Prohibited activities on public transport

On most public transport systems, there are at least some activities passengers are prohibited to engage in. Activities like these, which can be restricted in vehicles, stations, and other property of the agency, are prohibited for a variety of reasons. These include keeping other passengers safe and comfortable, protecting the operator, or protecting the vehicles and stations.

Penalties for violations can vary. They can include fines, arrest, prosecution, or removal from the service.

Eating and drinking

Many local public transport services, such as municipal bus or rapid transit systems (two notable exceptions being the Beijing Subway and the New York City Subway), prohibit passengers from consuming food or beverages or carrying open food or beverage containers while on board a vehicle or in a station.

Generally, services providing longer forms of transportation, such as regional rail or intercity buses, will allow at least some eating and drinking. But some services, like Megabus, prohibit eating and drinking.

In emergency cases these prohibitions may be waived. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has a strict ban on consumption of food or drink in the paid area of train stations, on trains or buses, or on elevators or escalators used to enter or exit stations, in order to reduce attractiveness to insects and vermin. Fines of $100 can be imposed, except the Authority has lifted the ban with respect to consumption of water during heat emergencies.

A survey of SEPTA riders found that 48% of riders eat while on board their services either regularly or some of the time.[1]


Smoking is one of the most common prohibitions on board a public transport vehicle. Since second-hand smoke can be hazardous to one's health, smoking is prohibited in most public places worldwide, including public transport.

Note that as of 2016, the prohibition on smoking only applies to cigarettes which burn something that generates smoke (e.g. tobacco or marijuana), although some localities want to ban public smoking of electronic cigarettes.

In 1975, a federal law was passed in the United States banning smoking in all public transport vehicles.[2]

Some intercity bus services will stop to offer smoke breaks to riders.

Audio devices

Most systems prohibit the use of audio-producing devices, such as radios, CD players, MP3 players, musical instruments, or other similar gadgets without an earphone through which only the listener can hear.

Mobile phones

Some public transport systems prohibit or limit the use of mobile phones while on board.

Some rail systems have "quiet cars" where passengers are not permitted to engage in conversations and where cell phones cannot be used.


In some places, it is unlawful to photograph or film a public transport vehicle or station or the operation of a public transportation service.

Anti-photography laws (or rules) are in place for various reasons, including the privacy of passengers and crew and concerns over terrorism. However, these measures have caused problems for enthusiasts whose hobby is to ride and photograph transport. In some cities, the rules have been abandoned or modified. In other places, the authorities regard enthusiasts as their supporters and encourage their activities so long as they are carried out in a lawful manner from places open to the general public.

In the United States, it is generally legal to take photographs in public, and absent special and extraordinary conditions, a law prohibiting photography in public areas of a transit vehicle or area operated by a transit authority, or a transit authority prohibition on photography under such conditions likely would not withstand judicial scrutiny, and the courts probably would not uphold such bans.


Many systems have anti-solicitation laws or guidelines. These include prohibitions against:

  • Selling, advertising the sale of, or purchasing goods or services
  • Campaigning or handing out literature for a political candidate, cause, or religion
  • Soliciting signatures, sometimes including those opposing cutbacks or changes in service
  • Begging (panhandling)
  • Prostitution and other obscene and immoral acts (which are sometimes illegal even outside of the transport network)

Space considerations

Some services have guidelines regarding the amount of space a passenger can take up whether with one's body or belongings.

In some transit systems, including the New York City Subway, it is unlawful to place one's belongings on another seat, even when vacant; however, in the New York City Subway, this rule is frequently flouted.

Privately run intercity bus services usually have limits for carry-on and checked luggage, similar to the baggage allowance system on airplanes.

Some transit systems have a seating precedence rule for passengers who pay adult fare against discounted passengers, i.e. discounted and free-pass holders may not sit unless all adults paying full-fare sit. However, this is generally considered to be discriminatory as most discounted and free tickets are issued to the elderly and disabled as well as children

Criminal acts

While any crime committed on a public transport system would generally be treated like one committed elsewhere, there are some acts for which the prohibitions are emphasized in guidelines on posted signs.

Disorderly conduct

  • Use of roller skates, roller blades, skateboards, scooters, or similar vehicles on transit property (many operators have bicycle racks on the front of buses, and will permit bicycles which are walked to be used on vehicles not having separate facilities such as subway trains.)
  • Drunken or other similar behavior
  • Use of profanity. In the United States, this is controversial due to First Amendment protections. However a private operator has the right to establish rules on their property as they see fit.


  • Sleeping. This refers not to accidental dozing, but to the intentional use of the system as a place to sleep.
  • Loitering at a bus stop or rail station longer than is necessary to catch the bus or train, or spending time there at all if not using the service.
  • Riding a bus or train through multiple runs of the service, even with an unlimited travel pass for the period of time for which the act is occurring.


Prohibited items


Generally, firearms, in countries where they are otherwise allowed to be carried by civilians, are not permitted on board public transport vehicles. Exceptions can be made for law enforcement or military personnel or others with a carrying permit.

Explosives and flammables

Many systems prohibit explosives and flammable liquids that pose threat to the safety of others.


Many places prohibit live animals from being brought on board public transport vehicles. Exceptions are sometimes made for animals kept within a container from which they cannot escape or service animals for those with disabilities.


On most rail systems, bicycles are allowed, but may be restricted. On buses, there are more such limitations.

Many buses now have external bike racks where riders can attach their bikes.

Sometimes, bikes are only allowed on buses if there is enough free space.

See also


  2. Smoking and the workplace By Roger Blanpain, Gordon Anderson, page 144
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