Possible B.O. ban in Honolulu

Two Honolulu city council members proposed a bill that would ban certain annoying behavior on buses including bad body odor. If passed, perps could face a $500 fine or six months in jail. From KITV:
"It's horrible -- sometimes you have to get up and open up the vents, and it's just obnoxious," said veteran bus driver Thom Robinson.

Supporters of the bus behavior bill said it also includes and consolidates a lot of other useful prohibitions already on the books such as forbidding spitting on buses, being drunk on a bus or urinating when you are on a bus or at a bus stop.

The city transportation services department supports the bill pending legal review saying much of it is already law.
Council Considers BO Ban (Thanks, Koshi!)



  1. Sounds like an assault on the freedom of olfactory expression…and it’s only in its cradle!

    First they came for the smelly one…are us ugly ones next? (shudder)

  2. This sounds like the type of law that could be used to harass impoverished and homeless people, a phenomenon that BB has noted in the past.

  3. Banning drunks from getting on the bus is amazingly stupid. It’s far better that they use the bus than try to drive home.

  4. python_boot nailed it. The people most likely to have a bad smell are those who don’t have access to showers and baths, because they are homeless. That’s what this is about.

  5. This kind of law is simply just another way to harass and drive out the poor and homeless.

    It’s a means of further victimizing people who are mentally ill, or unable to access hygiene facilities for any number of reasons.

    I’ve ridden public transit next to some very pungent people. It’s not some kind of life-scarring nightmare, just one of those things. Making it a law, embarrassing people who, clearly, already have mental, social or simply economic disadvantages is just cruel and stupid.

  6. Just doesn’t make sense. I don’t mean to stereotype, but public transportation usually has all kinds of stinky people.

    If you don’t want to smell strangers’ BO, don’t ride the bus!

  7. Banning being drunk on the bus?

    Isn’t that the exact opposite of what they should be doing?

    “Look, sir, you seem to have been drinking, so public transportation is right out for you. Best to go back to your car.”

  8. Well, another opportunity for me to dredge up memories from my days working at the bus factory! We sold a bunch of buses to Honolulu, and the transit-agency guys doing the purchasing decided that it would be a great idea to install trash cans on the buses. You know, so the passengers don’t leave fast-food wrappers on the seats. What could possibly go wrong?

    We knew what could go wrong, of course (they weren’t the first bus purchasers to come up with this brainstorm), but couldn’t talk the Hawaiians out of the idea. So, within a couple hours of the new buses’ glorious debut, every single trash can on every one of the new buses was overflowing with feces and puke. No piss, though; traditionally, bus passengers prefer the floor for that.

  9. @Marja: Yes, yes it would. They would be even more discriminated against, and I didn’t even think that was possible.

  10. Living in NYC, there are plenty of homeless people who I’m fine being on a bus or train with. Then there are others who smell so horribly bad that you have to leave the train in order to breath.

    What can you do about that? I mean, it’s horrible that they’re not getting care, but on the other hand, don’t I have a right to a commute where I’m not retching from a really atrocious stench? Put a bill in front of me to get these people help, and I’ll sign it. But don’t tell me that I’m obligated to just put up with someone smelling of shit, piss and a months worth of sour sweat. A little body odor, I can tolerate, but there have to be limits.

  11. Let’s ban Drakkar Noir while we’re at it. Oh, and everyone has to use the same soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, laundry detergent. Oh and no one is allowed to be homeless because it would prevent them from using all the proper hygiene products. So either they need to be forced to live in houses and forced to have money or they need to be deported. That’s just standards.

  12. JJasper, I’m also in NYC, and I sympathize. The particulars of this law sound dumb, but I’m not opposed in theory. I imagine it’s easy to offer mass transit as a shelter for disgusting behavior if you don’t need it to get around, yourself.

  13. Libraries in most towns already have rules about how you can smell – specifically to facilitate ejecting/banning homeless people.

    Some homeless people may be funky, but banning poor people from public spaces REEKS.

  14. I’m against this law, as it sounds like it was expressly created to harass poor people in favor of tourists.

    That being said. I’ve taken a bus ride from Waikiki out to Waimea bay (2 hours or so on the local, each way) and there were some absolutely rank people on it. So I see where the impetus for this is coming from.

    Still against it though.

  15. Wouldn’t it be better to fix the problems (poverty, etc.) instead of the symptoms?

    I just don’t get the US. The country that expounds the virtues of freedom and human rights seems to like marginalising more and more of its citizens every day!

  16. “Libraries in most towns already have rules about how you can smell – specifically to facilitate ejecting/banning homeless people.

    Some homeless people may be funky, but banning poor people from public spaces REEKS.”

    It sounds like the rules are to facilitate ejecting people who smell terrible. Serving much the same purpose as, say, the rules against shouting in the library, rather than as an excuse to exercise inexplicable bigotry against some particular group. Just saying.

