TransLink Podcast: What’s the T on transit icks

TransLink Podcast: What’s the T on transit icks

Illustration of a SkyTrain customer offering their seat to another rider.
Artist: Kristen Chow

Playing loud music, blocking the doors and not taking backpacks off — some of the things fellow riders do that might give you the ick. Robert Willis with TransLink takes us behind the scenes on a pair of transit etiquette campaigns and shares his observations as our in-house expert.


HOST JAWN JANG: Hey, welcome to What’s the T, The TransLink Podcast. I’m your host, Jawn Jang. And on this episode, we’re going to tackle this hot button issue.

SETH ROGEN: Here’s a tip to make your transit ride even more awesome. I’m really happy you got plans tonight. Really, I am. But unless I’m invited, I don’t need to hear about it.

JAWN : What is your number one transit ickk? The do’s and don’ts when riding transit. Let’s figure this out together and tap in to What’s the T?


VOICEOVER 1: The next station is.

VOICEOVER 2: Welcome to What’s the T: the TransLink Podcast.

JAWN: Now, when I say transit ick, I mean the things that grind your gears when you’re riding transit, dealing with other passengers who might be listening to music just a little bit too loudly or maybe blocking the doorway when you’re trying to get out of the SkyTrain or bus. Things that probably have happened to you before.

Now, just remember, I’m not here to lecture you. Just consider what you’re going to hear on this episode as a helpful guide on how you might want to act on public transportation. There is no principal Vernon when you sit down on the bus.

PRINCIPAL VERNON (BREAKFAST CLUB): You may not talk. You will not move from these seats. And you will not sleep. Don’t mess with a bully, young man. You’ll get the horns.

JAWN: And at the same time, we’re also not looking to create chaos on public transit.

VARYS (GAME OF THRONES): Chaos, a gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.

LITTEFINGER (GAME OF THRONES): Chaos in the pit. Chaos is a ladder.

JAWN: Nope. So there’s got to be a middle ground that works for everyone. Now, chances are you probably have an opinion or two about transit etiquette. So,  Producer Allen and I, we actually hit the system to speak with customers like you to find out more about your top transit pet peeves. Here’s what you had to say.

CUSTOMER 1: I don’t really like it when there’s people that are talking on voice call or FaceTime. And they’re really like, you know, showing around, you know, showing everybody showing like the scenery, the cloudy, Vancouver weather, you know, and talking loudly.

JAWN: Fair.

CUSTOMER 1: So it is kind of annoying. But I usually try to, you know, dial it down with some music.

JAWN: But it’s hard.

CUSTOMER 1: It’s not as bad if I didn’t have headphones because – oh, it’s not as bad because I have headphones. But if I don’t, it’s going to be like it would be like really, super annoying.

JAWN: And like, we are trying not to be rude, but it’s hard not to eavesdrop when somebody’s talking loudly.

CUSTOMER 1: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

JAWN:  What about smells? Like, if somebody – and this is a weird question, maybe – but like, I don’t usually eat on the SkyTrain, but I have noticed people like pulling out pasta from, like, a takeout container and start just chowing down.

CUSTOMER 1: And I don’t really mind it because sometimes it does smell nice. So I don’t mind it.

JAWN: How about you, man? Food, yay or nay if you’re on the fence.

CUSTOMER 2: I don’t really mind. I don’t really see people eating that much. I don’t know. If I saw someone in someone eating, I wouldn’t really care.

JAWN: Okay. All right. There’s a different experience when you’re on the SkyTrain or coming downtown when, like, does the Canucks game and after the game, like if it’s a big win for the Canucks, and everyone’s in a good mood. There’s like, sometimes singing on the SkyTrain. Does that change the situation for you guys? Are you more accepting that?


JAWN: So, context matters a little bit here, right?

CUSTOMER 1 AND 2: Yeah. Yeah.

JAWN: What about things like when people are wearing large backpack like I am today and they refuse to take that off? Does that bother you?

