Quiet, the audience is listening!

Posted on January 6, 2011 by Janna Starcic - Also by this author

I love going to the movies! Despite the high cost for tickets, and the ridiculous amount they charge you for concession stand items (I always bring a stash of Red Vines in my purse), I still love the whole experience of it — sitting in the dark watching the story unfold on the screen.

From time to time, other things fill the theater like unwanted noise. There’s the woman noisily chewing on popcorn during "True Grit" (my husband moved to the other side of me to escape her) or the occasional ringing of the cell phone that someone forgot to turn off but, what irks me most is the person that talks during the movie. I don’t mind a whisper now and then; I admit, I sometimes ask my friend a question during a movie if I don’t understand what’s going on (especially when I saw “Inception”), but sometimes people act like they’re in their own living rooms.

There have been a handful of times when I’ve sat near a talker…I usually sit in angry silence hoping they will eventually stop. A couple of times I dared to nicely tell the person to keep it down, but I just got a rude response or a suggestion that I can “move to another seat.” It’s because of these people that movie theaters started showing those funny trailers telling the audience to silence their cell phones and to stop talking, which I’m sure helps keep some people in line but, still, it may take a little reminder here and there.

Keeping people quiet will be the new task for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in the newly christened quiet car of their commuter rail system. If you haven’t heard, more and more transit systems across the country are experimenting with designating railcars as “quiet.”  If riding in this car, customers are expected to refrain from using cellphones; to keep their conversations with other riders brief and whispered; and to set phones, laptops, pagers, and other devices to silent or vibrate.

The MBTA launched their 90-day pilot program this month and will be surveying riders to see what they think of the experience. If the response is good, they will consider rolling it out on all commuter rail lines later in the spring.

Amtrak, the early adopter of the quiet car, implemented it on the Northeast Corridor in January 2000. It began as an experiment when regular commuters asked Amtrak management for a quiet car so they could use the two-hour commute from Philadelphia to Washington to catch up on sleep, get ready for the workday or read the paper, according the Amtrak officials. The idea quickly caught on and grew to 25 cars on 25 trains by that spring.

New Jersey Transit, which launched their quiet car pilot program last September, expanded its quiet car program to all peak trains running in or out of the Penn Stations in both New York and Newark beginning January 3.

The agency worked with Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to learn about their experience managing a quiet car program. SEPTA's quiet cars, which they launched January 2009, have been so popular the agency is expanding its program from covering just peak hours to now covering the full work day.

In its customer surveys, SEPTA found that 92 percent of passengers agreed with a proposal to extend the quiet car program to all services, where possible. In addition, more than 90 percent of riders said the experience of riding in a quiet car met or exceeded their expectations.

I do cherish the quiet time I have during my 45-minute commute home from work — it helps me decompress, think about what I’m going to make for dinner, etc. I can’t imagine sitting on a train/bus having to listen to someone else’s phone conversation for my entire commute, but it’s something a lot of people have to endure. I think all commuter rail systems should implement a quiet car — because all passengers are entitled to a little quiet time.

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