01/07/2015 08:00 EST | Updated 03/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Manspreading: Why transit riders mind the gap

It's a gap commuters like Zane Pitt more than just mind — the regular transit rider says he's sick of so-called 'manspreaders' on public transit who sit with legs wide open. 

"I see that a lot," Pitt said as he stood outside Broadway SkyTrain station. "I also see people using a seat just to place their personal stuff."

"Dude ... Stop the spread"

The scourge of manspreading has finally come to light, thanks to New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority. The MTA is launching a public etiquette campaign featuring the catchphrase: “Dude ... Stop the spread, please. It’s a space issue.”

A Tumblr page has cropped up to shame the worst offenders. And transit riders in Toronto recently chimed in with their own concerns about space sprawlers adding new meaning to that city's nickname: Hogtown.

University of British Columbia environmental psychology professor Peter Suedfeld said he's unaware of any studies on the phenomenon of manspreading itself. But transit can make people do weird things.

"They may be breathing into your face. They may be jabbing you with their packages and so on. You feel crowded. You have no privacy. Clearly there are lots of behaviours that occur in such places," he said.

"To the extent that there is this so-called manspreading — if there were evidence of it — I would put it down to bad manners more than anything else."

In defence of manspreaders

To that end, the Canadian Association for Equality has leaped to the defence of manspreaders, arguing the positioning of their genitalia makes it tougher for male passengers to sit with their legs closed. Spokesperson Geoff Stone said they've started a petition against the use of the term itself and any effort to force men to close their legs.

"If your testicles just happen to be in the wrong spot, that could squeeze your testicles ... that could hurt," Stone said.

"There could be a gender neutral term for it if there was really a problem. 'Leg-spreading,' let's say." 

Translink said it has received a total of exactly one complaint about manspreading to date. But that's not to say a problem of Titanic proportions isn't lurking beneath the otherwise calm sea of the daily commute.

"If we receive a substantive number of complaints, then we would consider including this topic in our next social media etiquette campaign," Cheryl Ziola, manager of media relations, said in an email.

In November 2011, TransLink held a contest to determine the biggest peeves of transit riders. They came up with eight finalists, which were then named to typify each type of irritating transit user. Among the most popular were the body-odour-reeking 'Funky Ferret' and the 'Blocking Bunny,' who refuses to get out of the way of other passengers at stops.

The propensity of West Coast men to wear shorts year-round may also add to the frustration some riders have with manspreaders. Luckily, those kind of guys often ride bikes.

Take the poll: Do you have a problem with so-called manspreaders?