Someone Is Saying ‘Thanks’ for Being Polite on the MBTA

A rogue T rider is letting people know their kindness is appreciated.

They’re not worth anything and you can’t use them to buy stuff, but daily MBTA passenger Bill Durkin believes they’re bound to make riders feel a little bit better about their day.

They are called “Politeness Points”—small pieces of paper with an encouraging message printed on them—and Durkin has been casually handing them out to fellow straphangers who perform a good deed while tightly packed on trains along the transit lines.

It’s a common occurrence to see passengers keep to themselves during the commute, doing their best to ignore the strangers crammed just inches away. But once in a while, someone will carry out an act of kindness that stands out, and Durkin thinks those actions are worthy of recognition.

“No one is out there trying to get noticed for getting out of the way, or offering a space for someone in a wheelchair, or carrying some bags. I guess what I’m trying to do is just say to these people, ‘I noticed what you did, and I appreciate what you did,’” said Durkin. “It’s just a matter of being aware of people around you. We are all trying to get home from work, or going to work, or sharing the same experiences in public, so why not be nice to one another?”

Durkin first started handing out the “Politeness Points” last fall during his daily commute from Davis Square into Boston, where he’s an attorney. “I used to think to myself, when seeing someone give an elderly person a seat, I would think in my head, ‘this person gets politeness point,’ then I decided I needed to get little tickets, or tokens, or cards made up—and I finally did,” he said.

At first people are sometimes thrown off by the concept as Durkin steps forward and hands over the small, rectangular piece of paper. But once they read the words, which say, “One Politeness Point: Thanks for being polite today,” he usually gets a smile.

“At first it took courage to go up and hand someone a business card out of nowhere, but I got over that pretty fast,” he said. “People are usually kind of confused and they will just take it, then they took a look at it, and I would say 100 percent every time you see a big grin on someone’s face.”

Durkin created an accompanying Twitter account for the impromptu campaign, @PolitenessPts, and he hopes that as people receive the cards they will share them on social media. He would also like to see people paying it forward, and passing off the cards to other strangers that do a nice thing in a public setting. “I would love it if other people went and ran with it, or made their own, and have this be a mini-movement,” he said.

For now, he keeps the printed cards in his pocket, and is at the ready to slip them to an unsuspecting T rider when he notices their unselfish behavior.