The Quiet Car conundrum
Sixteen years ago, a group of regular commuters on Amtrak’s early morning train to D.C. had a great idea: Why not designate one car on the train as a “Quiet Car,” free from cell phone chatter and loud conversations. The railroad agreed and the experiment proved a great success.
But as early as 2006 when the same idea was suggested to Metro-North, it was rejected outright. Then serving on the Commuter Council, I persisted, and finally, in 2011, the railroad agreed to a trial with one car on each rush hour train dedicated to what it called a “Quiet CALMmute.”
Almost immediately the plan ran into trouble. Not because it wasn’t wanted, but because it wasn’t enforced. There were no signs in the cars and only occasional PA announcements before departure, reminding folks who sat in the car of the quiet, library-like environment that was expected. Most of all, conductors wouldn’t enforce the new rules. But why?
Conductors seem to have no trouble reminding passengers to keep their feet off the seats or put luggage in the overhead racks. But all that the railroad expected them to do to enforce the Quiet Car rules was to pass out bilingual “Shhh cards” to gabby violators.
It seemed left to passengers to remind fellow riders what a Quiet Car was for, and confrontations resulted.
Then this spring, the railroad surprised even me by announcing an expansion of the program: Every weekday train, peak and off-peak, would now have two Quiet Cars! Sounds great, but without signage or education, the battles continued.
One commuter from Fairfield recently emailed me with a typical tale. Riding in a Quiet Car he became annoyed when a fellow passenger was yakking on her cell phone. He tapped her on the shoulder and told her, “We’re in a Quiet Car,” and she freaked, telling him to “keep your @&%! hands off of me” and continuing her chatter by telling her caller that “some guy” just tried to tell her to get off her phone and what a fool he was to think this was some kind of quiet car.
Of course, there was no conductor around (all tickets having been collected), and lacking any signage in the car to point to, the offended passenger was made to feel like some sort of jerk.
Nobody wants these kinds of altercations on Metro-North. But why initiate and then expand such a passenger amenity as Quiet CALMmute without proper education and enforcement? A few signs and friendly reminders from conductors should make passengers aware that “train time may be your own time” (as the railroad’s marketing slogan says), but it’s also shared time. And I, for one, want a quiet commute.
Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com. For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.