2. Etiquette Posters

In 2016, the New York Transit Museum opened its exhibition, Transit Etiquette or: How I Learned To Stop Spitting and Step Aside in 25 Languages at its Gallery Annex at Grand Central Terminal. The exhibition featured over 100 years of posters from around the world calling on transit riders to refrain from littering, give up a seat to the elderly, and step aside for exiting passengers, among many other transit niceties.

The show was organized by “transit etiquette sin,” starting with “Be a Space Saver” and ending with “This is Your Train, Take Care of it,” and features transit etiquette artwork from Barcelona, Brussels, Chicago, London, Madrid, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, Taipei, Tokyo, and of course New York City. One of the most remarkable observations is that behind the eye-catching graphics, the message is essentially the same throughout history and across languages. It seems that a) we haven’t learned to be more polite on our commutes through the generations and b) transit transgressions aren’t limited to any particular culture or geography.

But there are some signs of the times. Early commuters weren’t used to being confined in small places underground. So smoking and spitting were big problems

Today, riders of the New York City subway will see signs forbidding the use of hoverboards on the system, a gadget that was certainly not around half a century ago. But Todd Gilbert, the New York Transit Museum’s registrar, thinks there are more than a few parallels between the classic work of Jones and the MTA’s “Courtesy Counts” transit etiquette campaign. And if media coverage and internet chatter are any measure, “Courtesy Counts” has been a huge success. If the messages seem redundant (no noise, no litter, no space hogging, no door-blocking), well, that’s the point. Transit etiquette, and the lack thereof, is a universal language.