Move back: A casual guide to regular bus usage

Photo by Nick Magrino
The slow motion train wreck of a crowded Nicollet Mall bus during rush hour never ceases to amaze.

Hi, I’m Nick Magrino, you may remember me from such self-help posts as “Simple Suggestions for Grant Street” and “We Need to Stop the Southwest Corridor.” logo

In our fledging metropolitan area, Superbowls are plentiful but high-quality transit options can be hard to come by (see above). However, there are all sorts of ways to make your transit experience less painful while simultaneously making it more efficient for you and your fellow riders.

Before boarding

1.) Get a transit pass

Get a Go-To Card, or Metropass, or a U-Pass, or a College Pass. No questions. No negotiations. You’ll thank me–it’s far easier (and cheaper!) than carrying different arrangements of paper (actually cotton linen!) cash and cupronickel coinage. No more painstaking rush hour dime fumbles causing the bus to miss a red light. There’s even a fail-safe built into transit passes! You can dip into five dollars of negative balance if you forget to refill your card. I can’t seem to find any proof of this on Metro Transit’s website, but trust me, it is a thing. You also get discounts when loading at least $10 of stored value to a Go-To card–good for an extra 10%, so $10 becomes $11, $20 becomes $22, etc.

Cash should really be phased out on transit.

2.) Be realistic about schedules (This tip is probably not what you think)

I’ll let you in on a secret that almost destroys many of my other opinions about transit: A lot of the time, the bus is actually just like a train. Meaning that, if you’re heading from the University of Minnesota East Bank campus to Downtown Minneapolis, and it’s not 3:00 AM, you probably shouldn’t need to check a schedule at all. Ditto for trips from Uptown Minneapolis to Lake and Hiawatha, and many other combinations. There’s a specific Hi-Frequency Service Network of buses identified by Metro Transit, but there are many other segments that probably count — the Route 4 and Route 17 buses in South Minneapolis, most of the time, come to mind. It took me like six months at the U of M to realize that, basically, the bus I want to take will come every 10 to 15 minutes, and worrying about catching it at 4:37 rather than 4:30 or 4:45 isn’t really necessary. I’ve waited in grade separated heavy rail train stations in Big Cities for more than 10 or 15 minutes on many occasions.

Note: Tip only applies to central city residents, and maybe only the most central one or two hundred thousand of them, at that.

3.) Remember, Nice Ride fills many gaps!

Nice Ride: It’s great. The bike share’s stations are strategically placed in many popular parts of the core cities. Nice Ride, for me, is most useful (and very much so) as a return trip at night and on weekends. When bus service thins out as the sun goes down, you can count on Nice Ride to get you home without 45 minute service frequencies. In particular, it’s helpful for completing trips where one leg is in a more isolated area–Northeast Minneapolis comes to mind.

While aboard

4.) Unless you have a plan, sit down immediately

When on the bus, and there are open seats, sit down. There will generally be open seats. Sit down, even if it’s next to a person, even if you don’t know that person, and even if you’re not entirely on board with their wardrobe choices. Exception: If you’re getting off in the next…quarter (?) mile, this tip doesn’t necessarily apply, but conditions will vary. If on Nicollet Mall or any busy rush hour route, always sit down. This allows easy flow of passengers into and out of the front and back doors without their having to finagle their way, with their two shopping bags and suitcase and two kids, around you, standing in the aisle, because you didn’t want to potentially rub knees with someone. The seats are padded, and unlike on the light rail vehicles, you don’t have to stare deeply into the eyes of the passenger across from you.

5.) Probably do not stand in the rear doorway

In situations where there are in fact no available seats, be smart about where you choose to stand. Generally, standing in the rear doorway is a terrible idea, especially if you have any amount of carried things, or if you’re not a small person, or if you’re texting and/or have big headphones on and are oblivious to your surroundings. Two good places to stand are in the front and back of the bus, depending on what point you’re at in the trip–if you’re on a Route 3 bus heading towards St. Paul on a Tuesday afternoon and you’ve been on that bus more than a handful of times, you’ll know that that thing will be pretty full of humanity by the time you get to the Dinkytown McDonald’s, but will quickly thin out after that. So use common sense–stand towards the front, as people hopefully will be exiting out the back door (see tip #7).

If you are forced to stand in the rear doorway due to a crushloaded bus, consider the ease of hopping off the bus for 1.5 seconds to let people off, and quickly hopping back on once passengers have gotten off, rather than accidentally getting to second base with people as they exit.

6.) For the Love of God, move back

The slow motion train wreck of a crowded Nicollet Mall bus during rush hour never ceases to amaze. As part of my afternoon commute, I will generally take a Route 17 or Route 18 bus south down Nicollet Mall, and I’m lucky that I get to board on the north side of the mall, before people start gathering in the back of the bus around a trash fire in a barrel like the 1930s hobos we are. It’s unclear how so many regular transit riders fail to anticipate that, yes, the Route 18 bus will probably be crowded in Downtown Minneapolis at 4:30 PM on a Tuesday.

