Credit: Jamie Ramsay

The CTA is the best of Chicago: its trains and buses get us where we’re going. The people of the CTA, on the other hand, are the worst. Not all of them—just the ones that lack decorum and a sense of consideration for their fellow riders. Unfortunately, their number is legion.

I’m not talking about panhandlers or the sellers of loose cigarettes or the fragrant homeless seeking shelter on the trains in frigid weather. Those folks are doing what they have to do (or feel they have to do) to survive, and any inconvenience they impose should be understood relative to other riders’ privilege.

Yet however privileged any individual might be, the CTA is a shared semipublic space, and such spaces require users to abide by certain basic rules to make things more tolerable for everyone. These rules focus on two things: sensory details and the ability to move.

Riding the CTA is an assault on the senses: the unpredictable herky-jerky motion, the cacophony of squeals and dings and announcements—and all in compact environs. We all need to be able to retreat from that assault into our own heads, whether diving into the Internet on our phones, reading a book, or staring out the window. But too many of our fellow riders violate the social contract and add to the sensory overload with smells or noise.

Want to snack on the CTA? Against the agency’s rules, but OK. If you must, though, for chrissakes eat food that won’t stink up the place! Want to listen to music or watch a video on your phone? Fine, but for chrissakes, use headphones! Need to call a family member about something vitally important that simply cannot wait till you get off the train? Understandable, but here’s the deal: modern cell phone technology is pretty good, so YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHOUT TO BE HEARD!

The worst of the worst, though, aren’t the eaters or the shouters: it’s the door and seat blockers. These jerks step into the car and immediately stop and make themselves at home in the doorway, forcing everyone behind them to squeeze past. News flash: the doorway is a transitional space, one meant to be moved through, not occupied, unless the train is totally jammed. Outside of such rush-hour moments, there’s never any reason to hover in front of the doorway of an el car or a bus. Unless, of course, you’re a selfish jackass.

Step all the way in. And once you’ve done so, take off your backpack so you don’t block the aisle behind you. If you’d rather not sit down, don’t stand in front of an open seat that’s empty, blocking other riders from potentially wedging themselves in there. If you are seated, don’t put your bag on the empty seat beside you as if it’s your buddy riding shotgun.

The CTA runs PSA campaigns in an attempt to eliminate these behaviors. None have worked, because so many public transit riders are either oblivious or seem to actively embrace being the worst of Chicago.   v