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Tickets for seat hogs? T should try some PR first

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  March 12, 2012 02:55 PM

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Why should the MBTA care about "seat hogs," when it has so many bigger problems?

That seems to be general reaction to complaints about inconsiderate passengers who put their bags on the seat next to them. The T could follow New York City's lead by issuing tickets, but saddling the T's police force with an extra enforcement burden when the agency is already struggling to close a $161 million deficit doesn't seem like a great idea.

Still, there's a pragmatic reason why seat hogs merit at least an extra public address announcement or two: they can be a source of conflict that escalates into much worse.

I had a first-hand illustration one morning on a crowded Orange Line train, when a woman politely asked a man to move his large bag from a seat. With an angry glare, he did — and then swung the bag at her shoulder after she sat down, with enough force to knock a cell phone out of her hand and send it careening across the train. Moments later, a third rider leapt out of his seat, walked past the broken remains of the cell phone, and punched the offender in the teeth. Other passengers called police and the train was stopped at the Mass. Ave. station, but both men disappeared once the doors opened. (I left my phone number with T personnel, gave a statement to the police the next day — and never heard another word.)

Was that an isolated incident? When I emailed Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA's spokesman, to ask if the T kept track of crime stemming from seat disputes, he wrote back that the agency had no such statistics. He added that in 13 years of riding the Green Line, he'd never experienced anything similar.

More importantly, though, would a policy of issuing tickets to seat hogs — like the one in New York City, where thousands of $50 tickets were issued last year, according to a story in Monday's Boston Herald — have prevented the altercation I witnessed? Probably not. After all, the man did move his belongings when asked; the real problem was when he walloped his neighbor with the bag, and that's already illegal.

But the T could raise the issue's profile by making seat hogs a more prominent target of its "courtesy counts" announcements. Doing so might foster a climate that emboldens passengers to ask other riders to move their bags — and send a message to the hogs themselves that they've got no right to object.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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