Tackling anti-social behaviour on trains would be no mean feet

Irritating: Rail passengers are more rankled by people putting their feet on seats than any other ki

Irritating: Rail passengers are more rankled by people putting their feet on seats than any other kind of anti-social behaviour. - Credit: Getty Images/Big Cheese Photo RF

We are all irritated by different things in life.

What winds one person up, might just as easily be shrugged off by another.

But there are elements of behaviour – anti-social behaviour – that seem to be annoying more of us, more of the time.

In the past, it was dropping litter, not cleaning up after a dog, or using mobile phones in the quiet coach.

However, a new survey of transport users has identified another irritant that until now has not been quite so vigorously tackled.

It is the habit of some passenger putting their feet on seats; resting shoes – the attire that is most in contact with the dirty ground – on an area of a bus or train where fellow travellers will be sitting.

A trivial offence, it may seem, but no wonder it irritates and what surprises is that, until now, it has barely been challenged.

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There may be those out there who think, 'What's all the fuss about?'

Well, if we all shrugged our shoulders all those years ago when people persisted in throwing litter out of the car or train window, just imagine what state our verges or tracksides would be in today – even worse than they are at present – and it would take more than the small but dedicated teams that carry out litter-picking patrols along routes such as the A47 to keep them clean.

When it comes to public transport, how often do we see people – of all ages I must add – sprawled out with their shoes on the opposite seat?

Every rail journey we take, I would suggest.

Thankfully, a rail firm is fighting back and taking formal and concerted action against the problem at a time that a recent survey of rail users suggested they felt 'intimidated' by their fellow passengers who acted in this way.

Train company Merseyrail is equipping staff with body cameras to catch commuters sitting with their feet on the seats, and will record offenders before issuing fines.

The firm is using a 127-year-old bylaw which makes it a criminal offence to 'molest or wilfully interfere with the comfort or convenience' of passengers.

Thankfully such legislation is retained on the Statute Book. . . you never quite know when it will come in handy.

The National Rail Passenger Survey asked more than 50,000 people about train travel and found that feet on seats was the largest form of anti-social behaviour, according to 43pc of passengers – more than those complaining about loud music (37pc), rowdy behaviour (35pc) and drunks (31pc).

'Passengers putting their feet on seats would not seem too serious a crime,' said Transport Focus, the group which conducted the survey. '... but passengers often tell us that they find it both intimidating and confrontational.'

While crime on trains appears to have reduced dramatically – only 25 crimes per million passengers logged in 2014-15 – issues which cause a 'discomfort' to passengers are usually not recorded as crimes.

Some action has been taken in recent years with fines issued for passengers putting feet on seats, but the problem is not going away – and it is quite right that the campaign is being stepped up.

It is disgraceful, disrespectful, behaviour – it damages the fabric of a train, it transfers dirt to where other passengers sit and consequently onto their clothing.

Yet it is more than this practical element – it is, as the survey suggests, confrontational, almost challenging to other passengers and shows a selfish degree of arrogance.

Why people don't see this, or respect the environment others travel in, is beyond me.

The other question is, do we as fellow passengers confront those who behave in this way?

Unfortunately, we all know what the likely outcome to that is, which is why Merseyrail – a train operator at the other side of the country – should be applauded in its stance.

Perhaps train operators closer to home could also look at addressing this issue in a similar way.

It is like other aspects of tackling anti-social behaviour; it may initially seem like an excessive response but, as polite signs have had no impact, there will have to be this period of discomfort for potential feet-on-seat offenders before the message gets home that such behaviour is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated from now on.