CUSTOMER 3: No, because I usually have one, and I have to, because I have a bad foot. I have to sit down and I usually put it beside me and people say, “well can I sit with you?” Well, not really, because it’s heavy. If you want to move it, go right ahead. You know?

JAWN: You know, that’s an interesting perspective because I’m not sure that everyone realizes sometimes that someone might have like a physical ailment or in your case, like you have to have your equipment with you.


JAWN: Okay, fair enough.

CUSTOMER 3: Yeah, because I got a bad heel and I’ve had it for years. I’m not I’m not no young child no more.

JAWN: Loud music. The first thing I noticed when we walked up to you, you’re wearing headphones, which is great, but what about when people are playing music off their phone?

CUSTOMER 3: I can’t.

JAWN: Then what if it’s a song you really like?

CUSTOMER 3: No, it doesn’t matter because it’s not your house, it’s not your car. You know what I mean?

JAWN: What is your number one transit ick?

CUSTOMER 4: My number one transit ick? Um, I would say that it’s like people who smoke. There’s this one time. There’s this guy. He was outside the bus stop, like smoking up a storm. And then when the bus came, he came in, sat next to me, started coughing, and it was like smoke everywhere. And like, the entire bus was, like, filled with the smell. Yeah. I can’t stand strong smelling perfumes either next to me. So it might I might just be sensitive to it.

JAWN: So even just by speaking to a few different customers like yourself, it’s pretty easy to see that most people have an opinion about transit etiquette, what you should or shouldn’t do on public transit, because it might rub some people the wrong way.

Now, fun fact, TransLink actually does have an official ride guide where we detail general tips and specify things like our pet policy and you can always find that online on our website

But educating the public on proper etiquette is not as easy or as simple as it seems. After all, we know that certain things are just inherently subjective. For example, if you and I sat down and had a conversation about what our favorite foods are, we might agree on some things, but completely disagree on a lot of others. So, if we switch that over to what is or is not appropriate behavior on transit, there’s also grounds for disagreement.

Just as a quick experiment, you should try asking your friends if reclining your seat back during a flight is polite. I mean, you’re within your rights to do it, but is it a good and nice move? There’s almost always a debate about this one.

Now back to the matter at hand. Let’s find out more about how TransLink has educated the public on proper transit etiquette in the past.

SETH ROGEN: Hey, Vancouver. Here’s a tip to make your transit ride even more awesome. You know those seats for the people who really need them? They’re for the people who really need them. So if you don’t really need them, don’t sit in them. And if you’re like me, you could probably use the exercise anyway. Thank you for using TransLink.

JAWN: Back in 2018, Seth Rogen made headlines when he became a guest voice on transit. Here in Metro Vancouver. You’ve probably heard this one in the past. Now, while Seth was the star of the show, behind the scenes, it was Robert Willis, a TransLink Senior Manager of Communications who helped make that happen.

ROBERT: A local journalist had mentioned, “hey, you know, be a really good spokesman for TransLink? How about Seth Rogen?” And then the real Seth Rogen replies back and goes, “yeah, I’ll do it.”

And then one of my staff members said, “hey, you got to see this. Seth Rogen is talking about TransLink and suggesting that he could be a spokesperson.” So I said, “What?” And so I came out of the meeting I was in, looked on Twitter. And sure enough, he had replied back saying, “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

And so I went to my boss and said, You know, I got this guy, Seth Rogen. “Yeah, I know Seth Rogen, great guy.” He’s suggesting that maybe he could do some work for us. I think we should engage with him because I don’t know when this is ever going to happen. I have no idea why he’s doing this.

And lucky for us, our boss said, Yeah, let’s go for it. We’ve got a big trust in our social media crew, which is really great. And so I just went. We have a separate team that does Twitter and we can intervene and there’s a smaller team, but there’s a whole team that does customer on Twitter.

