Quiet Controversy

Have you ever been shushed? The resulting emotion I can only quantify as equal parts indignation and shame. Now many more people will get that experience on trains in three cities across the country. I’m a fan of the quiet car. I’m the guy who plans to sit for hours whenever he travels, so I always have my iPad and a pair of headphones handy. Give me some Wi-Fi and I’ll be good for hours. So it was with some interest that I read about Metra implementing quiet cars this week with MBTA and NJ Transit testing them out. The problem with quiet cars is that nobody knows just what “quiet” really means. I spent a few years working in a bookstore when I was in college. What I found most interesting working there was how quiet it was. Evidently, because we sold books, people decided that the universal library rules applied. If kids were loud their parents admonished them (and usually apologized to us). And woe be to the adult who was loud — usually receiving infuriated stares if not outright shushing from other patrons. Such is the way of the quiet car, too. But here is the thing — most quiet cars allow you to speak quietly. They don’t demand silence. But other riders sure do. I know that I’ve been shushed into silence on a quiet car when I was having what I thought was a politely subdued conversation with the person next to me. A good conductor can defuse the situation by declaring the rules of the quiet car as the train rolls out, but often they are busy dealing with the myriad of other duties they have and can’t be expected to pay special attention to a single car. What’s the answer? I think agencies need to post the rules of the quiet car clearly so everyone can see them. Everyone knows the “rules of the pool” — no running, no diving, etc. — because they are clearly posted by every pool. The same should be the case for the quiet car — no cell phones, no music, no talking — so everyone knows the rules. Otherwise, people may just opt out of using the quiet car as it becomes ruled by the shushers. Thanks for reading the MT Position, updated every Friday. For those interested in instant updates, you can now get your latest Mass Transit news fix via Twitter. Fred fred.jandt@masstransitmag.com Connect to me via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter!