage in autumn or planning to frolick by the beach at one of Southeast Asia’s breathtakingly beautiful islands, here are some train etiquette to learn up and familiarize yourself with.

Patience is a virtue

First things first, let the passengers alight before entering the coach.

It’s a no-brainer because it’s the same practice used when entering an elevator, really.

Passengers hurry at Akihabara’s crowded station in Tokyo, Japan. Source: Shutterstock.

Also, queue up in an orderly fashion not right in front of the train doors but slightly on the left and right to give way.

Give it up

It’s likely that this one is universal and applies across most Asian countries.

If you’re in the “priority seating area”, usually marked by different colored seats or signs, know when to give it up.

Priority seats in Malaysia’s LRT, a space reserved for disabled people, older people and pram users. Source: Shutterstock

This means the elderly, the disabled, injured passengers, pregnant women, or people with small children.

Don’t hog the rails

Unless if you chartered the entire train, the rails are not yours to hog.

Pick one to hold onto (with one arm) to balance yourself when the train swerves, jerks, and brakes.

The hand/grab rails in a Japanese train. Source: Shutterstock.

By all means, do not lean on the rails or decide to hold on to more than one grab rail.


Let’s face it, nobody likes to be shoved and cornered by large backpacks.

In 2014, cartoon commuter Bag-Down Benny jumped on Singapore’s Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) thoughtful bandwagon.

Bag-Down Benny tells passengers to put their bags down so others will have more room.

Keep your legs closed

For starters, spreading your legs wide open in a “V” is never a good look.

When a rider sits like that, he or she can take up two seats as his or her legs extend into the seating space on either side.

Keep in mind that you, like everyone else, only paid for one seat. Source: Shutterstock.

Let’s not be rude or gross, as it can make people uncomfortable in more ways than one.

Fill ‘er up

You’d be surprised at how many people can fit in a train’s coach if you tried.

If you’re going to be in for a long-ish journey, don’t leave the space in between empty.

Commuters packed inside a coach on the Tokyo metro subway. Source: Shutterstock.

Move in and fill up the space instead of rooting yourself at the doors so that other passengers can board the train.

Don’t chow down

Most trains will have this one rule: no eating or drinking allowed.

Unless your ride specifically comes with a dining coach to serve that purpose, refrain from food or drink consumption.

Be it a bento or a burger, refrain from eating on the train. Source: Shutterstock.

Other riders may find the smell unpleasant, and you certainly don’t want your lunch to end up on your neighbor’s lap accidentally.

Shuffle out, shuffle in

In a coach jam-packed with passengers, getting out and getting in is akin to going to war.

If you happen to be standing by the doors, have some courtesy and shuffle out for a moment to let passengers disembark.

It will take you only all of five seconds to let others disembark. Source: Shutterstock.

Obstructing the path will do nobody any favors.