By Tess Kalinowski/Torstar News Service
Quiet please, we’re commuting.
GO Transit is kicking off what’s believed to be the first Toronto-area experiment in quiet commuting. Starting Feb. 11, the upper level of most southbound and northbound Barrie trains will be designated Quiet Zones .
That means muted cellphones, tablets and laptops, and ear phones that don’t bleed noise. Signs will be posted to indicate the low-volume areas.
The three-month pilot is in response to ongoing requests from GO passengers, said Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins.
“We differ from TTC passengers. You’re on the train for a significant period of time. People want to use that time to either sleep or work,” she said. Barrie to Union riders spend a scheduled 93 minutes on the train, often in the pitch darkness of early morning.
The Quiet Zone, as it’s being called, is GO’s version of an idea already used in New Jersey, on Amtrak, in Sweden and in France, where they’re referred to as Zen zones.
Silence isn’t guaranteed, say GO officials. Announcements and noise from other areas of the trains will still be audible. The designation can also be suspended in the event of special announcements about delays or bad weather.
Riders are being told to politely remind fellow passengers to keep the noise down in the designated areas, but they are being asked not to use the customer service alarms to call on staff to reprimand noisy passengers. If trains are delayed because someone triggers an alarm in the Quiet Zone, the trip won’t be considered eligible for GO’s 15-minute guarantee.
Riders sitting in the Quiet Zone who need to make a call are asked to move down to the mezzanine or lower compartment of the trains. Riders who are on the stairs are asked to respect the upper-level noise restrictions.
“We’re not going to go around shushing everyone. Even the librarians don’t do that anymore,” said Aikins, who has worked in the Toronto Public Library. “It’s going to be very much self-enforced but we thought we’d give it a try.”
The idea, announced Monday on the GO website, has spread through social media. The response has been quick from riders who wonder how it will work and others who say putting the quiet zone on the upper level of GO’s bi-level coaches makes the hush inaccessible.
“But we’re monitoring the feedback. That’s going to be part of the pilot,” said Aikins.
Daily GO commuters at Union Station on Monday evening were surprised by the idea. Some welcomed it, while others brushed it off as futile, even laughable.
“That’s pretty funny. Sounds like kindergarten,” said Brennan Bird, who commutes daily from Oakville to work at a downtown advertising firm. “I don’t think anyone will actually abide by it.”
Julie Topp, an OCAD student who lives in Streetsville, said noise is only a problem on weekends, when fellow students are heading into the city to party. She also mentioned Leafs fans as a particularly audible bunch. “But on the weekday trains it’s not a big deal because everybody’s sleeping,” she said.
Rebecca Caldwell takes the train to Hamilton four times a week. She said GO express trains don’t need Quiet Zones because they’re mostly used by business people. The rabble rousers — namely, students — seem to hop on board when there are more stops on the midday trains, she said.
“They’re talking about their school projects, and I’m usually trying to sleep,” she said with a laugh, pulling out her thick ear-muff headphones she uses to block out noise. “But usually when they’re solo they’re not talking.”
The Quiet Zones will be in effect on southbound trains from Barrie at 5:22, 5:52; 6:22 and 6:52 a.m. Northbound from Union, the 4:10, 4:40, 5:05 and 6:05 p.m. trains will have Quiet Zones. The 7:22 a.m. trip from Barrie and the 5:35 p.m. northbound trip won’t have them.
- With files from Alex Ballingall