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Tips and Guidelines for Using Mass Transit for Individuals with Autism

A woman is shown from behind sitting in a bus looking out the window.

Photo by VH S via Pexels

Many individuals with autism prefer to use public transportation instead of during their own car or relying on other people to give them a ride to the places they need or want to go. For this reason, it is important to become familiar with mass transit options, and the social rules to follow when using public transportation. These information sheets provide general tips about using mass transit in Pennsylvania as well as specific information about using buses, trains, taxis, and the subway system. There are two sets of resources available for download, one set is text based while the other uses more images and simplified text.

General Tips

Driving a vehicle can be overwhelming for many adults with ASD. For this reason, it is important to become familiar with mass transit options and the unwritten social rules of mass transit.

  • Stay to the right when walking in crowded areas, and allow people that are walking faster than you to pass you on the left. This is especially important on escalators. Many people using mass transit are in a hurry to catch a bus, train or subway.
  • Allow all people to get off of the bus, train, or subway before attempting to get on.
  • Do not stare at people. This makes them uncomfortable. Instead, look out of the window, read something you brought along, play a game on your phone, etc.
  • Make sure you use headphones if you want to listen to music, play a game, watch a video, etc. If you have to talk on your phone, do so quietly and keep your calls short.
  • If there is a row of empty seats available, sit in the empty row in the seat closest to the window. If there are no empty rows, you can sit next to someone in an empty seat. You can also stand when riding the bus or subway as long as you do not block the aisle or the doors.
  • Public transportation can get very crowded during the times of day when people are commuting to/from school or work. If you are not in a hurry, you might want to wait for a bus or subway that is not as crowded.
  • Avoid touching other people or crowding their space whenever possible.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene. People do not like to smell strong smells in close quarters.
  • Keep your personal items safe by keeping a hand on them and/or keeping them close to you. If the bus or subway is crowded, do not put your belongings on the seat next to you. The seats are for other passengers.
  • If an elderly person, person with a physical disability, a child, or a mother holding an infant gets on and there are no seats available, it is expected that you give up your seat to that person and stand until a seat becomes available.
  • Additionally, some forms of transportation have seats specifically designated for the elderly or physically disabled. Do not sit in these seats unless they are the last seats available and there are no elderly or physically disabled individuals who need them. If there are no seats specifically designated for the elderly or disabled, it is commonly expected to leave the seats closest to the exit for them.

General PA Mas Transit Links:

American Public Transportation Association

Website

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

Website

Buses

  • If you are riding the bus in the dark, be sure to wear light or bright colored clothing and/or signal the driver with a lighted device so he sees there is someone to pick up at the stop.
  • The number of the bus and the destination of the bus are often listed above the windshield. Some numbered buses, for example, have two different ending destinations. Be sure you know which bus you need. You can also check with the driver before getting on to be sure you are on the right bus.
  • Get on the bus in the order of who was waiting at the bus stop the longest. Be sure to use the door nearest the driver, and not the rear door.
  • Have your ticket or payment ready when you get on the bus. Most buses will only accept exact change, so if you are paying in cash, be sure you know how much is needed before getting on the bus.
  • If you are going to transfer from one bus to another bus, tell the driver when you get on. If you do not have a bus pass, you may need to pay a transfer fee and get a special ticket to use for the second bus. This is cheaper than paying full-price for the second bus.
  • Know the order of stops, and about how long it should take to get to your destination, so that you are ready to get off at your stop when the bus gets there. You can also ask the driver what time you will reach your stop.
  • Pull the cord or push the stop button about a block before the stop you need to get off the bus. Otherwise, if there is no one waiting to get on the bus, the driver may continue driving past your stop.
  • Buses tend to be busy at times. If you are unable to get a seat, use the hand grips and poles to keep your balance and avoid falling onto people.
  • Most bus companies have websites that you can use to plan your trip so you can estimate the cost, length of trip and any transfers.
  • Buses are also a great way to travel longer distances between cities as well. Visit
    www.greyhound.com or www.peterpanbus.com for more information about planning a long distance bus trip.