After most or every seat is taken, people will start to bunch up in the aisle, and there’s always that one person standing just before the steps who has to realize that there are six more people trying to board, and the continued passable operation of the entire metropolitan area’s transit system is dependent on them taking six steps back to let those people on, but they just stand there. Mind-boggling. Anyway, don’t do this, you look like a moron, just move, or figure it out, or whatever. Move back.

7.) Exit out the back door when possible

While this tip runs contrary to everything Minnesotans are and aspire to be and are lampooned as in a recent FX miniseries, it’s important. Saying thank you to the bus driver is less important than exiting the bus in a way that does not delay new riders from boarding. This tip is negotiable–if you’re the bus’ sole passenger and you’re sitting in the front, and you see that no one is boarding at the stop you requested, by all means, say thank you to the bus driver. It’s also negotiable when the weather prevents the back door from being a good option.


I will close with a quote from national treasure/Gawker staff writer Caity Weaver:

Short of burning down their barns or murdering their families, inconveniencing people on public transit is one of the worst things a person can do to their fellow human beings.

Please ride considerately.

This post was written by Nick Magrino and originally published on Follow on Twitter: @streetsmn.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Matt Becker on 05/28/2014 - 10:29 am.

    Good tips


    1. Sit up front and exit through the front if you are using the bicycle rack.
    2. Please consider a self-imposed two block minimum ride when downtown.
    3. The article’s tip #2 goes out the window completely in the winter months.
    4. Dude, “driver” is not the preferred nomenclature. Operator, please.
    5. On a crowded bus get your bag off the seat next to you and let other people sit down.

  2. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 05/28/2014 - 06:33 pm.

    I flip my lid when people leave their bags on the seat until it is the only one left.

    Drivers – sorry, operators – need to do a better job of telling people to move back. Bus riders are too timid to slap someone upside the head who is too dense to understand, but a couple kind announcements from the operator will do the trick.

    Don’t cast your eyes around a half-full bus then sit in the farthest seat forward. We all know exactly what you just did there.

    Mind your bag flap. When you’re walking down the aisle, please be careful not to dangle your bag so it whaps people on the shoulder, or worse, in the face. Holding it in front of you is the best option here.

    If you’re a regular in a route of regulars, don’t sit by the same person every day. That’s weird.

    Don’t budge in the line. This infuriates me more than anything on Earth. When a line of people has formed as the bus approaches, you are not entitled to waltz your arse up and cut in like, “Golly gee, I didn’t know you guys were all in a line here.” That isn’t accepted anywhere else in life and it isn’t accepted here. Die.

  3. Submitted by Matthew Ng on 05/28/2014 - 10:22 pm.

    This is what the bus should be like idealistically…

    Except no one really cares about any of metro transit’s rules, they are not enforced by anyone, and if you tell someone that they need to turn down their music or do anything in accordance with the rules they will either try to fight you, or they will be even more annoying.

    The code of conduct for Metro Transit buses is:

    Home > Rider Services > Code of Conduct

    Transit customers have responsibilities. This code of conduct applies to all customers. Some parts of the code are just common sense; others are dictated by state law. Read Minnesota statutes related to crimes involving transit.

    Pay the right fare
    Failure to pay for your ride can result in a $180 fine. Pay as you get on the bus or be prepared to show proof of having paid the correct fare on the train. Train tickets, transfers and Go-To Cards and passes are not transferable to someone else – you cannot lend them, give them away or sell them.

    Do not distract the driver or bother others
    Interfering with the safe operation of a transit vehicle is not only dumb, but hazardous to you and everyone else and it will get you arrested. If you threaten the operator or another passenger, you could wind up in cuffs.

    No Smoking!
    There is no smoking on buses or trains, in bus shelters or on rail station platforms (including e-cigarettes). If you must smoke, leave the bus shelter or platform area.

    Make the ride comfortable for everyone
    Designated seats at the front of every bus and clearly marked seats on every train are reserved for seniors and customers with disabilities. Please surrender your seat to these customers when they board.

    Use headphones and respect others’ privacy
    Groove, jam, rock out – just realize that it’s your own soundtrack. Don’t share it with others.

    Use your inside voice
    If you talk on your phone, remember that you’ve got a built-in audience. Be mindful of your language, keep your voice low and your call brief.

    Keep it clean
    Respect those who will ride after you. Keep your feet off the seats and take litter off with you when you leave.

    No shirt, no shoes – you know the rest
    Just like in stores and other businesses, customers without shirts or shoes will be refused service.

    Use only G-rated words
    Using profanity or derogatory statements is not tolerated on buses or trains. Use of this language can get you removed from the bus and your riding privileges canceled for 30 days.

    No eating, alcohol or drinks in uncovered containers
    You’re welcome to bring your morning coffee with you. Just make sure it’s in a container with a sealed lid – and take the container off the bus or train with you when you leave.

    Say no to sprawl
    Your bag belongs on your lap, not taking up the seat next to you. If you’re standing, make room by moving to the back of the bus or to the center of the train.

    Keep Fluffy in a carrier
    Pets are welcome on buses and trains as long as they are kept in animal carriers. Service animals are exempt.

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