And they were emailing me and go, service “Oh my God. Oh my God, Rob,” you know Seth Rogen. “Should we do something? Oh, my God, my God.” Because, like, they’re just used to talking to regular people, right? And so I said, yeah, let me get in there. And I will reply back to him and I said, Yeah, we’d love, we’d love to. Let’s chat. And then I just put stay tuned. And I’m going to DM you. And then it went from there.

JAWN: From the moment that he responded to that tweet, to getting him into the studio and he’s recording lines like, “Hey, it’s Seth Rogen. Welcome to the SkyTrain.” However those lines went, how long did that all take? Because it seemed like it got turned around pretty darn quickly.

ROBERT: It took about two months to two and a half months because it happened in public. Hmm. So the clock was ticking. So as soon as I said, hey, I’ll DM you stay tuned. Everybody started asking about it.

JAWN: While Seth Rogen’s announcements are TransLink’s most famous transit etiquette campaign. Robert was also responsible for another successful campaign called the Transit Pet Peeve Battle. In short, the eight most popular customer complaints were transformed into illustrations of pets that personified the etiquette faux pas.

The public then got to vote on which pet peeve would end up as our winner.

ROBERT: I think I can remember most of them. There was the Funky Ferret, which you can imagine is, you know, where we all share this space together so make sure that you get on transit as clean as possible if you can. If you have the ability to wash up and wear deodorant or if that’s your thing. But at least let’s try not to have too many strong perfumes because we all have to share the space.

JAWN: And some people have sensitivity to smells. We know that.

ROBERT: Exactly. And we know not everybody can as clean as they like to be every day. And we were totally cognizant of that. But if you can, that would be fantastic. Another one is a Hungry Hamster. Try not to eat on transit at all, but if you do, don’t bring like, you know, souvlaki or like your mom’s spaghetti on because it’s super messy and a safety hazard.

And I have seen I remember I saw a couple eating a chicken dinner, like a real chicken dinner like made at home, not like a KFC once with like gravy and stuff on, which I couldn’t imagine. So people do these things. Hungry Hamster. Disco Dog. You can imagine what he’s jamming out to. Chatty Chihuahua had a kind of a rin, a Voronin Stimpy kind of vibe.

Blocking Bunny. This is the person that stands in front of the door and listen to music and is oblivious and doesn’t help you get out the door. There’s Birdy Big Bags, which is my favorite dish, kind of big southern bell kind of bird that’s just got tons of bags. And her bags are more important than you being able to sit next to her.

And then there is Crowding, Kitty. So the person that just causes a crowd in the back of the bus because they’re just oblivious and they don’t move aside for people. And then there’s a Lounge Lizard, which is also a great band, and it’s jazz, but it’s also, you know, a lizard with his tail over about three, three seats. So he’s not making any room for anybody.

And they really resonated. We got them drawn up and then I made posts about them. I said, okay, it’s on. We’re going to make we’re going to find what the biggest pet peeve is in Metro Vancouver, everybody, and we’re going to vote on them. So what we did is every, I think it was every few days, I would post a new one.

It’s like Crowding Kitty versus Lounge Lizard, go. And then it had that polling function that doesn’t exist anymore on Facebook, which you could just vote. And it was great because people in the office too would vote, “Oh, I think Lounge is going to take it.” Right? And then, you know, another one would do it. And it was a really good back and forth with it was showing that we were fine to talk about things that aren’t great on the system, which is always dangerous

But we’re, you know, we’re acknowledging it and we want to make it better. And people had a lot of fun with it. So, some people were, you know, a little bit nasty and say, I hate when people do this, but there are some real ideas came out about it.

And, you know, we had some other messaging in there and, you know, one of them and I was just talking to somebody recently about which I never thought of, which is take your backpack off when you go on transit, which I never really thought about.

But the backpack, especially nowadays, makes you double the width.

JAWN: Oh, yeah. Easy.

