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With cellphone service on Metro, riders brace for noise

An examination of the nation's second largest rail transit system comes at a time when Metro tries to weather an unprecedented season of danger and dismay.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 10:47 PM

As Metrorail riders eagerly await expanded cellphone service, many flinch at one of the inevitable consequences: more noisy conversations intruding on the daily commute.

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"It's loud and it seems a little inappropriate and unnecessary," said Nicole Miller, who travels from Van Ness to Metro Center each day on the Red Line. "I could see it being a problem if there were service and everyone would probably be chatting loudly."

Metro has no restrictions on the use of cellphones on trains or buses; people should be guided by common courtesy, Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

But Farbstein acknowledged that people's ideas about what is acceptable vary - from riders who talk so loudly that people around them roll their eyes or chuckle to those who speak in "low tones no louder than a side-by-side conversation."

"I've heard cellphone conversations about grocery lists, dinner plans, weekend plans and 'Where are the kids?' inquiries," Farbstein said.

Some riders said shorter, more discreet calls would be acceptable.

"A lot of people make calls asking to be picked up. It's useful," Hyejin Kim, a research officer, said as she traveled from Grosvenor-Strathmore to Dupont Circle on her morning commute last week.

Rob Bruening, a program specialist for the Home Builders Institute, said he thought making conference calls for work would be all right. "If you're on a conference call, primarily listening, that would be appropriate," he said, but not "if you're just socially talking and loud."

At the other end of the spectrum, some people adopted a live-and-let-live philosophy.

"I don't care at all," Edward Vasilescu, a political science student at Montgomery College, said as he and a cousin headed downtown on a Red Line train.

Paul Vasilescu, an engineer at the American Dynamics Flight Systems, agreed. "I personally do not care . . . if people are talking on it," he said.

Nevertheless, Paul Vasilescu said the noise in the rail system could make conversations challenging. "It's loud on the subway, so good luck!" he said.

- Ann Scott Tyson

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