Using gadgets on public transportation

Using gadgets on public transportation

Summary: Is it a good idea to pull that expensive gadget out of the bag on the bus or train? It depends on where you are and who's sharing the trip.


Since moving to the city center a couple of years ago I frequently take public transportation. I don't ride the bus often, mainly due to the overly complex schedules and routes, but I do take the light rail quite a bit.

Metro Rail
Houston Metro Rail (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

I make it a point to take public transportation when I travel, especially to San Francisco and New York. It's a good way to get around and learn the city at the same time. I see a lot of business travellers when I do, mixed in with the daily local riders.

Whether I'm on the bus or train, I like to pass the time by pulling either my phone or tablet out. I can read a book or surf the web to kill the time. Having LTE on my tablets and phone makes this possible even without wi-fi.

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I have friends who have a long daily commute by train and they tell me they regularly use a tablet or laptop on the rail car. Their trips are long enough they can get a lot of homework done when riding the rails.

I confess that sometimes when I pull my expensive gadget out on a train or bus that I feel uneasy. I wonder if it's a good idea to be flashing a device that cost hundreds of dollars on a crowded car. The last thing I want is to have it snatched out of my hand and disappear forever. It's a good idea to take a careful look around before you pull that tablet out. 

I also wonder if others consider it rude for me to pull out the tablet. The reaction of some makes it seem they do. My gut feeling tells me that if I feel uneasy pulling out the gadget on a given trip, odds are I shouldn't do it.

I figure that business travellers probably wonder the same thing when they step on the bus or train in a city unfamiliar to them. Is it a good idea to pull that shiny tablet out? What would the locals suggest? Do the same rules and etiquette apply for gadget use on public transportation in San Francisco as they do in New York? How about Houston and London?

That's where you readers can step in and help us out. If you regularly take public transportation, what advice would you give those of us visiting your city? Is there anything we should be aware of that you can share?

Please leave your advice in the comments, and mention your city. Tell us what to do with our gadgets, whether that be leave them in the bag or use them discretely. Any pertinent advice you can share will be greatly appreciated.

If the response is good anough, I may follow up with an article sharing the best practices recommended for each city discussed. That's a reasonable way for us travellers to learn to practice the rules of the road where you live.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • In Portland

    There been a rash of Smart Phone thefts on the Trimet max and light rails system last spring.

    I say try to avoid using it on transit especially standing near an exit when a person can grab it and run off the bus or train. Also use some common curtsey; there annoying as a loud taker or blasting musing or a conversation.
  • Baltimore, too

    I bought my daughter a tablet so she can read ebooks on her long bus commute to work. But Baltimore police warn that tablets and smarty pants phones are big theft items, so she's careful about using it.
  • Definitely have to pick your spots

    Vancouver BC has an over abundance of addicts (name any & all drugs) looking to fund the next fix. Showing a device when folks are going back & forth to work is relatively safe but later on it's a different ballgame. Addicts & 'just plain punks' cruise the skytrain to and from the burbs (without paying of course) ready to pounce on any 'easy prey'. Bottom line: Just don't show anything that has value. You just might lose it, and worse. Ah.........Today's society. We've come a long way baby :~(
  • In Dallas

    The police warn that people will grab your stuff and run off the train. I’m a big guy so that is a little bit of a deterrent. I also pick a seat where it would be harder to do this. I use my phone instead when I am crammed in close to people.
    I think the bag you keep your stuff in is important. Mine is small with a long shoulder strap that I wrap around my arm when I sit down. I also have easy access to pepper spray in an outside pocket of the bag. Other problems are falling asleep on the train or zoning out when wearing headphones. I think you need to be alert if you flash expensive electronics.
    KLS 12.5
  • ever thought of this...

    Instead of bringing that swanky new thin tablet, why not bring a tablet from a few years ago. You know the one that I'm talking about, the one that's a little heavier, and a bit thicker. Yeah! the one that has Windows 7 (or even XP) on it. That's the one I mean.

    A friend of mine got some cheap tablets from an police auction. They came out of police cars, and came with Windows XP. I have since put different distributions of Linux on two of them. Brand name: Motion Computing LE1600. They came with a clunky keyboard that unsnaps from the bottom, then you turn it around, flip up this metal thing, and then attach the keyboard in an angular direction for use. These things have wifi AND ethernet ports.

    I bet most people would not steal these heavy/clunky things. Its just like bringing a flip phone on the bus.
  • Lower Saxony

    Not heard of any problems here. The girls use their smartphones on the train and the eldest used to use her MacBook Pro.

    Most people spend their time texting and chatting on their smartphones during journies.
  • Midlands of England

    I have a daily commute from a large village to a town about 10 minutes away by train and use the time waiting for the train as well as the travel time to catch up with emails or reading on an Android tablet. There are 2 or 3 others at the station do the same thing and maybe 30-50 on the train (it runs between 2 mid sized cities and stops at every village and town along the way).
    As with wright_is, many others use their phones either for texting or voice calls.

    However, when I visit London and use the tube or bus I am rather more cautious about getting the tablet out!
    Jimmy S