By Julie Sneider, Assistant Editor
Anyone who routinely travels by rail probably has experienced a fellow passenger's rude or annoying behavior. Who among train riders hasn't witnessed the woman in the next seat who's yelling into her cell phone or the guy across the aisle whose iPod is playing so loud that everyone around him can hear music emanating from his earbuds?
With ridership increasing to record numbers for many public transit services, passengers experiencing impolite behavior by other passengers may also be on the rise. With that thought in mind, the marketing team at Metropolitan Atlanta Area Transit Authority
(MARTA) is encouraging passengers on the agency's trains and buses to mind their manners so everyone can ride in comfort.
The agency has begun rolling out a "customer courtesy" initiative to raise riders' awareness of the kinds of behaviors that may irritate fellow riders, and how to treat each other with greater respect and dignity.
The idea for the campaign stemmed from the agency's quality-of-service surveys, which revealed many MARTA passengers were unhappy with other riders' manners — or lack thereof, says Marketing Director Jennifer Jinadu-Wright.
"We were looking at ways to enhance the experience for our existing and potential customers, and one of the things that came up is that, in public places, everyone seems to experience these [rude behavior] challenges," says Jinadu-Wright, who is spearheading the agency's etiquette effort.
Topping the list of most bothersome behaviors were panhandling, loud talking on mobile phones, playing personal music at a high volume, refusing to give up a seat for an elderly or disabled person, placing luggage on an adjoining seat and using profanity in conversation.
In planning their initiative, Jinadu-Wright and her team wanted to find an interesting way to get the word out on some key passenger dos and don'ts, and decided the best route would be to start with plain-talking messages on signs posted in stations and on trains and buses.
So, for the iPod user, the team came up with this sign: "Your music isn't my music. PLEASE USE EARPHONES and keep your volume down." (The sign uses the all caps for emphasis.)
For the panhandler, there's this message: "No, they can't spare a dime. DON'T BEG on MARTA."
And for that annoying cellphone talker, there's this reminder: "Talking loudly? Not cool. PLEASE KEEP IT DOWN and use your quiet voice."
Later this year, Jinadu-Wright hopes to organize a contest for MARTA customers to come up with the best mind-your-manners video, which the agency would post on its website, Facebook page and flat-screen TVs on MARTA trains.
Although it's too early to know if the courtesy initiative is helping to improve MARTA's customer satisfaction, Jinadu-Wright says she has received some positive feedback.
MARTA is just the latest rail-transit agency to begin a politeness campaign; the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
(SEPTA) rolled out its "Passenger Etiquette" program in fall 2008. Like MARTA, the agency crafted its guidelines in response to customer complaints about some riders' ill-mannered actions on trains and buses, says SEPTA spokeswoman Kristin Geiger.
To educate passengers, SEPTA promoted its good-manners guidelines on the agency's website and on posters, car-cards and fliers. Outreach also included notification to advocacy groups and schools.
Crew members communicate the rules to passengers and distribute reminder cards if they disregard them.
The guidelines cover instructions such as, "Seats are for customers; no feet or belongings please;" "Yield priority seats to riders with disabilities and seniors;" and "Practice cellphone courtesy by setting ring tones to vibrate." To promote good public health practices during cold and flu season, the agency's website also encourages people to "cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze" and "wash your hands often with soap and water."
Since the program was launched, SEPTA has added a "quiet car" to its rail service and put additional rules in place that limit eating and drinking on trains.
SEPTA officials believe that, overall, passengers appreciate having the new system in place, Geiger says. They hope to get more feedback through a comprehensive customer satisfaction survey planned for distribution later this fall.
"We believe it has made a difference and are currently researching how we can expand the program," she says.
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