Last summer, Metra rolled out a series of clever "Ride Nice" posters intended to nudge riders to be less rude and annoying to their fellow passengers. The campaign targeted Metra miscreants who bellow on cellphones, sprawl across seats, clog aisles and otherwise make courteous riders (a dwindling number, we fear) fume.
We applauded Metra's effort then, but harbored doubts that humor-inflected chiding would sway or even pierce the consciousness of oblivious or ill-mannered riders. By the completely unscientific observations of regular Metra riders among us, we regret to confirm our hypothesis: The impact of courtesy-first public service posters appears vanishingly small to nonexistent.
Just board a train at rush hour and count how many people are commandeering a neighboring seat with a package, purse or parcel, strategically placed to shoo away people with tickets who need a place to sit. Just ask, politely, if they would move said package and await the reaction. A sheepish smile and a hearty, "Sure."? No. More like a glare and a scowl — as if the greedhead had paid for two seats — and then a grudging, grumbling removal of the seat-dwelling item(s).
Just prepare to shield your ears when the cellphones fire up and the loud-volume oversharing about office antics, or last night's party, or a gynecologist appointment, or that client everyone hates. And be ready to duck when a band of rowdy passengers decides to turn your car into a nightclub.
Just cringe and seek refuge in another car when fellow passengers start the "hands-free" hacking, sneezing and coughing that turn most train cars into rolling petri dishes ideal to transmit germs to the widest swath of passengers.
Those are some of passengers' major pet peeves, according to Metra, which asked riders to nominate another round of subjects for the onboard courtesy campaign.
Coming soon: a series of public service posters reminding Metra riders not to do those things. Metra Executive Director and CEO Don Orseno says that "our campaign will continue to gently remind riders to behave courteously toward one another ..."
There's the crux of the problem: Gently remind. If gentle reminding were effective, Metra wouldn't need to keep churning out posters.
Metra needs to figure out how to better enforce the rules of public transit civility. Our suggestions:
How about a camera in each car to capture rider transgressions, allowing conductors or onboard politeness monitors (think federal air marshals lite) to issue warnings or collect small fine violations from repeat offenders or scofflaws? We imagine that even a token $1 fine, forked over on the spot, would help convince the chronically thoughtless to be more considerate. Or maybe Metra could run mug shots of repeat violators? Mild shaming might work better than gentle chiding.
Or, if that's too Big Brother-ish, how about creating cars specially designed for offenders? One car would be a sort of "Survivor — Seat Hog" experience. The first passengers stake out maximum terrain with their oversized purses and briefcases, then defend it against later arriving contestants who use guile or muscle to wedge into a seat.
Everyone who sneezes or coughs without covering up would be banished to the Hacking Car. (This might be an entire train.) Tissues optional.
Phone shouters could be quarantined in a soundproofed car, with acoustics to ensure that no one can hear anything except his or her neighbor's high-volume personal chat or take-out dinner order or whatever else people insist on sharing with their fellow riders who are helpless to not hear them. Earphones forbidden. You must listen to this loud droning!
Metra riders (and fellow sufferers on CTA buses and "L" trains), listen up. You know what's not acceptable on public transportation. This isn't some secret list.
Thank you for your cooperation. Or else.
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