Is Metro-North Rider Etiquette Running off the Rails?

Why are empty seats occupied by people's belongings when there are standing passengers by the double doors?

On Labor Day, my family took Metro-North Railroad from Darien to Grand Central Station for an outing in the city.  Despite the holiday, or perhaps because of it, the train we boarded was packed.  People poured through the aisles in search of seats.  As the train started to depart, people settled wherever they could, many by the double doors. 

My eight-year-old daughter made her way toward two empty seats, only to discover a large suitcase sitting sideways on both of them.  The suitcase owner made a half-hearted effort to move the suitcase from horizontally to vertically to make one seat available for her, then told my daughter “sorry you cannot sit there” when the suitcase would not balance stably on one seat. 

There actually were quite a few empty seats taken up by people’s belongings.  Seated patrons who had spread out their things were concentrating intently on their electronics or staring into space with surly half frowns that communicated to the rest of the world that they were not to be disturbed.  A male Metro-North conductor passed through twice to collect tickets.  I’m sure he saw the standing passengers and the empty seats.  How could he not?  Yet he said nothing.  No one said anything.  No adults anyway.

Across the aisle from the suitcase owner, a preppy woman had taken up two additional seats to store her tennis racquets, folded up newspapers, and duffle bag.  A little girl, maybe five or six, pointed to the two empty seats and said “MOM LOOK!”

You have to love how children unabashedly call out what they see.  Instead of acting like she didn’t care about the empty seats like many of us adults were doing, this child was attracting attention to the very fact that stuff was where she wanted to be.  And as anyone knows, people matter more than stuff. 

The preppy woman reluctantly looked up from her Nook and said to the little girl flatly – not the higher friendlier voice grown ups sometimes use when speaking to small children - “Do you want to sit here?”  Knowing the lady was not offering enthusiastically, the girl looked up at her mom.  Was it really okay?  “Go ahead, honey,” the mom replied.  Newspapers and racquets continued to occupy the other extra seat, leaving the mother standing. 

Halfway to the city, a different female Metro-North conductor entered our boxcar and righted the situation.  She told the suitcase man the blatantly obvious:  “If you move your suitcase, then two people can sit there.”  He expressed concern about theft.  The conductor asked, “Who’s going to take it?”  The man, realizing that the double doors were not going to open again until his destination, laughed nervously, “Yeah you’re right.  There’s no place to go.”  The female conductor then carried his heavy suitcase herself to the standing area by the doors.  Looking embarrassed, the man followed her and stood next to his suitcase the remainder of the ride.

As I watched this man, I thought about how there were no winners here.  The seated passengers with extra seats may have had more elbow room.  But they looked awkward and uncomfortable – shifting in their seats and avoiding eye contact with everyone.  The standing passengers had balance issues whenever the train stopped and generally felt slighted and ignored.  And all of us, standing or sitting, were a bit saddened and demoralized by the poor commuter etiquette on the train.  It was no fun to see people being unkind to others.  It was particularly embarrassing because of the children who witnessed our bad manners and saw us do nothing about it, not without the help of the female conductor anyway. 

Maybe Metro-North could belt out more reminders on the intercom the way Amtrak does.  I’ve often heard the Amtrak conductor say cheerfully, “Unless you’re paying for two seats, please don’t put your bag in the seat next to you!”  Public reminders could be just the prompting we need to help us make the train a better place.

Would you rather stand than ask for an empty seat?  Would you ask for an empty seat in a five-seater section of a Metro-North train, where three seats face two?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Darien Danny October 16, 2012 at 07:27 PM
David Gurliacci October 16, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Funny! If I'd known that this would've run the discussion right off the rails, I'd have been more vague! Next time I will be!
Dunn Glenbar October 16, 2012 at 11:40 PM
Steak ummmmmmm
Fairfield Old Timer October 17, 2012 at 04:39 AM
I agree Mr. McCarthy! Censoring acronyms for "suspicion" of inappropriateness is ridiculous! I saw the "offending" post before it was removed and Googled it and could not find one reference to what it means. Apparently, the editors here at Patch take other people's word that what is posted is "inappropriate language" even though it's just an acronym. They really need to do their own leg work before dropping the hammer on someone. They should also realize that some acronyms have several meanings.
Julie du Pont October 17, 2012 at 02:22 PM
I am a daily commuter from Darien to GCT and I find that during the week the "regulars" are very respectful. In fact, you are given a dirty look if you talk above a whisper because people want to read and drink their coffee or sleep! Few people block seats. I think the metronorth commute is a much better alternative to the subway, LIRR and NJT. Having said that, there are your rude people that ride. Call them out on it! A few months ago, I was riding the train on a Friday and the train was packed! There was a suitcase taking up two seats (just as you describe). I inquired who owned it because I intended to sit down and got only "not me." I would not be swayed. I sought out the conductor and found him and explained that there was an "unidentified bag that no one was claiming ownership for" on the train. He realized it could be a security risk and when he inquired someone finally fessed up that it was their bag. They were chastized by the conductor who literally almost threw the bag out of the train he was so angered by the situation. The rude offender of the norm got plenty of dirty looks from the passengers. So I guess my point is 1) politeness is the norm on metronorth, 2) there are plenty of conductors who will enforce this rule with a vengeance if you ask them so do, 3) so be assertive and do not tolerate the behavior that you describe. Why should a minority of rudeness rule?


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