Monday, May 4, 2009

Unsucking Metro's Doors Through Peer Pressure?

In a previous post, a Metro spokesman said doors are a main reasons for delays, and even though they don’t keep stats, the spokesman wrote in an email “more often than not, door problems stem from someone attempting to hold the doors open.”
Hmm. OK.
As we mentioned before, we’ve seen people cram through doors, and the Metro spokesman wrote they’d “even seen mothers try to block the doors with baby strollers!” Mothers!
They added that Metro’s doors are not designed like elevator doors because they don’t bounce back when something blocks them. “If this were the case, the trains would never move because the doors would never close,” they wrote.
If the operator cannot get the “all doors closed” signal, he cannot move the train. To remedy this, the spokesman wrote, the operator will bump the doors (open and close rapidly) (ding dong) to try and free whatever might be blocking the doors. This remedy also can create problems as customers take this as another opportunity to crowd into an already jam packed car, keeping the doors from closing, they wrote.
If several more attempts to get the “all doors closed” are not successful, the operator must then have all the customers exit the train, the door circuit is over-ridden; the train is taken out of service and then has to be inspected to find the problem, wrote the spokesman. If it is determined that there are no problems, the train is put back in service, they wrote.
The spokesman said that Metro has tried to raise awareness of the problem through new station announcements and signs, but that they thought the most important way to stop people from blocking doors was through “peer pressure.”
“Ask your fellow travelers not to block the doors, and tell them why,” they wrote. “It really does work. If you don’t believe [peer pressure] would work on door blocking, think about how it has worked for escalators. Standing on the right was never something Metro promoted, that was a custom developed by our riders.”
OK. well, peer pressure might work to some degree, but the real problem here seems to be poorly designed doors. Obviously, new doors would be a big expense, but we think it’s something Metro should look into. It’s simply infuriating to have a train “go out of service” and then watch it head on down the track.
And, um, standing on the right on escalators is not unique to Metro. It's a pretty universal practice, if not always followed.
Do you think peer pressure is the answer here?

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16 comments:

Addison said...

2 possible solutions: white-gloved attendants who pack people onto the trains like they have in Tokyo, or have people do what I do, and push people out who try to cram on (preferably with something pointy, like an elbow).

Samer said...

I've yelled at people who were trying to pry the doors open to help free someone who's backpack was stuck. I, very impatiently, explained to them that the doors would open again and he'd be free, if dented in ego. I also explained to them, in very angry language, that they had better not screw up my commute because the idiot on the train failed to heed the warnings that the doors were closing. They seemed shocked and walked away while explaining they were just trying to help.

Road to hell and all that.

shineyredrhinos said...

Yes! Tell the asshats who pry the doors open that they will mess it up for everyone!

I'm all for peer pressure to keep people inline on metro. It's basically the only tool we've got!

quix said...

Personally I think they should put serrated edges on the sides of the doors. That'll get them to think twice about running through at the last minute!! ;)

timfry said...

Why not arrest people for a few days? Just do what NYC did with those that jumped fairs and set up a "cage"/jail in a public metro stations, where you leave people until you have enough people arrested to move at the same time. Arrest people that ignore warnings not to hold doors open. After a day or two of that and the public notice, I think we would take care of most of the problems.

voteprime said...

I'm not sure if I understand what's wrong with the door design, or rather, I'm not sure what new door design would fix this problem. I've never been on a train or subway that doesn't have doors similar to WMATA's so it's sort of hard for me to imagine what this fix would be that you suggest.

Let's get Metro Fixed said...

It's human nature to want to squeeze onto a train. It's inevitable. The doors should be designed with that in mind and not cause a whole train to be taken out of service just because some jerk tried to pry them open.

Anonymous said...

How the hell can metro not have any statistics on door malfunctions? You can't say with any certainty whether the problem is the people or the doors until you study the problem.

And you can't decide how to fix the problem until you know what it actually is.

Am I the only person who feels like they're taking crazy pills when they read a quote from a metro spokesperson spouting complete bullshit to try and talk their way out actually having to do anything to improve the system?

voteprime said...

I agree that it's inevitable, no matter how much peer pressure is offered, that people will try to squeeze on to trains. I just don't know what design will help solve this. Designing the doors like elevator doors really would make it impossible for any train to ever leave the station.

I think a better change would be for Metro to have a different policy on malfunctioning doors. When a driver is faced with the last resort of pulling a train out of service, couldn't a station manager first walk down the platform and see if there is an actual door malfunction or if the problem is being caused by some idiot who just refuses to dislodge their bag?

It might take awhile, but it seems like much less of a hassle than emptying a car and cramming all those people into the next train while this train is taking out of service and checked only to find out everything is actually working fine.

And it can be instituted quickly, rather than redesigning the doors to be used on new trains which likely won't be purchased and put into service for several years.

Matt' said...

There are a couple of different solutions here.

1. WMATA's approach: Doors close; if an object obstructs the door, the door remains closed as far as it can until (all train doors are) re-opened by the operator. The train cannot move until all doors are closed. So long as the door is not forced back, there are not generally problems. Even when the door is forced back, there are not necessarily problems, however, repeated forcing of a mechanical device strains that device, and sometimes things break. Don't believe me? Try forcing your laptop monitor beyond it's stopping point. Don't blame Dell if it breaks off.