  17. The bus in my town has rules like that already in place. They work pretty well. It’s really the kind of thing that is only enforced when it needs to be. The driver doesn’t sniff the pits of every passenger as they board and decide if they smell good or not. He doesn’t give everyone a breathalizer test to see if they’re drinking. The rule is enforced on an “only when there’s a disturbance” basis.
    It makes it so that people who are habitually disturbing to the people around them aren’t allowed to continue being a nuisance.

    I ride the bus to work every day and I love that it has rules in place to keep the experience as pleasant as possible. It doesn’t take too many people having too bad an experience and telling their friends to turn a lot of potential riders away from using the service. Just a handful of people being stuck next to a filthy smelly individual or riding a bus that smells of urine is enough to scare a lot of normal people off. Then all you have left still using the service are the undesirable people and there aren’t enough of them to support the cost of the system. Kicking off the occasional person who won’t respect others is worth it to keep the majority of the riders happy and the system profitable enough to keep running.

    As for it being discriminatory against the poor and the mentally ill, there’s no excuse for the kinds of nastiness that policy is against. If someone is so very mentally ill that can no longer wash themselves, they don’t need to be riding around on the bus alone. They need to be supervised by someone sane and that someone should be responsible enough to see to it that the mental ill person is hygenic, at least clean enough not annoy those around them. The poor have no excuse either. Soap and water are not expensive. In fact, they are freely available at public restrooms, so even if you don’t have a penny or a possession to your name, you have no reason to be dirty. There’s a ton of reasons to be economically disadvantaged, but no reason to be filthy and smelling of BO.

  18. From an air-quality (regional, not on the bus) and environmental standpoint, though, keeping the unfortunately pungent off the bus might be the thing to do. An important step in convincing non-homeless folk, in particular the olfactorally sensitive middle class, to use public transportation is to make it a pleasant experience. If the air in the bus is dominated by l’eau du vagrant, it’s just another hurdle to getting average commuters out of their individual automobiles.

  19. I wish there was some way to deal with this problem without creating such dicey civil liberties issues. I’ve been in confined spaces with (probably mentally ill) homeless people who literally had people retching in the aisles and fleeing the bus for air.

    There is “doesn’t have everyday access to showers” stinky and then there’s “biological weapon” stinky. Letting yourself fall into the second category is usually a signal that you shouldn’t be allowed on the street at all, if only for your own well-being.

    That said, I’d prefer more managed care facilities for the homeless and fewer jails.

  20. Its Honolulu! Its hot and humid, if someone walks one block they will start to sweat. The only place worse is NYC in August, the subway is a damn oven.
    Yeah, I don’t see this progressing passed a the proposal stage.

  21. #3: That is what I thought of immediately.
    I never noticed a problem with pungent homeless when I visited Hawai’i in 2002. I hiked, slept at public beaches, took public transport, and rubbed shoulders with tourists and residents of all types. Are there more fragrant vagrants now, or did I just miss them while I was there? And are there a significant number of non-homeless who smell bad enough to fill the bus with their stench?

  22. Politics in Hawaii is passionate and chaotic. Just look at the Super Ferry, unlicensed vacation rentals, the proposed rail system or smoking restrictions, to name a few. I love Oahu, but we are a kooky bunch.

  23. “The solution is to have free access to laundry and shower services for homeless folk.”

    There are no public facilities of any kind available to the homeless in most US cities. America is a socially backwards country that blames victims of poverty for their condition.

    “If someone is so very mentally ill that can no longer wash themselves, they don’t need to be riding around on the bus alone.”

    That means paying someone to do that and that would need to come out of tax money. Americans have consistently refused to pay to take care of the poor and needy. We don’t even want to pay for common public services like healthcare, public schools, mass transit and so on.

    Here in Minnesota conditions are considerably better than what it would appear to be elsewhere. I think that is because we have that Scandinavian disease where we actually believe one should give a fuck about one’s fellow man. That means that we tax people in order to provide services to those in need. The end result is that overall conditions are slightly better for everyone. Who knew that if you take of others the general welfare improves!?

    Taxes are the price you pay for civilization.

  24. My local library has a rule against smelling bad in the library, and they also have a rule against washing anything but hands in their bathroom.

    I think libraries really need to have shower facilities, since homeless people always go there.

  25. @moriarty, 32: Unfortunately, the policies really are intended to facilitate already existing discrimination. I can’t speak to buses specifically, but I know for sure that library staff and security guards actively try to clear homeless people out of libraries simply because it’s considered inappropriate for a respectable place to be full of weird looking unkempt people hanging around all day reading books and surfing the internet.

    The staff is stymied by the fact that a library is a public resource, and you can’t just go around kicking citizens out of their own building for no reason. Presumably the same thing is true for city buses and their drivers. Hence, bizarre regulations about smell.

  26. There are many homeless people who, while they can’t or don’t bathe daily, manage to keep themselves clean enough to not be considered a biohazard. If you can’t or won’t at least make a stab at some form of hygiene, why should the people who do have to accept your stench in an enclosed area? This should include anyone sufficiently perfumed or aftershaved to make their neighbors asthmatic or nauseated.

