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.
Polite but Firm
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Regarding your Jan. 10 column and the strategies we use to get seat hogs to free up seats: I've been riding the MARC Penn line for 11 years, like the writer to your column.
I like MARC and it's definitely the way to commute. However, as the line gets more popular (and crowded), seat hogs have become a problem.
Here's my strategy: I say, "Excuse me" to the offender in a polite but firm voice and wait until I get a reaction.
If they fail to move their stuff I ask, "Did you pay for two (or three) tickets?"
This normally does the trick. If not, I get the conductor. MARC conductors are uniformly helpful and professional. They will take care of the problem.
Don't let the "seat hogs" get away with it.
Count on Conductors
In response to your question about how to handle inconsiderate MARC commuters who hog extra seats, I simply request the individual to remove his/her items so I can sit down.
If the person feigns sleep, I gently touch the person on the shoulder, then make my request.
You should not care whether the selfish individual hogging the seat is upset at being requested to move his/her items to free up a seat. That person's feelings toward you for asking to be allowed to occupy a seat that you paid for should not matter one bit.
Fortunately, most of the conductors on my particular MARC train (the 5:20 p.m. to Perryville) announce to people on board that they are expected to move their belongings from the seats so that all seats can be used. They are pretty strict about enforcing that policy.
DEBORAH K. MCCALLUM
Abingdon, Harford County
I, too, am appalled at the rudeness of some passengers on the MARC line. As if they purchased a two-seat ticket, they place their bags and other paraphernalia on the seat next to them. Or worse, they stretch out and go to sleep, practically daring you to wake them.
In order to overcome their lack of common courtesy, I simply ask them in as polite a manner as possible: "May I please sit down, Sir/Miss?" It seems to work quite well. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I'm 6' 3" and 230 pounds.
Play Offense, Not Defense
I ride to work on the first MARC Brunswick line train that comes down in the morning from Martinsburg, W.Va. When I get on at Germantown, the place looks like a morgue.
There are people everywhere sprawled out across two seats, coats or blankets over their heads. Luckily, I can usually find a seat next to someone who is only taking up one seat, or sometimes a totally vacant seat.
Going home, I catch the train that leaves Union Station, and I get on at the second stop, Silver Spring. You can bank on people stretched out, sleeping, over three seats.
If I get any guff when I ask people to remove their personal items from a seat, or to sit up so I can sit down, I seek a conductor. To the credit of the MARC conductors, they will usually intervene. It is unfortunate that it takes a conductor to resolve these issues.
One good tactic is to put the people on the defensive by telling them you would like to sit in that seat. Don't ask if you can sit there because that leaves the matter open to debate. Telling them you would like to sit in a vacant seat puts them on the defensive.
I think it's absurd that some people think they're entitled to more than one seat. One fare, one seat.
No Rules on the Rails
My MARC train was late two mornings this past week, causing crowded conditions. There were riders standing in the aisles even though there were plenty of seats.
The rules posted in the cars clearly state standing is not allowed when there are seats available.
Silly me, I thought the conductor is supposed to enforce the rules for everyone's safety and convenience. I wish I had the same luxury of only doing part of my job instead of ALL of my job.
Guide to Good Commuting
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?
Share the Seat and the Silence
I, too, have encountered rudeness when attempting to sit down on a MARC commuter train. (It's rare, but it does happen.)
The most obvious manifestation is the loud, drawn out sigh, as though the seated person cannot believe that I have the gall to sit where the purse, food, computer, etc. are already nice and comfortable.
I have another pet peeve about my fellow passengers:
I wish that people would realize how loudly they are speaking, whether they are on a cell phone or chatting with the person near them.
I have learned so much personal information that I don't need or want to know about my fellow riders.
Once I heard a woman, seated about eight rows back, loudly discussing her children's issues, and her own marital woes, for about 30 minutes.
Perhaps if we all take a deep breath and realize we're all in it together, we can better enjoy this necessary daily trip.
Worst Offenders Noted
I commute with the same folks every day and we've made a game of getting people to move their stuff. The more stuff you have, the more desperate we will be to sit in that seat.
Since we've been riding for a while, we have had lengthy discussions with the MARC administration about moving stuff from seats, and we know that no matter what you have on an empty seat, you are required to move it on request. If someone wants the seat next to you, you can't refuse.
The worst offenders are those traveling to BWI with all their luggage. I have seen them slide their luggage onto a quad seat, then sit in the row behind and pretend they don't know whose bags they are when a commuter asks to sit down.
Then there are those passengers who, if they sit next to me, will cause me to move elsewhere in the car, or to another car.
They would be the woman who applies makeup (everyone who rides the MARC Penn 409 knows who this is), the gum snappers, the loud talkers and the, "I'm so important I need to make this very important phone call in the middle of a quiet train so everyone knows how important I am."
Thanks for the opportunity to vent.
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 was 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.
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's 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 Thursday in Southern Maryland 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.