Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Passenger Seats Take The Back Seat to Standees

With record crowds plying Metro these days, it's only a matter of time before the system exceeds its available capacity. There's still room for the system to grow, but without new power substations and additional rollingstock, riders are going to be stuck with crowded trains.

Metro is not alone in this phenomenon. Rising gas prices are encouraging people to park their cars and take the train to work and social events across the country. In California, BART responded by removing several seats from some of its cars. This allows more standees per car. BART estimates that for the 6 seats removed, 12 additional passengers can be accomodated per car. For the Bay Area this is a big step. Like WMATA, BART's trains often travel long distances from the suburbs, but because of the design of the Transbay Tube and Market Street Subway, trains can only run about 10 minutes apart per line (about 2-3 minutes apart downtown).

Chicago has decided to take a more radical step. The CTA is removing all seats from some railcars in an experiment to deal with higher ridership. These cars will only operate during rush periods and will be mixed in a consist with other cars with seats. This step will allow CTA to pack on 25-50 more patrons per car. I think that CTA's proposal is a little over the top, but I also wonder if WMATA personnel are watching with interest for the results.

In these times of growing ridership but stagnant funds for transit, changes must be made. Those of us used to getting seats might just have learn to go without. And transit agencies have to change too. Just today, the Post reported that WMATA is rolling out new buses designed to attract ridership. One of the reasons for this move is to give Metrorail riders an alternative to the overcrowded subway.

Still, I think WMATA is going to have to do something about the seating situation. Some new cars are still being added, but the 6000 series cars are almost all delivered. Traction power substation limitations prevent WMATA from running longer trains. While there is still room on some lines to run trains more frequently, WMATA is essentially nearing its real capacity (although not design capacity). With more railcars and more traction power substations, WMATA could carry more people, but without those, the capacity threshold is lower.

So, if WMATA can't add cars to trains and it can't add trains, there are few options for accommoating additional riders. One of those solutions has been to ask riders to commute during off-peak times. Another potential solution would be to add a rush-hour surcharge, much to the same affect. They're also working on increased bus service to divert riders to other modes. Still, it strikes me as logical to remove a few seats from the cars. We certainly need to keep seats. Someone commuting from Shady Grove probably requires a seat, and even though I only travel downtown from Columbia Heights, I like to sit. Of course, as it is, all of the seats are already taken by the time the train picks me up.

Still, if we could accommodate a few extra persons per car, it would make life easier for many Metro riders. And while some would stop riding if they weren't guarunteed a seat, they'd leave room for 2 or 3 more riders who don't mind standing, but do mind $4 gasoline.

WMATA has been experimenting with different seating arrangements, including longitudnal seating. This would allow for more standees as well. Of course, they've been studying this for a while and haven't yet come to a decision.

What are your thoughts?


Michael said...

We need train shovers like they have in Japan. I will volunteer to perform this useful public service.

I think one thing they were talking about was decreasing the number of blue line trains in the AM and increasing orange line trains by the same amount.

Another thing would be to charge a highly time-dependent surcharge during the peak of rush hour to try to get some people to shift their travel elsewhere.

uthanda said...

The only question I would have about a congestion surcharge or time-dependent surcharge is would that drive people to commute at other times or drive them back into their cars, thereby defeating the purpose of having Metro in the first place.