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What is manspreading? And why are NYC subway riders being arrested for it?

Posted by Luke Upton on Jun 2, 2015

ManspreadingThe campaign by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York to improve passenger behaviour and etiquette of its 8.6 million daily customers has seen its first arrests. Recently released NYPD data showed that two men were arrested for “manspreading” on subway. But what is manspreading? For the uninitiated, manspreading is the somewhat controversial word used to describe the practice of sitting in public transport with legs wide apart, thereby covering more than one seat. The term first appeared in public debate when an anti-manspreading campaign was started on tumblr in 2013. Some view this as controversial and within the same sphere as other online ‘internet vigilantism’ practices seen in transit (see also - eating on the London tube tumblr). The arrests in New York are thought to be the first recorded for this precise kind of behaviour.

The Police Reform Organising Project (PROP) collected 117 vignettes of citizens' interactions with police for a report on the New York Police Department's attitudes to race and class. "Police officers had arrested two Latino men on the charge of 'manspreading' on the subway, presumably because they were taking up more than one seat and therefore inconveniencing other riders," according to the report. PROP's stated aim is to "expose and correct abusive police tactics that routinely and disproportionately do harm" to New York's  low-income communities and people of color.

MTA NYC Transit in December last year launched a campaign - Courtesy Counts, Manners Make a Better Ride which urged customers to be aware that their courteous actions can make their buses and trains run more efficiently and make the daily commute more pleasant and less stressful. At the heart of this campaign is a series of placards (see top right and below) that bear “gentle but firm” reminders about passenger behaviour.

“Courtesy is always important but it takes on an added significance as transit ridership continues to increase,” said NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco. “The simple act of stepping aside to let riders off the train before you board can trim valuable seconds from the time a train dwells in a station while removing a backpack makes more room for everyone. These acts serve to speed the trip while increasing the level of comfort.”

The new program, developed by MTA Corporate Communications, highlights behaviors that are both encouraged and discouraged for the benefit of everyone. The messaging largely reflects complaints and suggestions from rider and has now also been extended to Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. Some of our other favourites are below...


Clipping? Primping?  Everybody wants to look their best, but it’s a subway car, not a restroom.


Take Your Pack Off Your Back  It’s a simple way to add standing room. 


Poles Are For Safety, Not Your Latest Routine  Hold the pole, not our attention.A subway car is no place for showtime.


Keep The Sound Down  Keep the music, games and phone conversation All to yourself please. Let’s keep personal devices personal.

All images courtesy of the MTA, see the fiull selection here.

See also: 10 of the best (and most unusual) rail passenger information posters from around the world. and New York subway ridership number hits 65 year high.

SmartRail USA Congress and Expo 2015

Topics: quirky

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

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