Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Psychology of Bus Seat Selection

As you know from my frequent gripes about the quality of service, I ride the bus to work. Service reliability and timeliness bitches aside, I enjoy riding the bus (or the Metro train, when I give up on the bus): it gives me about 50 minutes in which I can read or take a nap, and I don't have to worry about driving in our notorious traffic.

But I can also engage in people-watching, which is one of my favorite pastimes. And I've been thinking that I can get a PhD dissertation out of my observations of how people choose their seats on the bus.

Here are Bilbo's Random Observations on Bus Seat Selection:

1. If there are sufficient empty 2-person seats, everyone will sit by him- or herself.

2. If all the 2-person seats are occupied:

a. Women will:

(1) Sit with a woman they know;
(2) Sit with a man they know;
(3) Sit with a woman they don't know; or,
(4) Sit with a man they don't know, and pretend to sleep.

b. Men will:

(1) Quickly scan the bus, then sit next to the most attractive woman, passing up any number of available seats in order to do so.
(2) If there are no attractive women, they will sit next to anyone recognizable as a woman from the front of the bus.
(3) If there are no seats available next to women, they will sit in the available seat with the most room.

3. Attractive women sitting alone will generally pile their purses, briefcases, shopping bags, etc, on the seat next to them in order to obviate 2b(1). They may also:

a. Move their things from the seat to make room for someone they don't mind sitting with.

b. Avoid making eye contact with anyone so that they will not have to move their things from the seat and sit with someone they don't want sitting next to them.

4. Men sitting alone will discretely scan riders as they board the bus, then:

a. Discretely move their briefcase or lunch box from the adjoining seat in the hopes that an attractive woman will sit next to them.

b. If no attractive women board, leave their briefcase or lunch box on the seat next to them to prevent other men from sitting there until the next opportunity for a woman to board, when 4a again applies.

5. Bilbo will:

a. AM, local bus to local Metro Station - pick any vacant seat and read. Greet acquaintances as they board the bus, but keep briefcase and lunch pail on adjoining seat to prevent annoying persons from sitting there.

b. AM - Express Bus, local Metro Station to Pentagon - pick any vacant seat. Sleep. Wake up and get off when person in adjoining seat shakes him awake.

c. PM - Express Bus or Train, Pentagon to local Metro Station - pick any vacant seat and read. Greet acquaintances as they board the bus, but keep briefcase and lunch pail on adjoining seat to prevent annoying persons from sitting there.

d. PM - local bus to neighborhood - pick any vacant seat and read. Try not to sleep, as will usually not wake up until bus returns to the Metro Station.

6. Everyone will: avoid sitting next to people who are drunk or talking to themselves.

Well, it's time to get ready to head out for 5a. If you are a bus or Metro rail rider, what do you think...are my observations accurate? Let me know.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

While I generally agree about how people choose seats, my own experience riding the bus in metro DC did not include much "greeting the people you know". On our local bus, I struck up a bus-riding friendship with about 4 different people (male and female). We were the ONLY ones who talked on the bus, often receiving glares from the rest of the passengers. Imagine my shock when I boarded a tram in Boston after moving there, and the first thing that happened was a chorus of several people asking me questions: you're new! When did you move here, from where, do you like it, what do you do for work, etc, etc. DC is not a chatty/friendly place in my experience, even without the drunks.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I'm glad I don't have to take the bus.

Amanda said...

LOL! Good observations. Just look at the difference between men and women...even in seat selection.

I might add that some people on trains (like me) may choose to just stand until a more "agreeable" seat becomes available.

michelle said...

that is a long list of observations... most seem true.

But usually I just take the first open seat on the MARC... and on Metro I try to get the first open seat nearest the doors that want to exit from.

BUT on the Metro especially... if there is an open seat or a seat with someone's bags piled on... I head for the seat with the stuff on it :D

anOCgirl said...

wow. i think this is a very accurate description of bus rider culture in DC. however, i don't usually strike up a conversation with my seatmate, but i am appreciative if someone strikes up a conversation with me. perhaps, i should try to be more social with my fellow riders.

Leslie David said...

No wonder you need so many naps since you sleep so little at night. I take Metro and the bus a lot since I refuse to drive in the District--normally I'm heading in after work during rush hour either to the theater, the French Embassy or another venue for a social event and additionally in the winter it's dark as hell, so why would I want to try and drive when I don't know and can't see where I'm going? My Metro riding procedures are different than yours--I try and find an inside seat preferably close to the door and I pull out my Metro book--the book that's in my purse that I read while on the train. On the train or bus I keep my purse on my lap and any other bags, such as the one with my dance shoes on the floor between my feet. Unlike you I don't particularly feel like chatting with my neighbors but I will ask the driver to make sure to let me know where to get off (take that any way you want to) if it's a place I haven't been before.

Mike said...

I think your on your way to a physc degree. This could probably be your thesis.

Wv - umcing - What are you going to do for the talent portion of the competition? umcing?

Twinkie said...

I was about to type that I would probably be cureous to the non attractive and attractive alike regardless of anything but then I started thinking and you're right. I don't care how cute or ugly you are. If you're drunk or talking to yourself I think I'd rather stand than to sit next to you.

Twinkie said...


Bilbo said...

Katherine - that's pretty much true. But my local bus always has the same group of people riding at the same times, so it's a bit easier to get acquainted.

Andrea - yes, you are.

Amanda - good point. Twinkie said the same thing.

Michelle - I'll keep an eye out for you on the Metro and be ready to move my stuff...

Liz - don't go out of your way to be sociable...most of the time it's not worth it (cynical me, eh?).

Leslie - the drivers actually listen to you? You're even more special than I thought...

Mike - all I need is the energy to do all the rest of the work. Good luck with that.

Twinkie - I'll buy you that spelling checker for your birthday, ha, ha.

Moose said...

Here's my seating criteria for picking a seat on my commuter bus (which rarely has any vacant seats):

1) The seat must be an aisle seat on the right-hand side of the bus, so that my knitting is not impeded. I pull my yarn from left to right, so bus side definitely matters the most. Otherwise, I'm hunched up like a crab, trying to juggle yarn, knitting needles and a purse.

2) I look for someone thin or small, who doesn't have a lot of bags piled on their lap.

3) I prefer something up-front, near the driver, because the climate controls never work well in the back of the bus.

4) I look for a seat near someone who looks like they may be a knitter (i.e., a woman with a friendly-looking face).

5) I prefer a seat in the first 3 rows, because the seats are lower to the ground, and, being of small stature, these are much more comfortable for me.

Oh, and I go NUTS when I see people trying to "save" seats with their bags. Seats are for people, not your stuff, unless two seats have been paid for (which I doubt). I'll often skip all of the above criteria (except for #1), and purposefully ask someone who has barricaded themselves with their bags to move their STUFF so that I can sit next to them. So, seat-savers, beware! If you see a small woman with knitting needles approaching, you'd best make room! Averting your eyes from my approach will not deter me!

Bilbo said...

Moose - There's always a seat next to me for you!

Leslie David said...

Why yes Bill, they do listen to me--I always ask nicely, call them sir or ma'am, and smile at them--they're more than happy to let me know when my stop is coming up.

Why, don't they listen to you? Funniest thing I saw was a guy who was obviously having a very heated conversation with himself which was disturbing many of the other riders--you can ride a bus if you're crazy as long as you pay the fee, anyway, the bus driver told him if he couldn't control himself that he'd have to get off the bus.