Is your bag entitled to a seat? The worst people on public transport

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Women crowded by manspreading is an international problem.  Photo: Richard Yeh / WNYC

Women crowded by manspreading is an international problem. Photo: Richard Yeh / WNYC

I'm at my most intolerant on public transport. Just this week I've struggled to conceal my contempt for a cast of characters who seemed intent on making the work-bound journey as unpleasant as possible.

On Monday there was a guy who stank the carriage with fried food and ravenous open-mouthed chewing. He sounded like he hunted and killed the animal himself with his own teeth. On Tuesday there was a woman who felt the urgent need to suddenly cut her fingernails, each clip an audible reminder that I am indeed capable of homicidal acts. She's alive today only because she stayed away from her feet. Then on Wednesday there were the young lovers who constantly smooched as though they were merely one kiss away from getting undressed; just one touch away from premature humiliation.

The peak hour crush means problems on public transport are only going to get worse.  Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

The peak hour crush means problems on public transport are only going to get worse. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

I'm not proud of those embellishments. I know they reflect poorly on me as a human being even though I surely can't be the only one aggravated by such colourful personalities. And others like them: loud phone talkers, musical head-bangers, those who think their bag is entitled to a seat, those with no courtesy or sense to wait for passengers to alight from the train before barging their way onto it.

You get my drift. The problem is likely to worsen, with a number of state governments announcing in recent years their desire to entice more people to use public transport as a way of easing congestion and environmental damage. Which is wise. Except as the crowding veers away from cars and towards other forms of transport, the social problems are likely to intensify; one in particular.

Women may start avoiding public transport at night to steer clear of sexual harassment.  Photo: Tammy Law

Women may start avoiding public transport at night to steer clear of sexual harassment. Photo: Tammy Law

Sexual harassment. In an extensive review of research on the topic, scholars from Griffith University published their findings a few months ago that found the prevalence of sexual harassment on public transport diminishes the extent to which it's used by women, since most women admit they've been victims of it at least once. For some it was leering and slurring, while for others it was far more serious, such as stalking and assault.

"The majority of reported incidences in the developed world occur during peak-passenger hours," write the researchers, "supporting the notion that over-crowding is the major driver of harassment."

One example is frottage. That's when you find yourself on a packed platform or a cramped carriage and notice someone lightly rubbing themselves against you. It's so light you almost excuse it as an accident, until you shift forward only for it to be repeated, this time more obviously.

As a result, "many women are fearful of public spaces, including public transport, especially at night and alone, and therefore restrict their use of these spaces", write the academics. Women then "modify their behaviour in minor ways in response to [their] fear of harassment".

These actions include getting off the train and waiting for the next one, going to a safer carriage, sitting next to friendlier-looking people, and wearing a backpack so that unwanted touching is prevented.

The researchers suggest several solutions, such as more lighting and surveillance cameras, although studies on their success are so far unimpressive. Of greater merit is an expanded presence of security officers, as well as a range of awareness campaigns. The more controversial suggestion is to establish women-only transport, perhaps carriages reserved for females, but there's a lot of debate in that regard since it's perceived by many as a form of segregation.

Whatever the solution, it's a serious problem that renders my daily annoyances nothing more than trivial whining. Although if I see one more person cutting their nails on a train…

James Adonis is the author of How To Be Great. Follow MySmallBusiness on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.