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The City of Portland, Oregon

Neighborhood Involvement

Building inclusive, safe and livable neighborhoods and communities.

ONI Main: 503-823-4519

City/County Info: 503-823-4000

TDD: 503-823-6868

1221 SW 4th Ave, Suite 110, Portland, OR 97204

Public Transportation Etiquette I wish people practiced:

Look, I’m with Anne Frank.  I believe deep down, people are good, but man, it gets on my last nerve sometimes when they are ignorant to the world around them…and as a member of the most invisible class of people I see a lot of uncouth behavior, especially on public transportation.  So, for your consideration, ten rules of etiquette to make public transportation more enjoyable for people with disabilities and more universally accessible for… well, everyone!


  1. If you have a backpack or bag, be mindful that your bag is at head level for both people in wheelchairs and sitting in seatsInterior Streetcar showing disabled spot.  Every time you turn, you are probably whacking someone in the head or face…so pull your bag in front of you when you turn, or remember you have a bag sticking out of your back.
  2. The seats in front of the wheelchair empty spot are for people who use walkers, canes, or can’t stand for long periods of time.  Now, I know some people have hidden disabilities, but, and I’ll say please, if you are an able-bodied person and see someone with limited ability get on your bus/train, offer them your seat.  And I know some people may get mad and say they can stand too, which you can remain seated and understand that anger is not about your offer but their internal struggle.  You are just being mindful and doing the right thing.And 
  3. on the subject of those wheelchair spaces: you may notice they have a call button for the door along side them.  These buttons are at an easy accessible level and are meant for wheelchair users.  Essentially the wheelchair user can pull up alongside it to signal their stop.  If you are standing in that spot leaning against the grab bar and someone with a wheelchair boards your bus/train, offer to move.  Some people, myself included, often rather sit by the door (on MAX, for example) for easier access out of the train, so you may not have to move.  Likewise, lots of people prefer to sit in that designated spot, so you should also be prepared to move.
  4. Strollers are not wheelchairs.  I am all for universal design and if you are riding public transportation with a stroller or carriage go ahead and use the space…BUT as I stated above those spots are there for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility.  You need to be prepared to move.  This is also true and doubly so for luggage.  In fact, don’t even use that spot with luggage or a bike, as you will inevitably need to move, so just situate yourself somewhere else.
  5. If you are on the MAX, don’t stand in front of the door… I know sometimes you’re going to a Timbers game or Blazer game and it can’t be helped, but if you can avoid it… please do.  The ramp deployment button is next to the door, and while the door opens automatically for everyone else, if you need the ramp because you have a chair or walker, you will need to hit that button before the MAX stop, and when someone is standing in front of it, it adds an additional challenge.
  6. Service animals are working animals.  I know they’re super cute but you need to ask the owner if it is okay to touch them.  And I know you love dogs but some of them need to stay focused…imagine if you were working at your desk and someone randomly started petting you… it would be distracting, no?
  7. Likewise, service animals have fragile little tails and paws… so don’t step on them.  Person boarding bus with service animalEspecially chair users… if you’re in tight quarters, ask the owner of the dog to protect there appendages if you need space to get by.
  8. In an ideal world all bus drivers would call out the number of their bus… but they don’t – so if I see someone who is using a white cane at my stop I always offer to call out bus numbers to them… they may say no but I ask.
  9. This one is for everybody… if someone is wearing headphones, leave them be… unless you really need to ask an important question, you should not be disturbing other people zoning out on their headphones. 
  10. There are lots of people who need to use the disabled areas on public transportation.  Be smart and kind… if someone is using a cane or walker and you are a chair user in the spot in front of the easy access seats, move out of the way so that they can sit down.  If you can sit on your walker and the seats are all taken by folks who seem to need them, just sit on your walker.  We have enough to deal with trying to educate the non-disabled community, so let’s try and be a little more helpful to each other!