Open Thread: Ban Cell Phone Talk on Transit?

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Transit agencies have long wrestled with it: how deeply involved should they get with enforcing common courtesy by prohibiting or fining people for rude behavior such as refusing to move to the center of a crowded train or bus, leaving bags on seats, and yakking loudly on the cell phone?

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Authority isn’t even open for business, and won’t be until December at the earliest, but it seems poised to ratchet up the courtesy policing, as reported in the Marin Independent Journal:

On the North Bay commuter trains set to launch by the end of the year, passengers will be able to sip beer or wine, surf the internet using onboard Wi-Fi and bring along small pets, so long as they ride in enclosed carriers.

But talking on cellphones? That will be off-limits under a proposed code of conduct policy being weighed by the Sonoma- Marin Area Rail Transit Authority. Such a restriction, which requires the approval of the rail agency’s board of directors, may be without precedent among public transit systems anywhere in the United States.

Readers will recall that BART recently started fining seat hogs.  Nick Josefowitz, a BART board director  and occasional Streetsblog contributor, voted against the measure, opining that common courtesy cannot be legislated.

So what about the rudeness of blabbing on a cell phone and disturbing other passengers? When Streetsblog toured the SMART project last spring, Matt Stevens, SMART’s Community Education and Outreach manager, explained that the strategy for attracting riders is to give them a pleasant alternative to traffic-clogged roads. “It’s got Wi-Fi, tables, plugs for chargers, and a bar,” he explained during the tour. With that in mind, the idea is to run a train that’s quiet and relaxing, and a cacophony of cell ringers and chatter won’t do. SMART rail has set up a Facebook page to hear people’s thoughts on a “code of conduct” for the trains.

Most commuter trains, however, have struck a balance by having a “quiet car” where cell phones are prohibited. But that can backfire, because what constitutes “quiet” is not always easy to agree on. Simply banning talking on cell phones is more straightforward, which may be why SMART is taking this approach. Another alternative, which Streetsblog has seen on some intercity trains overseas, is to designate an area, usually behind a partition, where riders can yak away.

Streetsblog would like to hear reader opinions on banning the use of phones on trains. What else have you experienced from your fellow transit riders that you found rude or disturbing? Please leave your comments below.

Meanwhile, this video explains how to be a courteous transit rider:

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