In the Jan. 10 Dr. Gridlock column, Jeff Peterson, of Anne Arundel County, complained about fellow MARC train passengers who put their personal belongings--from makeup to overcoats--on adjacent empty seats, taking them out of use.
These people are seat hogs. "Shouldn't people be a little more courteous of their fellow traveler?" he asked. That letter elicited a number of comments, not just about MARC, but also Metro and Virginia Rail Express.
Make Room for Courtesy
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I, too, have encountered seat hogs in my nearly 14 years of commuting via public transportation. Many of the seat hogs on the commuter buses will actually sit in an aisle seat and load the window seat with items in hope that fellow commuters will take the path of least resistance and sit by individuals who have been considerate enough to leave the seat next to them free.
Responsible commuters must work together to handle this problem. Approach a seat hog and say, "Excuse me." Most seat hogs don't like the idea of sharing "their space," but I've never had anyone refuse to move themselves or an item so that I could sit down. (If this happened, I wouldn't argue--drivers aren't the only folks who exhibit rage).
The problem with seat hogs and other irresponsible commuters is that they are not practicing good manners. So, just as there are rules for slugging, I propose some rules for commuting via public transportation:
1. Do not hog a seat.
2. Do not block the doors on Metrorail. If you must stand by a door, be kind enough to move aside to let people enter and depart.
3. If you're seated and your stop is coming up, don't expect the person standing to move out of your way while the train is still moving. That person needs to maintain a grip to keep balanced.
4. If you carry a long umbrella with a sharp point, remember to hold it vertically. (Many passengers, particularly males, carry umbrellas with the points sticking out sideways. I'm afraid they will impale someone.)
5. If you're standing on a bus or train, hold onto something. Swaying with every motion and bumping into your fellow commuters is not acceptable. One morning, a man got on the Blue Line holding a cup of coffee in one hand and an umbrella in the other. He didn't hold onto anything as he lurched about. I didn't know if he was going to scald someone with coffee or spear someone with his umbrella.
Any additions from other commuters?
Campaign by E-Mail
My suggestion for riders having difficulty finding a seat because of seat hogs is to notify management.
We e-mailed Virginia Rail Express about this problem, and they started making announcements: "Tonight the train is unusually full [or some such thing]; please make room for additional passengers in the seat next to you."
VRE has been very responsive to e-mails to their Web site, and I'd guess MARC management might be as well.
Scarce Seating for Disabled, Too
I'm one of those seat hogs, but not by choice. I'm disabled and have a hard time sitting in the standard seats. I have to shift around in my seat to be able to stand up when we get to my stop.
If I were able to use the seating set aside for disabled people, I would need only one seat, because those seats have more leg room.
However, since those seats are located by the doors, they are almost always filled, mostly by those very important people who have to be the first one off the train.
So, if you could find a way to move these people out of these seats, you would have one less seat hog. If you think getting someone to move their bag is hard, try getting one of those very important people to move.
Seat Hogs Also Habituate Airports
Some battles are never going to be won; people might as well give up on the seat hogs.
Go to any airport in the country. There can never be enough seats for a large crowd waiting to board a flight because some individuals are not just occupying two seats, but three seats, piling the seats on both sides of them with everything they are going to carry on.
This despite the fact that others have to stand and there is plenty of floor space for the carry-on items right in front of the one seat the person is sitting in.
DAVID V. SHAW
Commuters the Worst Offenders?
I get on Metro at Vienna and see people try to keep an extra seat for themselves by placing, books, briefcases, etc. on the empty seat.
When I need one of these seats, I usually say "Excuse me," in a firm but pleasant tone. That usually works.
I believe regular commuters are the biggest seat hogs.
JODY K. CARLSON
Ira Silverman, chief transportation officer for MARC, said seat hogs are a problem and a source of many complaints. "It's a never-ending battle," and a violation of MARC policy, he said.
MARC conductors will ask people to remove their belongings if a conductor sees such a violation, he said. Silverman recommends that a rider first ask the person politely to move his belongings, and if that doesn't work, to summon a conductor. If a person refuses the conductor request, he will be asked to leave the train at the next station, Silverman said.
You can transmit your comments to MARC via its Web site at www.mtamaryland.com or by calling 410-333-2354.
Metro has no policy about seat hogs. "We recommend that a customer ask courteously whether they may take the seat," said Cheryl Johnson, Metro spokeswoman. "Ninety-five percent of the time this works. However, if the person refuses to move his belongings, don't get into a confrontation. Then you have a new problem," she said. Metro does not have conductors, nor can a passenger move to another car.
You can send your comments to Metro via their Web address, www.wmata.com, or by calling 202-637-1328.
The Virginia Rail Express "has similar problems" with seat hogs, according to spokeswoman Ann B. King. "We rely on our customers to ask politely if the person would kindly remove their articles so that they may be seated," she said. If that doesn't work, hail a conductor, she said.
You can send comments to the Virginia Rail Express via its Web address, www.vre.org, or call 703-684-1001.
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday in Prince William Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.