2. Spring-Back Doors: MARTA, WMATA's sister system in Atlanta uses this approach. If the doors close on an object, that particular door set reopens and a buzzer sounds. The train cannot move until all doors are closed. The problem with this approach is just what the WMATA spokesperson suggested. The train will never leave. Because it's so easy to keep the doors open, MARTA trains are often held so that someone in high heels has time to clear fare control, an escalator, and 75 feet worth of platform. Meanwhile, the 800 passengers on the train are missing bus connections. Trust me, has happened to me more times than I can count.

As a matter of fact, almost everyday the transit police have to be dispatched to HE Holmes Station on the West Line because high school students from the nearby school hold the doors open to prevent trains from leaving.

MARTA also takes trains out of service because of door problems more than for any other reason. Even though the doors spring back, people hold them in their fully opened position, while the mechanical arm tries to close them. Repeated forcing of this mechanical system causes strain and breaking.

3. Trains Depart without Doors Closed: This would be the approach I've seen used in Munich. The doors close after an announcement. If you're in the way, the doors remain as closed as they can be, and the train departs. If you're lucky, you'll pull yourself in before the train enters the tunnel. If you're slightly less lucky, someone will pull the Emergency Stop before that happens. If you're unlucky, you might just lose a leg or arm to the tunnel wall. Regardless, people don't hold the doors. The risk is too much. I have heard that a CTA L train dragged someone using this method.

The basic lesson here is that machines are designed only to withstand so much stress in their lives. Some of WMATA's rollingstock has been serving customers since 1976. And people have been forcing doors since then.

My suggestion?

If your train gets taken out of service because someone held the doors, and you know who it is, announce it to the people on the platform. Say, "HEY, THIS PERSON IN THE RED SHIRT, HE CAUSED THE TRAIN TO GO OUT OF SERVICE!"

They'll never interfere with the operation of the doors again.

Of course, they may never ride Metro again, but what can you do?

Let's get Metro Fixed said...

@anonymous. We agree. They must know a number. Even in their disruption reports, there are mentions of door problems. Sometimes they cause a train to go out of service, and we include those, but sometimes, they appear to only cause delays. We haven't counted, but door problems don't seem to be very prevalent in Metro's reports thus our skepticism regarding their guilt in so many delays.

Brady Bonk said...

I've often commented that one cannot hold these doors open unless he was born under a red sun. It just doesn't work that way. I lost a very nice umbrella many years ago learning this.

Metro doesn't work hard enough at making people aware of this problem. There needs to be signs on every train exterior in 128-point impact type that read "DO NOT RUSH THIS TRAIN." I hate to break it to Metro, but people do not listen to their announcements.

Anonymous said...

a very easy solution ... hire someone for each platform who pulls out the idiots who refuse to let the door close. That's what they have in Beijing and Tokyo and it has worked very well. I've lived in both cities and rarely to never seen any delays. Both systems are also much more crowded than DC Metro. And no, they don't have some guy in white glove standing in front of every door and forcefully push you into the train. There might be a few security guys standing around (in particular in Beijing) and they ensure that people stand clear when the door closes.

Also, I think more than not, it's not someone trying to hold the door from closing but Metro's little fragile doors go boom when someone tries to pry it open. Sorry, Metro just have to get more robust doors as this is something that should be expected. Even the Chinese have it.

Anonymous said...

"standing on the right on escalators is not unique to Metro. It's a pretty universal practice, if not always followed."

My experience has been that people standing to the right and walking on the left is NOT common practice in other cities' subway systems. Also, commuters in most other cities don't let people exit a car before getting on. It seems like every man/woman for him/herself is the rule in most places, while D.C. is the polite exception (except for the clueless tourons, of course).

Anonymous said...

Actaully, in many cases, it has nothing to do with someone propping open the doors. I was on the last car about a month ago, with a half-dozen other passengers, when the conductor started the usual "passengers in the last car, please step away from the doors. If I cannot get an all-doors closed signal, this train will be off-loaded..." After 3 or 4 of these annnouncements a fellow rider went to the speaker and told the conductor, "I am in the last car and there is no one near the doors." It is quite simply this: The doors have a faulty design. What other major subway system in the world has this problem? None. I have been on trains and subways around the world, many of them packed to the hilt, and I have never seen this problem. It is the doors. It is the design. Probably has something to do with the fact that the doors are bowed. Metro needs to get rid of the current cars in their entirety. Put seats along the walls, which will widen the aisles, and put hand-holds were people can reach them. Go to Germany or Japan and see how it is done. Metro's excuses are pathetic.

Anonymous said...

What happends to passengers when they do not get off the train when it off-loads for door mechanical problems? I often see metro passengers who stay on the train while the rest of us "suckers" stand jam-packed on the platform waiting for the next overly-crowed train. Does the train stop at the next station anyway and allow the knowing stragglers to get off there? Does the train come back on-line at the next stop?

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