Repost: Brisbane Times

29 03 2011

Time to speak up Brisbane bus users

**I’m finding the comments and poll on this one fascinating

Southeast Queensland public transport users should consider talking to fellow travellers, according to the urban designer behind a project encouraging commuter conversations.

For the past few months, advertising signs at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital busway station have encouraged people to be friendly and chat to other transport users.

The signs, only taken down recently, promoted the idea of “priority seating for people who want conversation”, an alternative version of reserved seating for elderly or disabled people.

The project, called “I Just Wanted to Say”, did not involve marking special seats for conversation on buses, but people were encouraged to print off such signs from a website and place them on public seats.

Urban designer Yen Trinh, who developed the project, said the idea was to foster conversation.

“It was about encouraging people to talk at the bus stop and that it’s okay to do that,” she said.

Ms Trinh said it was fun to see people’s reactions to the signs, which also encouraged people to post details of their conversations on the website.

“It definitely challenged people. It got some people talking,” she said.

“When I was there [at the RBWH busway] people were talking about talking or not talking.”

Ms Trinh, who met a lady and talked about quilting, said commuters may not know each other’s names but a kind of community existed already.

“When I used to live with my parents at the end of the line you’d see the same people on the bus every day,” she said.

“When you’re commuting for a long time or you’re at the end of the line, conversations tend to happen because you see them all the time.”

Ms Trinh said she knew she had not missed her bus if a particular man doing up his tie at the bus stop was there.

She said conversations would not suit everyone, but that was fine. There was also room for the quiet carriages introduced by Queensland Rail as some people liked to “tune out” during their commutes.

Ms Trinh said she was happy with how the project went but could not quantify how many conversations it provoked.

Rail Back on Track spokesman Robert Dow said some transport users preferred to stay quiet while others were interested in having a chat.

“There’s not as much conversation as there used to be,” he said.

“When rail was really in its heyday a rail journey up to the country was a real adventure. It was almost a social thing.”

Mr Dow, who catches trains regularly, said people tended to be more sociable on services out of peak times. He said people commuting to work were in a nine-to-five routine.

“Everyone’s crammed together pretty tight actually so the last thing some people want is a bit of chit chat,” he said of peak services.

The website promoting the initiative says “priority seating for the disabled” signs help create a culture of courtesy, while the conversation seating project was meant to foster a culture of friendliness.

“Conversations in public spaces present endless possibilities to build connections, create community, and just make someone’s day a bit more interesting,” it says.

“Friendliness is contagious. Pass it on.”

The project was supported by the Public Art Unit, Project Services, Museum of Brisbane, Brisbane City Council and Arts Queensland, with graphic design work by Steven Rhodes.

The idea was also adapted for an event in New York last year.



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