What do Britons find acceptable behaviour on public transport?

You can take a phone call or do your make-up but don’t listen to music out loud or “manspread” on public transport, say Britons.

The author(s)

  • Keiran Pedley Public Affairs
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New research by Ipsos MORI explores what Britons find acceptable and unacceptable when they travel on public transport. The findings show more than half of Britons are happy for fellow passengers to take a phone call while travelling on public transport, 53% say this is acceptable, however patience may be tested if you want to take a video/conference call without headphones or talk loudly with a fellow passenger, 73% and 53% respectively say this is unacceptable.

Other than talking on the phone, making noise appears to be the best way to antagonise Britons on public transport, 81% say it is unacceptable to watch social media content or listen to music without headphones while a similar proportion (82%) say the same for listening to music so loud through headphones that others can hear.

When getting on public transport, people should let others off first, at least according to 80% of Britons who deem it unacceptable to board without letting passengers off first. Once on, a majority of people say passengers should not put their feet on seats opposite (82%), they should not “manspread” (82%) or put bags on empty seats (51%). However, people should offer their seats to someone that may need it more, around three-quarters say it is unacceptable to not offer their seat.

Britons are not keen on the consumption of certain food and beverages while on public transport. Only 1 in 10 (11%) say it is acceptable to eat smelly food while travelling while 15% say it is fine to drink alcohol, 68% and 65% respectively disagree.

Four in 10 (42%) are happy for people to do their hair or make-up once on public transport, however a quarter of Britons deem this unacceptable. When it comes to items of clothing, Britons are keen for passengers to keep both their shoes and facemasks firmly on. Seven in 10 (69%) say it is not OK for people to take their shoes off while 63% say the same for not wearing a mask.

Keiran Pedley, research director at Ipsos MORI, said:

As some of us brave the journey home for the holidays, it is worth remembering the dos and don’ts in public transport etiquette. Fellow travellers take a dim view of behaviour that interferes with other people’s personal space – either physically or through noise – whilst putting your feet on an empty seat is also frowned upon.  Finally, Britons also place great importance of politeness when travelling, be that offering your seat to someone who needs it more or letting others off before you board.

Technical note

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 2,100 Britons aged 16-75. Interviews were conducted online between 26-28 November, 2021. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

The author(s)

  • Keiran Pedley Public Affairs

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