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Who quiets SEPTA's quiet cars?

My colleague Sam Wood has been asking for a post about SEPTA's quiet cars on their regional rail lines. Often they're quiet cars in name only, Sam complains. He takes the Warminster Line to work in the mornings, and his search for serenity on the quiet car is routinely interrupted.

QuietRide began on SEPTA's regional rail trains in late 2008, said Kim Scott Heinle, Assistant General Manager for customer service and advocacy at SEPTA. On any weekday train three cars or longer, from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m., the first car is the quiet car. There are supposed to be announcements at the station and on board to identify the quiet car, and there are signs on the train labeling the car.

Here are the quiet car guidelines, from SEPTA's web site:

Notice the guidelines are called "tips," not rules. There's nothing that mandates a quiet car, Heinle said, so while conductors can ask people to keep the volume down, and even hand out "Shush" cards to noisy riders, essentially the quiet car's effectiveness depends on the courtesy of the people using it. There are no real penalties and conductors can't force people to change cars, Heinle said.

"They're instructed to remind them in a nonthreatening, non-embarrassing way," Heinle said of train staff.

SEPTA receives 10 to 12 complaints a month about people disrupting the quiet on the quiet cars, Heinle said. I told Sam this and, sounding frustrated, he said two of the complaints were his in November. He also forwarded this from last year, in which Philadelphia Magazine's Richard Rys described in excruciating detail his travails on the quiet car.

I'm curious how many people actually report violations on the quiet car. Knowing myself, I probably wouldn't lodge a complaint. I'd be more likely to sit in silence and seethe over someone talking loudly.

Talking to Heinle, you get the sense of frustration on his part too.

"People will talk," he said. "The conductor will come check and everyone's compliant. As soon as he leaves they start yaking again."

There's also some passengers who are a little too passionate about the quiet car, he said.

"We have some customers who just take it way too seriously," he said. "It's like, no exceptions ever."

Most concerning, he said, is when SEPTA receives reports of conductors not doing anything about noise on the quiet car.

SEPTA did a survey of quiet car users in 2013, and here is that survey's table on most frequent complaints.

And here's the respondents on quiet car enforcement.

In that survey 74 percent of respondents said they found the quiet car experience excellent or good. That survey also found that, when asked about the possibility of ending the quiet car, 87 percent said they would be disappointed if the option went away. Eleven percent of the disappointed said they would stop riding SEPTA altogether.

I'd be interested to hear about readers' experiences on the quiet car. Heinle said his office does occasionally get complaints about conductors being lax about enforcing the quiet car. How do they do on your train? Are there any particularly obnoxious passengers you've had to share space with while trying to find a moment of zen before work?

If you're looking to complain in a forum that might be more productive than a news web site, SEPTA said you can communicate with them through Twitter via @SEPTA_SOCIAL or can call at 215-580-7800. There are also plans for another quiet car survey to be conducted next month.