Monday, July 21, 2008

For Easier Access in Boarding...

My morning commute was marred by what is, at some level, a good problem to have. Too many people are riding the Metro.

As I pointed out last week, I moved to North Columbia Heights over the weekend, so my commuting patterns have changed. I'll be trying various modes and routes over the next two weeks before I settle on a routine, but this morning's commute was certainly an adventure.

After my 12 minute walk, I got to Columbia Heights Metro as a Branch Avenue train pulled in. The platform was already crowded and the train pretty much full. I managed to get aboard and find enough personal space to read the Post. This brings me to my first Metroquette Rule.

Metroquette Rule of Thumb #1:
If you're getting off at the next stop, don't be the first person on the train.
If you're from Washington and take the Metro, I'm sure you've encountered this problem. Imagine the situation, the platform is full, many people want to get on, and while the train is crowded, there's still standing room in the center of the car. As the doors open, someone rushes forward steps on and...stops. They just stand there in the doorway, and you have to shove past them before the doors close. If you want to be next to the door, don't be the first one to board.

Anyway, I continued toward Gallery Place, where I needed to change to the Glenmont-bound Red Line. At Gallery Place, there were so many people waiting to board that it was difficult to exit. As a matter of fact, the doors closed before people had finished exiting the train. No one had even started to board yet.

But the real problem wasn't that the platform was packed, it was that the doors I was nearest stopped at the bottom of the escalator. It was a localized problem. I was on an 8-car train (full platform) and this was only a problem at about 3 or 4 car doors (of 24 total doors). So...

Metroquette Rule of Thumb #2:
Spread out evenly along the platform.
I was once on an Orange Line train coming from Court House. I was in the front car of this 8-car train. At every stop, the train got further and further behind schedule because it was taking so long to board. Yet there were empty seats in my car. When I got off at L'Enfant, I noticed that cars 2-7 were absolutely packed. Cars 1 & 8 had empty seats. Not only will you avoid being crushed if you'd spread out along the platform, you'll also have an easier time boarding and alighting and if everyone did it, the train could move along more quickly.

I have two goals when arriving at a station. Their precedence depends on my experience with crowds. One of the goals is to walk to the place I'd like to be when I exit. That means if I'm at College Park and I need to change at Fort Totten, I walk to the last car in the train. The second rule is to get as far away from the up (or down at a subway station) escalator as possible. Luckily in the aforementioned example, this works. The up escalator at College Park puts people out about a car and a half forward (southbound) of the center of the platform. I'm always amazed at how many people just stay right there and fight for doorspace when the train arrives.

And speaking of a change at Fort Totten reminds me:

Metroquette Rule of Thumb #3:
Keep moving.
Especially at transfer stations people are in a rush. In my old commute, if I was in the last car of the Branch Avenue train and I rushed up the stairs, I could often just get aboard the Shady Grove train. So it was always infuriating when someone standing in the doorway gots off and stopped or walked up the center of the staircase (so that you can't pass on either side). Tourists are the worst. They get off the train--they take one step out of the doorway--and they freeze. Do I go left? Do I go right? Where am I? Is this the right station? Look, if you don't know where to go, find a map or ask a Metro employee, but please--please(!) don't stop in the doorway.

And in a similar vein,

Metroquette Rule of Thumb #4:
Rechts stehen, links gehen.
Stand to the Right, Walk to the Left on escalators. In Germany, when I was studying abroad there, if you stood on the left, a German would come up behind you, physically shove you to the right, mutter "rechts stehen, links gehen," and pass you. In Washington, we're a little less ambitious. Most people just glare at the wrong-side standees, but for the most part, people know to stand on the right. So if you find yourself on the left side and you don't want to walk, either step to the right or just tough it out and walk.

And just to round out the set:

Metroquette Rule of Thumb #5:
Don't have luggage or a disability? Take the escalator.
Metro asks passengers to reserve elevators for those with the "greatest need." I often take my bike on Metro and am prohibited from taking it on an escalator. If I'm in a shallow station, I can carry it up or down stairs, but often I am required to take the elevator. Of course, people in wheelchairs have priority over me, and countless times I've stepped aside to let them board an elevator. But I find it exceedingly rude when people who have no disability or luggage or anything else for that matter take the elevator. In some stations, like Dupont Circle, it can take a long time for the elevator to return from street level. If you're on foot, you can often beat wheelchair-bound people to the elevator. When you do, just keep on walking--there's an escalator straight ahead.

Anyway, I made it to work with 5 mintues to spare. My commute time is about 10 minutes longer this way, even though I live closer to work. Tomorrow I'll try changing at Fort Totten.


Michael Kelly said...

With regards to your rule #2: in my experiences with Marta since I started using it regularly a couple months ago, they have actually found a quasi-solution to this problem. The escalators (and stairs) are located on different parts of the platforms at the different stations. Therefore the people at any one station will overcrowd themselves on cars 3 and 4, but the next station will fill up 2 and 6 instead. It works pretty well and (on my commutes anyway) I rarely see too much of a people-density gradient anywhere on the train.

kenf said...

Rule #5, disability means only physical, not mental.

Matt' said...

Mr. Kelly,
Quite right. WMATA does the same thing. Still, while passenger density per car can sometimes affect 8-car trains, boarding is affected because people cluster around the escalators at each station.

WMATA is dealing with quite a bit more passengers than MARTA, however. The rail system is operating close to (real) capacity at rush hours. There is still some wiggle room in terms of design capacity, but more train cars are needed to achieve that.