From Tim Kreider's New York Times piece on the Amtrak quiet car, and the challenge of advocating quiet.
It’s impossible to be heard when your whole position is quiet now that all public discourse has become a shouting match. Being an advocate of quiet in our society is as quixotic and ridiculous as being an advocate of beauty or human life or any other unmonetizable commodity.
Personal note: I have a slight hearing problem called hyperacusis which means that I hear some high-pitched sounds, especially sudden ones, as louder and more painful than others perceive. Kreider helps me understand why this little "disability", which prevents me from enjoying noisy social environments and thus has a self-isolating effect, will never carry any "rights" in the Americans with Disabilites Act sense. Nor am I sure that it should.
In the Netherlands, many trains have a car with a quiet zone; both first and second class. The second class quiet zone is as noisy a non-quiet zone: people have long and loud conversations, phone calls, etc. The first class quiet zone is a little better (it’s automatically more quiet because most people travel 2nd class). But even then, I often have to point out to people that they are sitting in a quiet zone, and that their phone call/loud conversation isn’t appreciated. Surprisingly, the older the people, the less likely they are to be quiet, and the more likely they are to object or balk at a request to follow the guidelines.
@Abigail: Probably because old people, whose hearing is dying, may have a different sense of their own loudness.
Being a tourist in Tokyo, the most unexpected thing is how quiet the city is once you get a couple hundred metres from the concentrated activity at stations. The contrast is incredible. Noise must be under some strict form of regulation to keep the neighbourhood quiet and create the border between loud and quiet.
I think it’s not typically due to regulation or other explicit sanction. I think it’s mostly societal pressure (and of course the habits that such pressure tends to encourage).
This mostly works pretty well, but the problem with the lack of explicit sanction is that abusers can get away with it pretty easily; typically nobody will even ask them to be quiet.
[E.g. go to a movie theater: most showings, even if packed with kids, are dead quiet except for “expected” noise (laughter, gasps). This is really nice for anybody used to the chaos of the average American theater. But every once in a while you’ll encounter a group of American teenagers (etc) talking at loud volume for the entire movie; nobody will say a thing…]
There are strict noise regulations in some cases, e.g. the well known [email protected] limit on rail noise (in residential areas?) that’s a major factor limiting shinkansen speed, but they’re not the main factor at work in most cases.
As someone who rides the Northeast Regional on a daily basis, I avoid the quiet car at all costs. I find that every other car is usually as quiet (though none are really quiet at all) and significantly less full. I’ve seen people bypass an empty car, save 2-3 people, to sit in a quiet car at capacity.
We now have Quiet Cars on Metra. They seem to work pretty well. The rule violators are usually unaware of the Quiet Car and apologize after chastised by fellow riders or conductors.
Noise doesn’t always just come from people talking. In Hong Kong, the trains announce the next station, reminders to “mind the gap”, reminders not to eat or drink, and the wait times for some cross platform transfers in three languages. Before the doors close, an announcement tells you to stay away in three languages and then a loud beeping tone is played.
North American buses sometimes have a recorded “Bus turning right” announcement in some cities and almost universally have a loud beeping warning tone when kneeling at a stop or extending the ramp.
I think other passengers play a small role in creating noise compared to transit itself.
Sure, when badly implemented, “official noise” can be annoying.
But unlike passenger noise, it’s very easy to control. Both the quantity and quality can be modified if there are problems, and it’s not particularly difficult to do so. All it takes is the will.
If your passengers are noisy, though, good luck getting them to shut up, no matter how much pressure there is to do so…