The truth about the QuietRide Car

    I believe the crowded line for the QuietRide Car is more about the delicious sanctimony of calling others out on their rule-breaking than any desire for quiet; seeking silence is just an excuse for joining the fray.

    With a clacking gulp, the SEPTA train swallows the tracks below the platform, and the conductors shout, “The first car of this train will be your QuietRide Car!” It’s supposed to be a wondrous realm where the only sounds are the rush of the rails, the gentle staccato of Blackberry buttons, and the occasional rustle of a page of Fifty Shades of Grey.

    I join the briefcase-toting queue, plop down with a contented sigh, get out my crossword, and wait …

    Because I find that more fights break out in the QuietRide Car than anywhere else on the train.

    “We provide the peace, you provide the quiet,” SEPTA has said on signs promoting the QuietRide program. What they fail to realize is that when you add human nature to the rules of the QuietRide Car, peace and quiet often become mutually exclusive. I believe the crowded line for the QuietRide Car is more about the delicious sanctimony of calling others out on their rule-breaking than any desire for quiet; seeking silence is just an excuse for joining the fray.

    And with QuietRide Car rules, like keeping conversations “short and conducted in a whisper” and silencing all digital devices, there are oh so many reasons to pounce.

    I was on the receiving end of it once, when a friend and I unwittingly boarded an afternoon QuietRide from Market East while deep in conversation.

    “Excuse me,” hissed the woman behind us before we’d even gotten to Temple. “This is the QuietRide Car.”

    My friend and I completed our ride in embarrassed silence. I felt the righteous satisfaction of the shusher radiating like heat from a stove.

    But somehow I never remember that when I board the QuietRide Car and become privy to someone else’s chat. Some prefer a small orchestra of “Ssshhhhh!” sounds. My own warning shot is a slow and pointed turn of the head, followed by a brief but piercing stare at the offender if they’re within range.

    Others don’t scruple to completely shatter what little peace is left after the offender gets going.

    One day, while I was riding home in the quiet car deep in thought over an assignment, an angry shout rang out behind me, in response to a woman who failed to put her cell phone away.

    “Thank you, this is the QUIET Ride Car, so hang up the phone!”

    Until the next stop, we all breathed in the squirming silence of a guilty middle-school classroom during a visit from the principal.

    An April blog post of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers asks a crucial question:

    “How effective are conductors or police officers at enforcing the quiet car? Should mass transit employees do a better job of enforcing, or should the onus be on riders?”

    In theory, SEPTA staffers should probably enforce the agency’s own policy. But in reality, I think the average rider hates to relinquish a golden chance to catch other people in the act.

    Last week, an almost inaudible quiet car conversation came to my notice only after someone began to yell at the perpetrator, an older woman. The bemused conductor stood in the door for a moment before consigning us to the rumpus by ducking into the next car.

    “Why are you talking to me this way?” demanded the accused.

    “I wouldn’t be talking to you at all if you knew how to SHUT YOUR MOUTH,” the prosecutor replied.

    “Would you talk to your mother that way?”

    “No, I wouldn’t, because my mother knows when to quit talking.”

    The older woman restored a deafening silence with her trump card. “You are a mean person,” she announced.

    Appearances can be deceiving. If SEPTA management can win the American Public Transportation Association’s “best of the best” Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award for innovations in management and financing, while many riders wonder what is so impressive about late trains and crumbling, urine-splashed subway stations, perhaps it’s not so hard to believe that sometimes, rules for quiet breed some of the best fights to be heard on SEPTA.

    If these transient morsels of indignation were not more enjoyable than tranquility, we would simply don headphones the next time someone answers her cell on the QuietRide Car.

    The noisiest rides I take are on Saturday mornings, when families, travelers and freshly coiffed senior citizens head to the city for fun, not work. Underneath that happy racket is something you’ll never find in the brooding, bossy silence of the QuietRide Car: perfect peace.

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