By Wendy Rowlings
CityRail introduced Quiet Carriages in 2012 as part of an initiative to provide a peaceful train journey for commuters, and RailCorp suggests that a recent survey indicated that almost 90 per cent of respondents were happy with the initiative.
However, some commuters say there has been a progressive rise in confrontations, initiated by self appointed guardians of the quiet, affectionately known as vigilante shooshers (VSs).
According to one traveller on the South Coast line last week, a young family was evicted from a quiet carriage in a low decibel yet forceful attack. They had sunk down gratefully in their seats with pram, backpacks and a cute but noisy toddler, when they were apprehended by a vigilante shoosher who demanded they move on.
There were angry and reproachful looks from the parents yet they obediently packed up and dragged their little noisemaker off into the seating uncertainty of the next carriage. The vigilante shoosher returned to her seat smugly acknowledging nods from fellow guardians.
On two other occasions recently, a man was berated for making too much noise turning the pages of his newspaper and two young women enjoying a moment of mirth were given an ultimatum: be quiet or leave.
Coalcliff resident Sally Smith, a 12-year veteran of the commute into Sydney, says it is mostly peaceful in the Quiet Carriage but there is increasing aggression by vigilante shooshers aimed at people who are not conforming.
She says that at times she finds their antics amusing but other times they make her cringe, “and the way they speak to people can be unnecessarily rude”.
Asked about the aggression, a RailCorp spokesperson said, “The Quiet Carriages are self-regulated and rely on mutual respect between fellow passengers.” A customer can choose “ to make another customer aware” he or she is sitting in a Quiet Carriage.
Ironically, repeated loud digital voice announcements by CityRail remind all about customer requirements in the Quiet Carriages. Customers are asked to “refrain from loud conversations, playing music and making phone calls in the Quiet Carriages”.
Most people don’t appear to notice, as many are plugged into earphones. Sally Smith suggests the vigilante shooshers remain on alert, notably earphone free, so they can attend to all noise infringements while the rest of us relax with our music players.
But do the shooshers see themselves as the police officers of the Quiet Carriage?
Peter Dunn, also a regular commuter and self appointed shoosher, says he does.
“I feel obligated to shut people down if they can’t be quiet,” he says. Everybody in the Quiet Carriage gets annoyed with noisy people but most people are not confident enough to speak up, he says. When questioned about some shoosher’s behavior being threatening and abusive, he appeared momentarily confused then shrugged and said, “rules are rules”.
Do the requirements reinforced repeatedly by CityRail on the Quiet Carriages empower individuals to feel righteous in their behavior to enforce the rules?
“If you get in a Quiet Carriage, you should be prepared to be quiet! If you are not, you will be told to; most people expect that,” Peter Dunn says.
Others say they are concerned vigilante shooshers’ interventions will become more frequent and possibly violent. Perhaps CityRail could utilise ‘secret shoppers’ to report VS attacks and provide some idea of the scale of the problem.
Daniel Piotrowski wrote in The Punch, “Often vigilantes act out because they feel nothing is being done to help them or because they feel their principles are being stamped on.” He describes vigilantes in various cases today as potentially well-organised groups connected by modern technology.
Currently the worst confrontations in the Quiet Carriages are being described as verbal abuse. What if physical violence or acts of retribution become the norm?
When noisy commuters are not able to be subdued by the vigilante shooshers would they face a posse coordinated overnight on Facebook or have their picture posted on a ‘name and shame’ page.
Will CityRail continue to be happy for commuters to apply a “do it yourself” model for the policing of the Quiet Carriage requirements for a peaceful train journey?