Posted on 5/22/2013

Written By Amber Decoff

Throughout the country, professionals use public transportation about 35 million times each weekday. That’s a lot of people with a lot of downtime. Most travelers use the time to scroll through Instagram, check their Twitter feed or reply to neglected wall posts. However, is the commute a good time to make a phone call?

Mid adult man talking on phone while commuting by bus.

There are no established rules on phone etiquette in the United States. In Japan and Europe, it is considered very rude to use your phone on public transportation. While texting and e-mailing is acceptable, voice calls should be taken in a private place.

But in the U.S., things aren’t so clear cut. Is it actually rude to engage in a private phone conversation in front of other bus riders? Should you hang up and quietly wait until your stop to talk on the phone, or proceed with your conversation for all to hear? Does it irritate fellow bus riders to overhear the details of your weekend or complain about how intense work has been? I would argue yes.

Sabrina (@SabrinaShelton), a San Francisco native and daily public transportation rider, says, “I find it quite irritating when someone hops on the bus and talks on the phone very loudly—I don’t really want to hear your business and I usually use my commute as a time to think about the day ahead. If the conversation is quiet, it’s not that bad. But in general, it’s better if the people on the bus remain quiet.”

Here’s why you should keep quiet while on public transportation:

Stay Aware! 

When you’re on the phone, your guard goes down and you become disconnected from your surroundings. The bus is crowded enough during rush hour,  and when you are chatting you are more likely to inadvertantly bump other passengers, stand in someone’s way or miss your stop. Talking on the phone also makes you an easy target for pickpocketers, since you are less focused on your belongings.

No One Wants to Hear It

Don’t spoil the outcome of last night’s episode of The Bachelor for your fellow riders and please don’t embarrass your ex by announcing how horrible he is to an audience. Most of the people overhearing your conversation are trying to tune it out. Spare them!

And If You Must…Keep It Short and Quiet

Source: @MuniDiaries, a Twitter dedicated to sharing San Francisco transit stories

If you need to talk on the phone on the bus or metro, don’t make it a dramatic interaction—try to keep it quiet by cupping your hand over your mouth so you don’t distract other travelers. Simply being conscious of your fellow travelers is a great start. And if you’re talking in public, keep it polite! Avoid profanity, complaints, or any topics you wouldn’t discuss with your mother.

No one will stop you from using your phone while on public transportation. However, the polite and respectful thing to do is to save intense phone conversations for your walk home or a more private place.

While we can agree that in most instances, loud phone conversations are rude, what about loud person to person conversations? Hearing two people catch up or chat on public transportation can ruin the ride too, but is more socially accepted. It seems ridiculous to ask two friends sitting next to each other to be quiet during the ride – but we expect people on the phone to be quiet. The U.S. is split on this issue, and until we adopt a nationwide accepted etiquette, someone will always be annoyed.

What are your thoughts on phone etiquette on the public transportation? Have you ever had a bad experience? Tell us in the comments below!

Amber DMeet Amber

Amber Decoff is a recent college graduate, social media fanatic and self-diagnosed shopping addict. She currently resides in San Francisco and works at a boutique Technology PR Agency, @StearnsJohnson. Since she’s new to the city, she enjoys exploring new places to eat and savoring every minute of the weekend. Follow her impulsive thoughts and favorite articles on Twitter @ambyyd.