Friday, June 5, 2015

Courtesy Campaign

The Chicago Transit Authority is instituting a new publicity campaign focusing on certain behaviors that many riders find objectionable. Ads featuring humorous photographs like this one will be coming soon to a bus or train near you:

The most effective of the CTA's new signs encouraging more decorous behavior on the part of its riders.

This campaign is a departure from the no-nonsense signs posted on busses and L cars of my youth admonishing riders not to smoke or expectorate.

It seems those signs did their job, I can't for the life of me remember the last time I saw someone light up or hock a loogie on public transit. In the subsequent years, new annoyances came along and the CTA designed up to date signs to address them:

Notice there is no mention of spitting.

As you can see, loud radio playing, gambling, eating and littering have been raised to the level of smoking, that is to say violations so egregious, they can land you in the slammer. However truth be told, the last time somebody got busted for littering in Chicago, the Cubs were hoisting the National League pennant over Wrigley Field.

In case you don't follow baseball, that was a very long time ago.

After reading some of their mail, the CTA felt it was time to address a plethora of other issues that contributed to rider discontent. While there is some overlap, the issues the new campaign is directed at, are mostly kinder and gentler faux pas than the ones that made the verboten list.

As a long time rider of the CTA, I consider myself something of an expert on the subject. There is quite a range of offenses on the current no no list, from honest mistakes to outright violations of common decency. Folks on public transit may be excused for example, for failing to stand on the right side of an escalator, for not moving to the middle of the car, or not moving down the platform and using all the doors. These are learned behaviors, you're not born knowing this stuff. I have to remind myself of that whenever I'm tempted to yell at someone who enters the train before I have a chance to get off, giving them the benefit of the doubt that their mothers never taught them that piece of basic etiquette. Eating on the train, while to many may seem uncouth, is perfectly legal on Chicago's commuter railways, as is drinking alcoholic beverages. Therefore, the CTA's restrictions on eating and drinking must be clearly spelled out.

The truly boorish behavior on the list can be divided between sins of omission and sins of commission. Not surrendering your seat to a pregnant woman may seem to be as lame an act as possible, but as illustrated in the photo above, especially in our age of the electronic device, sometimes we become so engrossed in our own little worlds, we tune out the big one. I think all of us are guilty of that at times. Then there's that awkward moment of not being quite sure if a woman is pregnant. Do you try to do the right thing by offering her your seat and face the possible humiliation for the two of you if she is indeed not with child? Who knew riding the L could be fraught with such perplexing ethical dilemmas?

Listening to the radio the other night I heard a CTA official discuss the new program and its goals. He said the signs were intended to educate the public on the matter of bus and train etiquette, and in extreme cases, encourage appropriate behavior through humiliation. The thought is this, instead of directly confronting some jerk who insists upon leaving his bag on the seat next to him while other people are standing. a commuter could simply point to the sign above that says: "Did your bag pay a fare too?"

Rude behavior knows no bounds regarding
age, gender, race or country of origin.
Fortunately, the same holds true for exceedingly
polite behavior.
Well I'm sure the educational part of the campaign will have some impact but let's face it, jerks will be jerks and I'm afraid that all the humiliation in the world isn't going to change that. Some people simply wear their jerkdom on their sleeve like a badge of honor.

The truth is, in my decades of riding public transportation in Chicago and in other cities around the world, I've discovered there is a fairly constant, bell-shaped distribution of the behavior of public transit riders ranging from those who go above and beyond the call of duty, to total jerks. I'd say those two groups are represented in fairly equal numbers at either end of the curve, while the rest of us who are perfectly happy to do the right thing, albeit with a little bit of nudging at times, comprise the vast majority of riders.

Case in point, yesterday a woman in an enormous motorized wheel chair was about to enter the bus I was riding. At least ten people sitting in the front of the bus, got out of their seats without any prompting from the driver to make room for the lady. Two people who did not move on their own, made no fuss when the driver asked them to surrender their seats as well.

Then there's this guy in the photo above who despite the fact there were people standing on the train, (in this case, me), he continues to take up the seat next to him with his bag. Was his sin of omission inadvertent or was he an unrepentant jerk? Only he and his maker know for sure.

In case you're wondering, here's the complete list of transgressions the CTA plans to address in its new campaign:
  • Move to the Middle of the Car
  • Let Others Off Before You Board
  • Don't Block the Doors
  • Stand Right, Walk Left on Escalators
  • Move Down the Platform and Use All Doors
  • No Eating on the Train or Bus
  • Offer Seats to Expectant Mothers
  • Yield Priority Seats
  • Don't Litter
  • Don't Play Loud Music
  • Don't Put Bags on Seats
  • Refrain from Loud Cell Phone Talking
  • Don't Hold the Doors
Quite an impressive list isn't it? I applaud the CTA for their efforts to introduce new civility into its system.

Right now as I'm writing this on the L, blasting over the loud speaker comes the motherly admonitions of the operator of our train, instructing passengers on the platform to let others off before they get on, others to move to different cars if they can't get on the car in front of them, and still others on the train to move to the middle of the car so as not to block the doors. People at this moment are listening to her, and obeying.

It just occurred to me that the authoritative reproach coming from this strong-willed woman, is far more effective at whipping us all into shape, than any advertising campaign which no doubt costs the cash-strapped agency plenty. I bet even the unrepentant jerks would fall into line at the sound of her shrill voice.

Short of having everybody's mother ride with them, maybe cloning this operator to drive all CTA busses and trains would be the real solution to making sure everybody on board behaves themselves. After all, a little maternal slap on the wrist every now and then never hurt anybody.

No comments: