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One of the first things I noticed upon coming to Warsaw this summer and getting around by trams, were blue digital posters of cartoonish characters representing common types of bad behaviour on public transport. As I later found out, these ads are part of a recently launched second edition of a campaign called Kierunek życzliwość w komunikacji miejskiej (Direction Courtesy on Public Transport), which will last until the end of this year.

The five cartoon characters are based on a study conducted among Poles to establish which types of behaviour we find most annoying in fellow passengers when travelling on public transport. The study found out that 43% of people consider loud phone conversations to be the most annoying behaviour, with blocking the entrance/exit by either passengers on board or those waiting at a stop only marginally more acceptable (39% and 33% respectively). In 2013, more than a billion passengers in Warsaw used public transport, which is a lot given the country’s population that year (38.5 million people) and the world population (7 billion people). And while a lot of money goes into modernising public transport (according to ZTM, Public Transport in Warsaw, since 2007 approx. 5 billion zlotys have gone into replacing old buses, trams and trains with low-floor ones), and a lot of vehicles are now equipped with digital screens, STOP buttons in Braille, various adjustments aimed at disabled people, the actual quality of travel depends on the behaviour of passengers.

The ads are likely to put a smile on passengers’ faces. The characters’ names and their descriptions are presented in an amusing encyclopaedia-like style using wordplay. Kłapodziób Wylewny could be translated into Effusive Prater, Hałaśnik Głuchawy would be Deaf-ish Noise-Maker, Tępacz Ignorant—Ignoramus Moron, Knyszojad Smrodliwy—Stinky KebabEater, Zastawiacz Olbrzymi—Gigantic Blocker. In order for non-Polish readers to understand the ads, I have allowed myself to do quick translations.

Effusive Prater: Talks on the phone louder than any other known species, discussing topics that make other passengers uncomfortable. This is his way of defending his territory, since no-one is willing to sit next to him.

Deaf-ish Noise-Maker: The noise he makes doesn’t come from his oral cavity, but from electronic devices. Even if he’s using earplugs, his passengers are forced to listen to the music together with him.

Stinky KebabEater: Can be found in various means of public transport. Preys mostly on fast food with a very intense odour.

Gigantic Blocker: Occupies a territory near the doors, regardless of how crowded the carriage is. He blocks the entrance entirely, preventing other passengers from getting on and off.

Ignoramus Moron (below): Gets paralyzed by the opening doors. He stops noticing other people who might need help, like older people or women with children.

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The images are displayed on screens inside bus and tram carriages. Aside from the striking style of the drawings, I really like the kind of humour they convey. In comparison, early in 2015 the Metropolitan Transport Association in New York launched a similar campaign, “Courtesy Counts, Manners Make a Better Ride,” shaming similar and other anti-social behaviours, such as nail clipping, “manspreading” (sitting with legs far apart), or dancing on the pole (Now, personally I have always found that last one quite entertaining, if not rare, on London tube). The messages are very similar, yet the style of the American ads is very plain—generic non-relatable faces aren’t likely to get people’s attention, and from that point of view, I find the Polish campaign a lot more successful.

The campaign also includes a short educational animated film called N jak Niewidomy (B like Blind), which explains how best to help a visually impaired person move around the city. Drawings by Michał Arkusiński, animation by SQM Studio. There is a also a separate campaign called Jazda na Dzień Dobry, to encourage people to greet other passengers when getting on a bus, tram or train (Dzień Dobry means Good Morning or Hello).

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*I’ve been trying to identify the graphic designer behind the Direction Courtesy ads, but all I managed to find out is that the design was part of a competition organised by the Corton website, and the author (female) seems to remain anonymous.

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