  27. “If you can’t or won’t at least make a stab at some form of hygiene, why should the people who do have to accept your stench in an enclosed area?”

    So that just maybe it will motivate your tightwad ass to pony up a little and provide money for decent social workers, shelters, and other services that are in dire need.

    The reason that some homeless are dirty and smelly is because they have very few choices. They are typically chronic alcoholics and the mentally ill (schizophrenics) who have no access to even the most basic kind of care. It may seem counter intuitive but when you are homeless you have very little control over your life and are vulnerable to the whims of many of those with power who dominate your daily existence.

    There is nowhere to sit, nowhere to stand, nowhere to rest, nowhere to shit, nowhere to pee, nowhere to change clothes, nowhere to eat, nowhere to sleep, nowhere to much of anything. All of these things YOU have taken away from them and then you turn around and blame them for simply trying to survive the system YOU demand they adjust to.

    YOU are the problem, not them. Your ATTITUDE is what needs to change, not theirs.

  28. If I had to pick the five worst-smelling people that I’ve ever met, they’d be doctors and nurses at the hospital where I worked. There are two schizophrenics who live in a tree across the street from me in 110°-plus heat and they don’t smell half as bad.

  29. There really is something to be said for people wearing foul-smelling colognes and perfumes too. I know it was mentioned upthread, but we don’t seem to be discussing it..

    I’d say I encounter bad BO about as much as I encounter bad, or over applied, fragrances. Do I get to tell the ‘good’ smellers to get off the bus as well?

  30. Can we get this law for Glendale, CA but for the whole city not just the buses? Also a ban on driving like an idiot in your BMW.

  31. Antonious…could you blog about them(the tree crazies)? Because that sounds far more interesting than all the prior comments.

    1. could you blog about them(the tree crazies)?

      All they do is walk around the block sixteen hours a day.

  32. Aren’t there free showers at the public beaches in Hawaii? All a homeless person has to do is strip down to a bathing suit and bring a bar of soap.

  33. I find that it’s less BO and more suffocating perfumes that leave me reaching for the window on public transport.

    Infact, whilst BO is invasive, it’s not toxic – not in the sense that people with environmental sensetivity disorders can potentially die for strong perfumes, where as BO is just offensive.

    And more than anything, like most laws like this, it’ll likely be most used against homeless and the disenfranchised. Indeed, the more cynical part of my mind immediately assumes that that was the seed that spawned this reaction – those damned homeless stinking up the buses.

    I can’t see it being used against a guy in a suit, or with a gym bag, that stinks like all hell.

  34. stink causes:
    -lack of hygiene
    -body chemistry(special cases)(
    -deliberately applied ( eg: cologne, feces)
    -age (both extremes)
    -mammalian endocrine phases (bloody mammals)
    -environmental causes (city folk smell like bus exhaust)

    any others? Oh yes; damned Venusians.

    given the above, how can such a law stand without drawing expensive litigation almost instantly?

  35. A friend of mine was once ejected from a music club, because some of the customers supposedly complained that the person smelled. Do you know how humiliating that was for this person, to be rejected in public like that? What an insulting thing to say about someone, that they smell. Really.

    Cities should give out free tokens for the laundromat if they are so concerned with keeping homeless people smelling well enough for the well-born to bear.

  36. @#58: Well, perhaps your friend DID smell. Maybe their odor was really impeding the club patrons’ enjoyment of the club.

    If I’m going out, I make sure I don’t stink. Why shouldn’t everyone else do the same?

    And you’re talking about a CLUB, a voluntary experience, not EVEN public transit, where you might not have a choice.

    Your friend needs to think before inflicting him/herself on other people.

  37. @33 redstarr:
    Yeah, being poor is no excuse. All these poor stinky people should just clean up and get jobs!

  38. Bus drivers already kick people off when they are too stinky. I remember this one time awhile back when some guy took a shit on the bus, and the driver stopped and refused to move until the shitter got off. Everyone applauded.

    The Maui buses are even stricter; I’ve seen them kick off hippies for patchouli abuse.

    I think this works just fine and there don’t need to be fines that the violators couldn’t pay anyway.

  39. I live on O’ahu. Every time I pass a bus stop, I look at the people waiting and wonder which ones are taking the bus by choice to save on parking, fuel, and whatever and which ones are forced to do so. Recently my three small children and I suffered a volatile 24 hour flu over a succession of days and I was forced to run about 8 loads of laundry per day to deal with the organic material spewed from various orifices onto sheets, towels, and clothing. I was wondering what that would have been like if we didn’t have a washer/dryer and didn’t have a car. In the middle of this the City was considering the smell ban on the bus we would all have had to take to the laundromat (can’t leave the kids home alone!). Thank gawd I’m comparatively filthy stinking rich!

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