Opinion: Your big stupid backpack is another problem in public transport

The pandemic-era room we had on buses and SkyTrains is gone. So take off your backpack and put it on the floor – we share this space.

It was fun while it lasted.

There were a few weeks last fall and again in early 2022 when Vancouver’s buses and SkyTrains were much less crowded than usual, even during the busy morning and afternoon commute. Then we could all hoist our large backpacks or tote bags onto our shoulders, turn up the volume on our headphones, and tap and scroll to our hearts’ content on our smartphones with a nice cushion of open space around us.

That space was available and almost felt needed in the age of physical distance. It’s easier to stay six feet apart when six feet behind you is taken up by a bag you’re carrying on your back.

Then more of us started personally dragging us back to the office or classroom. And poof! That invisible cushion of space around us was – is – gone.

Now our buses and trains in Vancouver have become a familiar landscape of backpacks and tote bags crashing into people as the wearer unknowingly carries on. And it drives people crazy.

Okay fine. It’s me. I am people.

I’m tired of being beaten and rammed in the arms, back, guts and sides next to your big stupid backpack because you forget it’s the right choice to take it off and put it on the floor.

The problem with the general awareness of the issue as passenger traffic climbs back to pre-COVID levels is that most riders of the backpack-carrying variant also have their senses dulled as they stare at their phones and/or get absorbed in what they’re doing. listen to. They may not feel like a group of people are boarding and needing a place to stand and hold on. They may not realize that what is sticking out behind them throbs in other people’s bodies and sometimes causes pain. That could be an explanation, but it’s not an excuse. There should be a foundation of common sense and considerate behavior when tapping your Compass card and boarding public transportation.

As I always said to my nine-year-old son when he was in public, “we share this space.” If I’m on the Canada Line or a bus, that’s not my domain. That means I keep my voice low when I’m on a call, I don’t watch or listen to things on my iPhone without headphones, I don’t drape my body around poles that other hands might need to grab, and I take my bag off my shoulder or back and lay him at my feet.

Sure, every now and then I push someone, or I don’t step aside fast enough, but even if I’m absolutely riveted by what repetition of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit I stream or mentally walk through the TikTok dance steps to Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” as I pass through every day from South Delta to Mount Pleasant, I don’t run into my fellow transit user with my bag.

However, I find myself completely surrounded by giant, boxy, ouch-y backpacks. And yes: my toxic quality is that I will absolutely shove yours with my elbow.

Last night on the Canada Line, I was surrounded by a group of about half a dozen backpack carriers, four of which were anchored to the center yellow posts between the doors. At one point, three of them literally had me pressed against the glass wall with my elbows up in a defensive stance. I watched as the passengers entered the train and tried to find a good place to stand, and calculated that several people could have easily found comfortable, safe standing if those people had only removed their big, bulging, stupid backpacks and put them on the floor. ground at their feet.

Am I pretty fierce in this? Secure. It’s one of my little hills to die on. But I’m not making this up either. TransLink even includes this in its list of tips for “Etiquette on Transit”: “Remove your backpack and place it on the floor, especially during busy times, to make room for other passengers.”

Of course, I also think about their etiquette tips (and real tough rules) when I see people smoking two feet from the “No Smoking or Vaping” signs at the bus loop, or the one time I saw a man tear down a meter-long Subway sandwich between Broadway-City Hall and Marine Drive, crumbs everywhere.

The smokers, eaters, and people making music without headphones are rare, but on every SkyTrain car, I’ll be trailing at least a dozen large backpacks. That’s a lot of people who forget that a small, simple (back-lightening) gesture would make many people’s commute much more pleasant.

So if you’re on the bus or SkyTrain, take off your damn backpack. Please.

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