There are many rules of the subway. The MTA wrote and maintains some of them. But many of them are unwritten and are maintained by customers of the MTA. Recently I’ve observed people disregarding and disobeying these rules with impunity. In an effort to assist the public, I’m recording and publishing the rules here.
(These rules are listed with numbers, but they aren’t in any specific order. Later these rules should be grouped logically and renumbered.)
1.0: Allow passengers off the train before attempting to board.
1.1: Because conductors have a nasty habit of closing the doors while you are waiting for everyone to disembark, it is okay to stand on the side of the open doors with one (1) foot on the train in order to hold the doors open.
2.0: If you aren’t sure if the train is going to your stop, try to find out before the train pulls into the station.
2.1: If you aren’t sure if the train is going to your stop and you cannot find out before the train pulls into the station, ask the conductor – not other passengers.
2.2: If you aren’t sure if the train is going to your stop and you cannot find out before the train pulls into the station and you cannot reach the conductor or the conductor isn’t able to assist you, ask someone who looks knowledgeable and awake.
2.3: If you aren’t sure if the train is going to your stop and you cannot find out before the train pulls into the station and you cannot reach the conductor or the conductor isn’t able to assist you and no one on the train or on the platform can assist, don’t get on the train. Try to figure it out while you wait for the next train.
3.0: When entering an uncrowded train, do not sit next to a stranger. Sit as far away from any current passengers as possible.
3.1: If you choosing your seat for strategic reasons (such as sitting closest to the door that you want to use in order to get to the staircase you need), it is okay to sit closer to a current passenger, however, you should not sit on the same bench unless there is a pole separating you from the other customer.
3.2: If there are seats available, you may lean against a pole, but people will judge you silently.
3.3: If there are no seats available, but no one is standing nearby, you may lean against a pole, but people will judge you silently.
3.4: If there are no seats available and other customers are standing nearby, you may not lean against a pole.
3.5: If there are no seats available and other customers are holding onto the pole and you ignore them and lean against said pole, you are a jerk and deserve to lose your subway riding privileges for the day.
3.6: Wearing a knapsack (backpack) on a train that is at least semi-crowded is forbidden.
3.7: Repeatedly bumping your knapsack into other customers on a crowded train is rude. Persons who don’t immediately remove their knapsack and apologize deserve to lose subway riding privileges for the day.
From 5:01 AM – 11 AM talking and eye-contact should be kept to a minimum. If you are riding with friends, you should maintain silence or keep your conversations to a whisper.
From 11:01 AM – 4 PM talking and eye-contact is permitted. Of course, shouting and ruckus should be avoided at all times.
From 4:01 PM – 7 PM talking and eye-contact is permitted, but the conversations shouldn’t be too animated.
From 7:01 PM – 2 AM partying is permitted.
From 2:01 AM – 5 AM sleeping is permitted. Try not to speak or think above a whisper.
4.1: Do not play games on your phone so that I have to hear it. Especially games like bejeweled when every row makes an annoying noise.
5s: See Mark’s comments below
6.0: If the only seat available is large enough for half of you, don’t sit down.
6.1: Even if you think you can do the Curly shuffle to get your whole body in the seat, don’t try it. Stand.
7.0: Clipping (finger or toe) nails are forbidden on the platform or on a train.
7.1: Applying lipstick is a gray area. There’s room to permit it, but a scrupulous person won’t apply lipstick on a train.
7.2: Any pencil to the face on a moving train is forbidden on the grounds of being unsafe.
7.3: Wearing clothing is optional, but appreciated.
8.0: When reading a newspaper, it’s your responsibility to make sure the page doesn’t touch other customers. You might have to fold the page many times, but that’s the trade-off for reading on a crowded train.
8.1.0: If you have to lean move that 40 degrees to read the paper off a fellow traveler, don’t!
8.1.1: You are allowed to read over someone’s shoulder as long as
a. They don’t notice and
b. You look away at least every 45 seconds and
c. You don’t tell them “Hold on! I wasn’t finished with that page yet.” and
8.2: If you plan on reading a very large and heavy book, secure a seat first.