In the Jan. 10 Dr. Gridlock column in the Metro section, 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.

Some Common Courtesies

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?



Let 'Em Know by E-Mail

My suggestion for riders having difficulty finding a seat because of seat hogs is to notify management.

We e-mailed the Virginia Rail Express about this problem, and they started making announcements: "Tonight the train is unusually full (or some such thing) and 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 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.



Airports Take the Cake by Far

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

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.


Baileys Crossroads

Regular Commuters Biggest Hogs

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.



An International Incident

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

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.



Taking the Direct Approach

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.



Play by the Rules or Pay

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).



No Right to Glare

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.



A Polite but Firm Stand

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.


Severna Park

Share the Seat and the Silence

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

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.



What, Me Worry?

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.


Abingdon, Harford County

Sizing Up the Situation

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

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.



No Seat for Feet

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.



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.



Play Offense, Not Defense

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

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.



Voluntarily Move Your Belongings

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.



No Help From Conductors

The answer to people hogging seats on the MARC train is simple . . . the conductor on each train car needs to enforce the rules that forbid such practices. These rules are posted on MARC trains and in their schedule literature.

Seat hogs place their bags, smelly feet, jackets and newspapers on adjacent seats because the MARC conductors show no courage and allow it to happen.

When I was hit by a beer bottle on the Brunswick line several months ago and asked the conductor to enforce MARC's own rules, he said, "You can't tell these people nothin'. It's just like when I ask them to remove their bags so someone else can sit there. They don't listen."

I sent the same question to the MARC Web site and received an auto response that was completely unrelated to my question. So now I look for the lawyer or government bureaucrat with the biggest bag on the seat and ask, "Excuse me, did you pay for two seats or one?"



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 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." Metro does not have conductors, nor can a passenger move to another car.

You can send your comments to Metro via its Web address,, 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,, 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 Loudoun Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.