According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation use is up 38 percent since 1995 and Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2008. With little money and more riders, agencies across the country are trying to keep people moving.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Chief Spokesperson Linton Johnson says they are looking at what can be done both short and long term to accommodate increased ridership. “Bottom line is, getting people on and off the trains faster allows us to keep our on-time performance and accommodate more passengers.”
As he explains, people crowding by the doors is what slows things down. “If people were to stand in the aisles, we could probably accommodate more passengers,” Johnson says. “But mentally, people don’t feel like standing in the aisles because they don’t feel like they can get off the car in time. So they crowd around the doors.”
Johnson says, “There’s a barrier that blocks people as they walk in, and removing that has made it a lot more convenient for folks just standing at the doors.” Removing some seats by the doors was also an effort to alleviate this crowding. And he says, “If you’re a suburban rider you hate the idea that there are fewer seats and if you’re an urban rider, you love it.
“The urban riders don’t go as far and so they don’t mind standing, in fact, they’re standing anyway because the suburban riders already have all the seats by the time the urban riders get on.
“So it’s not a big deal for the urban riders. But the suburban riders who are sitting for a longer time,” he stops and stresses, “I’ve been at community meetings where I go in to talk about one topic and the only thing on everybody’s minds is, ‘Why the Hell are you taking away our effin’ seats?’” He adds with an exasperated laugh, “They are not happy about it.”
The peak in ridership hit last summer, but they started removing the seats before that, people just weren’t aware of it. “We kind of revealed that we were doing it [removing seats] last summer, but we actually had been doing it to prior to that,” Johnson says.
“It was mentioned at a board meeting,” he explains, “and then, of course, the media ran with it.” He adds, “That’s kind of what spurred the outrage of the suburban riders.
“The urban riders are probably thinking to themselves, ‘Wow, things are not quite as crowded anymore, wonder what they’ve done?’” And riders that were wondering why it was hard to find a seat, the story hit and, “Oh, that’s why.”
Johnson stresses that it’s not just about seat replacement, however, to accommodate more passengers. “One of the other ways of handling increased ridership is we’re looking at peak fares.”
But he adds that it doesn’t have to just be about peak fares. “There’s also reduced fares during off-peak hours and off-peak directions.” He says, “Some people just conditionally go to work at 8 o’clock even though they don’t really need to be there until 9.
“If we can encourage them to go at a different hour by lowering the fare, or for those who are going to go at 8 o’clock regardless for whatever reason, either making a peak fare and charging them more, which means it pushes some of the people out of the way because they will automatically go to a lower-fare ride.” He adds, “That was something that we’re looking at for congestion control.”
Todd Plesko, vice president of planning for Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), says in the last 12 to 13 months, with the run-up in ridership, they’ve had to do a variety of things to keep up with increasing demand.
With the ability to add cars on to some of the trains on its commuter line, that’s been one solution. “We had some ability to do that,” says Plesko. “And so we’ve targeted the sections on those trains that we knew we were running into trouble.”