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.
'Get Over It'
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I first ask the party to move their possessions so that I may sit. If I do not get a response, I move their possessions for them. I usually place it on their lap or on the floor next to them.
On one such encounter, I received a rude remark after I moved their possessions.
I responded by simply telling them that I had asked them to move their goods, and had been ignored. I also told them to get over it.
Chris D. Yim
Pay for Two Seats If someone wishes to take up two seats by putting their belongings on one of the seats, then they need to pay for two seats.
One should ask if the perpetrator would like to hold whatever is on the seat, or would he/she prefer that it be placed on the floor.
Airlines do not allow more than one seat per person, nor should any other means of transportation. (In fact I understand a travel agency was required to pay for two seats for a passenger who was so large he required more space than one seat would allow).
Dirty Looks Not Allowed Briefcases, coats, papers and shopping bags may be sprawled out to encourage potential seatmates to sit somewhere else. But whenever someone asks to sit down, then these impediments should be removed promptly and courteously.
It is impermissible for the seat hogs to give dirty looks in response to a polite request.
Seat Hogs in Germany Apparently some things in life are universal. I observed an encounter between a seat hog and a gentleman who asked the seat hog to move his belongings on a train in Germany.
The seat hog had draped his coat over one seat, put his briefcase next to another, and placed a portfolio on another seat, effectively taking up four seats.
I didn't understand the words the gentleman used to ask the seat hog if the belongings were his, but his tone and look of disgust conveyed the message.
The seat hog quickly moved his belongings. That was one example of how showing disgust at rude behavior was effective.
A Tall Order 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.
Feet Off the Seat I am a Metrorail rider. People often hog seats with newspapers and briefcases. Usually an "Excuse me, may I sit here?" resolves the issue.
What disturbs me most is people who put their feet on the seat where people have to sit, and those who put wet umbrellas on an empty seat besides them.
Most of these people are adults, and I just consider them ignorant.
Deborah V. Vaden
Air Travelers Take Note
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.
One Fare, One Seat
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.
Wake 'Em Up
I thought for sure your correspondent, Jeff Peterson, rode the MARC Brunswick line. We've got male and female seat hogs, too.
If I notice a pattern of intentional seat hogging, or if a train is crowded, I ask them to move their stuff, even going so far as to wake them up.
I admit to putting my backpack on the seat next to me, but I am quick to pick it up if it looks like seats are needed.
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 then 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, and passengers are not allowed to move to another car while the train is running.
You can send your comments to Metro via its 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 on Wednesday and Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. 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.