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Opinion: Your big stupid backpack is a problem again on public transit

The pandemic-era room we had on buses and SkyTrains is gone. So take your backpack off and put it on the ground - we share this space.
Lots of people in Vancouver use public transit and carry backpacks, but only a few are in the habit of taking off their bags while riding on crowded buses and SkyTrains.

It was nice while it lasted.

There were a few weeks last fall and again at the start of 2022 when Vancouver's buses and SkyTrains were far less crowded than usual, even during the busy a.m. and p.m. commutes. That's when we could all hoist our big backpacks or tote bags on our shoulders, crank 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 each of us. 

That space was available and felt almost needed in the era of physical distancing. It's easier to keep six feet apart when a foot and half behind you is occupied by a bag you're wearing on your back. 

Then, more of us started having to haul ourselves back to the office or classroom in person. And poof! That invisible cushion of space around each of us was - is - gone.

Now our buses and trains in Vancouver have become a familiar landscape of backpacks and tote bags slamming into people while the wearer carries on, unaware. And it's driving people nuts. 

Okay, fine. It's me. I'm people.

I'm tired of getting slapped and rammed in the arms, back, guts, and side by your big, stupid backpack because you forget that the right thing to do is to take it off and set it on the ground. 

Compounding the issue of general awareness of the issue as transit ridership climbs back up closer to pre-COVID level is that most riders of the backpack-wearing variety also have their senses dulled because they are staring at their phones and/or absorbed by what they are listening to. They may not feel that a crush of people are boarding and in need of places to stand and hold on. They may not realize that what's jutting out behind them is knocking into other people's bodies, sometimes inflicting pain. That might be an explanation, but it's not an excuse. There should be a baseline of common sense and considerate behaviour in place when you tap your Compass card and get on board public transit. 

Like I've always told my nine-year-old son when out in public, "we share this space." When I'm on the Canada Line or a bus, that's not my own domain. That means I keep my voice down if I'm engaged in conversation, I don't watch or listen to stuff on my iPhone without headphones, I don't drape my body along poles that other hands might need to grab, and I take my bag off my shoulder or back and place it at my feet. 

Sure, every now and then I jostle someone, or I don't step aside quickly enough, but even when I'm absolutely riveted by whatever repeat of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit I'm streaming or mentally walking through the TikTok dance steps to Lizzo's "About Damn Time" while making my way on transit from South Delta to Mount Pleasant day after day, I'm not knocking into my fellow transit user with my bag.

However, I am finding myself entirely corralled by giant, boxy, ouch-y backpacks. And yes: My toxic trait is that I will absolutely shove yours with my elbow. 

Last night on the Canada Line I was surrounded by a group of about a half-dozen backpack wearers, four of which were anchored to the centre yellow poles between the doors. At one point, three of them literally had me boxed in against the glass partition with my elbows up in a defensive stance. I watched as riders entered the train and tried to eyeball a good spot to stand, and calculated that several people could have easily found comfortable, safe standing spots had those folks only removed their big, bulging, stupid backpacks and put them on the ground at their feet.

Am I kind of intense about this? Sure. It's one of my little hills to die on. But also, I'm not making this stuff up. TransLink actually includes this in its "Etiquette on Transit" tips list: "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 actual hard rules) when I see people smoking two feet from the "No smoking or vaping" signs at the bus loop, or that one time I watched some guy take down a footlong Subway sandwich between Broadway-City Hall and Marine Drive, crumbs everywhere and all. 

The smokers, eaters, and people blasting music without headphones are rare, but on any given SkyTrain ride car I'll track at least a dozen big ol' backpacks on backs. That's a lot of people forgetting that one small, simple (back-relieving) gesture would go a long way to making a lot of people's commutes much more pleasant. 

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