ROBERT: Easy, right? And so if you take that off, put it between your legs. Not only is it you know better for you to access stuff, it allows on a whole other one or two spots for people to get on to transit. And if you’ve ever been on a busy bus and you’re the last person and only two of you left, it would be nice if somebody could take off their backpack. Ycould get on that trip to.

JAWN: Ultimately, Funky Ferret ended up winning the Pet Peeve battle with 55% of the votes in the championship round. Just in case you were keeping track at home. But between the big Pet Peeves Showdown and the Seth Rogen campaign, it did raise one additional question – why do we need these campaigns? I mean, come on, shouldn’t we just inherently know what is good and decent behavior?

ROBERT: Yeah, you know, I’ve always enjoyed transit. I mean, I’m a big proponent of public transit. I think it makes healthy cities. And there’s many other reasons why transit is needed in cities. But I’ve always liked the kind of the town square, the transit is. You can’t get anywhere else in society where you’re going to have a bunch of people from different walks of life sharing the same physical space like you can on transit.

And I actually think that’s a real net positive. And so if I can improve that situation, I think it’s only going to improve everybody’s life. And unfortunately, I think everybody’s got their own challenges, everybody’s got their own things in their life that they’re dealing with. And sometimes they bring that on to transit.

And sometimes, you know, I have this magical rectangle on my hand, this smartphone, all the time. I’m sometimes oblivious to the world around me, and sometimes, you know, myself included, I could be more courteous. And I think there’s people of different backgrounds and different philosophies on things. But if we have an agreed upon, like-minded way that we can converse in this space to some degree, like a very high level, let’s just all try to make room for people. Let’s try to be courteous with people, people that have challenges moving around. Let’s give them the seat and not us. If we can try to make that experience better, then this is needed. But we definitely need it. You know, I did research on pet peeves before and it’s not I said cultural and there’s a little bit of that. But all around the world they have very similar problems on public transit.

JAWN: Right.

ROBERT: Whether it’s not giving up your space, whether it’s playing music too loud, you’ll find this everywher. You go to New York, you’ll see this stuff. You go to Europe, you go to Asia, South America, different places. You’ll find very similar things, different tweaks. But predominantly people will often do a lot of the same bad behavior.

JAWN: I want to dig on that a little bit because the difference, I think, between us and places around the world is that we have this innate Canadian politeness which works two ways.

One, most people generally follow the rules, and I think they are very mindful and respectful of the people around them when they share a public space like transit. But then number two, this might work against us in that we are so polite that when someone is being a little rude or playing their music too loud or eating very, you know, messy food, we don’t want to be the person that says, “hey, maybe you shouldn’t do that.”

So what’s your opinion on how they Canadian politeness sort of works into all of that?

ROBERT: Yeah, I agree. I think there’s that you know I can only manage so much and then you have to ask yourself, you know, who am I to say that you should be doing this? I think some Canadians can be very differential to lots of different viewpoints.

So with that campaign, I think what that helps with is if you’re seeing some bad behavior and we don’t suggest you engage with people if you’re not comfortable, we have, you know, safety lines like 87-77-77, that you can communicate with our Transit Police if you’re feeling uncomfortable. But, you know, sometimes it’s not very comfortable to engage somebody and you don’t know what certain person’s day like is like.

However, if you see a sign that says, “hey, make room for everybody on transit,” you could and I’ve done this before, you know, tap somebody on the shoulder said, “do you mind taking off your backpack?” And I pointed at the sign and it kind of validates your point because otherwise it’s like, you know “What? Why should I listen to you?” And it’s like, well, actually it’s kind of the rule or the suggested rule around here.

The bus operator doesn’t he’s he or she is operating the bus. Yeah. And they can’t police these things. But I think if you put it out there, especially for younger people that need some help to kind of validate their viewpoints or people just to help any help to validate their viewpoint, they can point at something that says this is the better way to go, then it could just make it better.

It doesn’t mean they’re good to listen to you.

JAWN: Sure. You got you got to swing for the fences sometimes

ROBERT: You got to try.

JAWN: Yeah, exactly. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Mr. Gretzky said that one.

