Etiquette express: Train manners, please

MANILA, Philippines - Taking the train in Manila is not easy. Some would call it a daily battle, waiting in line at the MRT or LRT station just to squeeze inside a metal box packed beyond limits with other people. Moods are testy, tensions high. When the train slides (or screeches) to a stop at your destination, you have to fight your way to the door, often eliciting rough words from other passengers.

All these experiences make for a bumpy ride. But the LRT and MRT are here to stay (at least for several years) and whether we like it or not, many of us depend on it to get around. While improvements in the public transport system are called for, there are ways we can make our lives and the lives of our fellow passengers easier.

You'd be surprised how much good ol' manners and compassionate consideration for others can improve our train ride experience. They remind us that we shouldn't let hardship and inconveniences turn us into brutes.

1. Put your backpack in front of you

Charging into the train with your backpack behind you can potentially hurt fellow passengers without you knowing it. Because your bag is out of your sight, even just turning sideways can cause your bag to hit someone behind or beside you. This can be painful especially when your bag has metal buckles or big zippers that could graze skin or cause bruising. Simply wearing your backpack in front of you can save others from pain and can help you keep a better eye on your belongings.

2. Don't talk too loud

The train carriage is a small metal space where sound reverberates. Notice that even your normal speaking voice sounds unnaturally loud inside the train. Carrying a lengthy conversation with your fellow passenger or on your phone can be a headache for other passengers who value the quiet after a stressful day.

Be polite and converse in whispers or save your phone call for later. This goes for playing music as well. Don't play music through your phone or MP3 speakers. Use earphones instead and make sure the music is only loud enough for your ears to hear. You may love hip hop, heavy rock or 80s love songs, but your fellow passengers may not. 

3. Be hygienic

It may be too much to expect that you are totally sweat-free and rose-smelling every time you ride the train but it's easy enough to wipe your sweaty forehead and arms before you enter the carriage. This will be especially appreciated during the rush hours of 8-10 am and 5-8 pm when passengers are so packed together that one's chin is almost resting on another's shoulder. Put deodorant at the start of every day or bring an extra shirt. And don't even think of riding the train if you have a tendency to not take a bath for days.

4. Don't bring kids along during rush hour

One of the most depressing scenes during train rides are young children bawling in their mother's arms because of the heat and stuffiness, or kids crushed by other passengers. Even more traumatizing is seeing parents push their children in front of them before entering the train as if to use their own kids to clear the way. If you often take the train with your kids, time it so that you avoid the rush hour.

If you really don't have time to wait, it might be safer for you and your child to take the taxi or another mode of public transportation. Remember that trains are hotspots for airborne diseases or diseases that can be passed on through direct contact. Though you may have resistance to infection, your young kids may not.

5. Line up

Some train stations are already implementing this rule but follow it whether or not the station guard tells you to. A line helps avoid free-for-all scenarios when only brute force and sheer will can get you on the train. A line is more humane, especially for passengers too weak or old to fight their way through. 

6. Say 'excuse me'

The traditional form of pleasantries are still relevant on the tracks. Before resorting to pushing or shoving, excuse yourself first and see if fellow passengers move to clear the way. If they don't because there is really no more space to move, say "sorry" before squeezing your way out. 

7. Don't use foul language

A typical rush hour scene includes someone bad-mouthing another passenger who hurt them, cut the line or simply irritated them. Though some people may deserve the bad language, this is no reason to indulge yourself. Everyone is stressed and tired. Giving them your understanding and patience is the kindest thing one can do. Bad words will just heighten the tension and spread the bad vibes. Your fellow passengers would be grateful for not stirring the flame or ruining an already tiring day. -

LRT train in Manila image from Shutterstock

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at