Globe Editorial

T courtesy is a two-way street

June 4, 2010

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THE BEST thing the MBTA can do to promote civility is to eliminate the factors that promote anxiety and conflict among riders. When a long-delayed bus arrives with little room for new passengers, or when there’s no way of knowing how soon the next train will arrive, riders are more apt to take out their frustrations on one another.

For several years now, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has been trying to promote civility directly. In 2006, the T handed out $2 Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards to passengers spotted giving up a seat for someone else. Two years ago, brightly colored posters with upbeat messages — “Don’t Be a Lout, Let Them Out’’ was one of them — went up on 600 subway cars and 400 buses. The latest effort features recorded messages from Boston Celtics captain Paul “The Truth’’ Pierce. “Courtesy counts,’’ Pierce says in his message, “and that’s the truth.’’

These efforts surely can’t hurt. Another truth, though, is that courtesy begins at home. The T, unlike some other urban transit systems, doesn’t tell customers how long they will be waiting for the next train, allowing anxiety to build up for those rushing to appointments. It is only now taking the first steps toward providing real-time information for bus riders.

Once on board, riders reasonably judge the MBTA by its trolley operators and bus drivers, some of whom can be gruff or indifferent. Safety comes first, but courtesy should be second. Perhaps the agency can encourage more of its key personnel to be friendly to customers. It really will make a difference.

The passenger who sprawls across three seats is a thoughtless jerk who may be immune to placards extolling courtesy. But many accidental body-checks, incidents of seat-hogging, and violations of personal space are the result of operational delays, and better on-time performance will make everyone much happier.

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