When it comes to, like, etiquette, you know, we’ve spent a lot of time here today talking about the things that that tick us off, because, you know, there are, I think, objectively right and wrong things to do when you’re when you’re taking transit. But how about we take it a step further, like really positive etiquette as well? Because something that I get comments about is that we here in Metro Vancouver, maybe this is just us, but when people get off the bus and take the time to say thank you to the driver, that is a really cool thing. So maybe like explain that as well.

Is it a phenomenon that we just happened to do that here?

ROBERT: Yeah, I don’t – for my little bit of research, it’s not just us. I know that they do it. I’m from the prairies. They do it in the prairies in Canada. Most cities in North America don’t do it consistently. I went to Seattle recently. They don’t do it there.

I’ve been to Toronto and Montreal recently. They don’t do it there. So it is a bit of a local thing and every place has its own kind of flavor to it. On the one side and here in Metro Vancouver, we’re super friendly when we get off the bus. But have you ever noticed that not many people talk to people on the buses here?

JAWN: Very true.

ROBERT: I was just in Seattle and you can’t stop people talking. They’re on the buses and so there’s different things. Not saying one better or worse, it’s just different traits. I also find what I find really neat is I always say thank you when I leave and it’s – people copy it. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like it’s like when you sneeze and somebody wants to sneeze or anything like that.

Like it’s people here soon even today. Person behind me. Oh yeah. Yeah. Thank you. And a whole bunch of you hear these little spatters of it. And we have to keep that going because, you know, it’s challenging out there. And, you know, I think there’s argument that we get more and more isolated with our technology. And I just think it’s a really nice thing to hear.

And the bus operators don’t hear that enough.

JAWN: Right. Operators, they do a lot. They go through a lot as well in their day to day and we only interact with them, a.k.a we’re their passengers, for just a few minutes out of our days and their days. But you know, imagine having to endure like 8 hours, a lot of traffic, maybe there’s a big spill in front of them, an accident that is, you know.

It’s really just nice, comforting to know that, hey, people appreciate the work that I’m doing.

ROBERT: Absolutely.

JAWN: It goes a long way.

Last but not least, Robert, what is your biggest pet peeve on transit like?

ROBERT: I can give you a long list.

JAWN: What can we do as a people to try and avoid it. If we see Robert Willis on the system, I do not want to do X. What is x?

ROBERT: For me, it’s don’t put your bag on the seat. It’s just since I’ve been in this job, I’ve just, I’ve learned a lot. And one of it is just the better ways to make use of the space. And there is a lot of space on the bus if you use it correctly.

And even if you don’t want to sit, sometimes I sit just to make room for people to stand. If that makes sense. I know people like to crowd around doors because they want to get off, but I can’t really halt them for that. You know, if you’re smaller in stature, it’s hard to break through the trees of huge human beings.

I get it, you know. And so I see why some people need to, but not everybody needs to hang out at the doors. But make a seat available to people that need it. My big pet peeve, too, is if you see an older person or a person with a mobility aid, try to give them that seat. If you’re able body, it’s good exercise standing up. We should be able to get your hand on a pole. But just try to make as much room as possible on transit.

JAWN: Raising awareness on proper etiquette is something that we’re still doing today. If you look up on your transit commute, you’ll see that we have illustrations all over the system. Now, these were designed by students from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

They use their creativity through illustrations portraying the good and the not-so-great etiquette on transit. At the end of the day, proper transit etiquette is about showing respect to your fellow transit riders. And as mentioned, you can find our official rider guide online at if you ever want to learn more.

Again, it’s never about shaming, it’s about educating.

My thanks to Robert Willis, Senior Manager of Capital Project Communications at TransLink for his time. Producer Allen, for all the great work he’s done on this podcast and the entire TransLink Digital Content team.

And also, thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe so that you can catch the very next episode of What’s the T? I’ve been your host, Jawn Jang.

Until next time. Have a safe trip.