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Mind your manners, T urges rude riders

Posted on October 15, 2008

MBTA Embarks On Courtesy Campaign 

For generations, it seemed, parents schooled their children in the basics of commuter courtesy, chiding sons and daughters to step aside and surrender seats for the elderly, the infirm, the pregnant. But simple gestures of kindness have mostly gone the way of the nickel fare. Commuters say it's more like bedlam below ground.
Now the MBTA is fed up and fighting back.
Assuming the role of a modern-day Emily Post, the MBTA yesterday began plastering 600 subway cars and 400 buses with posters reminding its 1.3 million daily riders that "courtesy counts." That means riders should pick up trash, pipe down on cellphones, offer seats to those who need them, and let people off the train before climbing on.
The agency launched the courtesy offensive after asking 107 volunteer riders last year to keep "transit journals" of their experiences and observations while on the subway. The riders identified common complaints. Loud conversations and talking on cellphones were the most frequent, followed by loud headphones, "trouble caused by teens," strollers, and riders who take up more than one seat.
Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, attributed some of the problem to the increasing number of commuters who are taking the T because of high gas prices, making subways and buses more crowded than ever. "We scratched our heads and said maybe there's a funny and lighthearted way we can remind people of those common courtesies that would make everybody's trip better," Grabauskas said.
The T asked employees to come up with snappy slogans - think "Be Sweet. Offer Your Seat" - and printed brightly colored placards for T cars and buses.
One poster shows a rosy-cheeked 20-something chattering excitedly on a cellphone: "Don't Drone on the Phone." Another, depicting crowding outside the open doors of a trolley, says: "Don't Be a Lout. Let Them Out." A third says: "Don't Dash Without Your Trash."
"It sounds like poetry - or something," one commuter said dismissively yesterday, amid a throng outside Park Street Station.
"Are you going to change Bostonians?" scoffed another. "Bostonians have a reputation for being the rudest people in the country."
Scowling, she refused to give her name as she scurried away after departing a Red Line train.
Not everyone was so dour. Many praised the campaign and said it's about time.
"Good, very good, because people, they talk to too loudly on their phones, they don't give up their seats for the elderly and the handicapped, and they should be aware of it," said Alfredo Barrero, a 79-year-old retired jeweler.
Anyone who's been on the T lately will tell you it's no limousine ride. Most seem to have a horror story at their fingertips.
"I actually had to speak loudly and say, 'Wow, nobody's giving up a seat for a 7-months'-pregnant woman that's probably going into premature labor,' " she said. "That's how I got the seat."
Albert Elia, 34, is blind and uses a guide dog named Zion. Does that afford him extra courtesy? About 30 percent of the time, no one offers him a seat on his Blue Line commute, he said. He also said that if he is polite, and allows others to board before him, the doors shut and he misses the train. So he has developed an approach he calls "enlightened assertiveness," combining civility with the aggressiveness he says is essential to successfully navigating public transit.
There are those who have sunnier views of the daily scrum for seats and overloaded trains. Victoria Morgan, a 26-year-old event planner, can think of times when people have been rude, but she's just as quick to point out the occasions when people have offered unexpected gestures of decency. Even the bad experiences she gilts with forgiveness.
"Usually people are rude because they're having a bad day, and so, if they're in the zone, they might not realize there's a pregnant woman or an elderly person waiting for a seat," she said.
For those who need it, the campaign might be just the right medicine.
"It's always helpful to have a reminder to help," she said.
This is not the first time the T has tried to foster civility. In October 2006, the agency, prompted by a Globe column about callous commuters, distributed hundreds of $2 Dunkin' Donuts gift certificates to riders who held a door or gave up a seat. The agency also posted 1,000 placards urging politeness.
That effort had yielded an "uptick in civility," Grabauskas said.
It was apparently short-lived. And Grabauskas decided it was time to give another lesson.
"I am forever lamenting that there are too many people who treat subway cars or buses like a trash can," Grabauskas said.


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