Subway

  • Many subway lines have websites that allow you to plan your trip and sometimes purchase fare cards ahead of time. This can be a good way to be prepared ahead of time and reduce stress of having to figure out fares and routes in a busy or unfamiliar subway station.
  • Know the order of stops and about how long it should take to get to your destination so that you are ready to get off at your stop when the subway gets there.
  • The subway doors will not wait for you. They are unmanned and will open and close on a timer regardless of whether you have gathered your things to exit yet or not.
  • Let people get off the subway before you get on. Make sure you are completely inside the subway car and are not preventing the doors from closing and delaying the train.
  • Middle subway cars and the cars closest to the exits to the subway tend to be the most full. If you are uncomfortable with a full car try to enter a car further from these points.
  • If you find a car is too full and you are not in a hurry, step back and wait for the next train. The next one may not be as full.
  • Subways tend to be busy at times. If you are unable to get a seat, use the hand grips and poles to keep your balance and avoid falling onto people.
  • For specific information about subway systems in Pennsylvania visit:
    http://www.septa.org/maps/ (Philadelphia area)
    http://www.portauthority.org/paac/default.aspx (Pittsburgh area)

Taxi

Traditional Taxi Cabs

  • You can wave a taxi down in bigger cities (like Philadelphia) from the street. Taxis that are available have a lit sign on the roof.
  • You can also call ahead for a taxi and let them know what time you need to be picked up. Be sure to know the address of the place that you would like the driver to pick you up.
  • Know the exact address of the place you would like the driver to take you.
  • Make sure you have enough money to pay for the fare and tip. Most taxis accept credit cards, but some do not.

Uber and Lyft

  • These services are similar to traditional taxis but allow individuals with smartphones to submit trip requests through specific Uber and Lyft apps.
  • Drivers use their own vehicles as opposed to taxi cabs but prices are similar to that of traditional cab fare. During rush hour or bad weather prices may increase.
  • There is no money directly exchanged for the service, rather all transactions are handled through the apps.
  • For more information about Uber and Lyft visit their websites at:
    www.uber.com
    www.lyft.com

Train

  • Many train lines have websites that allow you to plan your trip and sometimes purchase fare cards ahead of time. This can be a good way to be prepared ahead of time and reduce stress of having to figure out fares and routes in a busy or unfamiliar train station.
  • Many trains have a Quiet Car. The lights in this car are not as bright as the rest of the train. You may not talk on a cell phone or to other passengers at all in the Quiet Car. Be sure to pay attention to see if you are seated in the Quiet Car.
  • You may need to show your ticket to staff at the train station before you are allowed to get on the train. You will also need to show it again once you are seated. Get your ticket out once you are seated and keep it ready to hand to the conductor when he/she comes around. If your ticket is on your phone, be sure to have the screen with your ticket open.
  • Know the order of stops, and about how long it should take to get to your destination, so that you are ready to get off at your stop when the train gets there. The train stops for varying amounts of time depending on its schedule. It may have stopped for 5 minutes at the last stop but might only stop for 1 minute at your stop. You can also ask the conductor to let you know when your stop is next.
  • If you use the restroom on board the train, make sure you lock the door once inside.
  • For additional information visit:

www.amtrak.com
www.portauthority.org/trip-planner/
www.septa.org

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
General Mass Transit Text based pdf Download file: General Mass Transit
General Mass Transit Images pdf Download file: General Mass Transit
Buses Text based pdf Download file: Buses
Buses Images pdf Download file: Buses
Subway Text based pdf Download file: Subway
Subway Images pdf Download file: Subway
Taxi Text based pdf Download file: Taxi
Taxi Images pdf Download file: Taxi
Train Text based pdf Download file: Train
Train Images pdf Download file: Train

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.