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Commuting Etiquette: Me First, or Just Practical?

When we talk transportation etiquette, it's usually to say that people on Metro escalators should stand right and walk left, or that slower drivers should stay out of the left lanes. This letter is a bit different: How to exit a bus.

Dear Dr Gridlock:
I wanted to share my experience from riding the bus in Sweden, where I was born and raised.

When you take the bus -- for example, in Stockholm -- you enter through the front door, as in Washington. But you always exit the bus from the back door. I was surprised when I started to take the bus in Washington, when you first have to wait while people are getting off, before you can get on.

By getting off at the back door a flow is created through the bus, people can exit at the same time as others enter and a lot of time is saved, especially at rush hour.
Caroline Vicini

So many Washingtonians started out elsewhere and can compare our transportation system with others. I invited readers of my Dr. Gridlock column to do so, and I appreciate getting letters like this.

Several thoughts on the bus issue:
-- People in Scandanavia generally seemed much more willing to follow commonly accepted rules when traveling. But trying to get us to follow a set of transportation rules is like trying to herd cats.
-- The efficiency argument is a close call: Yes, people have to wait to board till people have exited the front door. But at rush hour, it would take a while for all the exiting passengers from the front half of the bus to reach the back door. Since the bus can't leave till everyone is off, the time spent at the bus stop might be the same no matter which exit system was used.
-- You know the front door is going to open, so you're more likely to head for that. People at the back door sometimes have to yell up to the driver to get it opened.
-- Bus lines might deal with the efficiency issue by purchasing more buses with three sets of doors, like the District's Circulator. People can use two sets of doors to exit quickly.

If you'd like to comment on your favorite form of transportation etiquette, you can always do so here on the blog, or write to me at (We publish some of those letters in the newspaper, so please include your full name, home community and a contact phone number.)

By Robert Thomson  |  February 9, 2009; 9:02 AM ET
Categories:  transit  
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I've always thought front in back out would be more efficient, but at many stops there are no people and it just makes sense to leave from whatever door is closer. I also don't know if the rear door 'lowers' for those who need easier access to the bus.

Posted by: idiparker | February 9, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

On a more nicer note, I find some people like to exit through the front so that they can thank the driver, or tell him/her to have a nice day. And downtown, it seems like a lot of busses have a knack for stopping so that the backdoor is squarely in the middle of one of those flower/tree patches, and go figure - some people don't like to walk through mud/mulch.

Although, I sometimes want to shake people who insist on moving from the very back of the bus to the front of bus, especially if they wait until the bus stops to even get up - if you want to thank the driver or whatever, start moving before the bus comes to a stop! Also, plenty of times when I'm sitting in an aisle seat and I stand up to let someone off, I'll stand in such a way to open a path to the nearest exit (usually the back door), and people will wriggle to get past me to exit through the front, even though they are closer to the back door, and there's no one blocking the way.

Posted by: anoel | February 9, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

After the middle dooors of the Circulator closed on me and knocked me into the gutter as I was trying to exit, I no longer feel comfortable using other than the front door to exit. Apparently the center and rear doors are on a timer, and do not retract when people are still trying to exit.

Posted by: annon4 | February 10, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

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