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.”
Of course there’s limited capacity and, as Plesko mentions, the platforms are only so long.
As for the light rail, they’ve also been adding to the capacity. “We feel we don’t have the ability to have more than a standard three-car train in our downtown transit mall otherwise we’re blocking intersections,” Plesko says. Because of this they’re switching to super LRVs that have additional capacity.
“We’re by and large running two-car trains,” Plesko says, “But we’re converting all of our trains to what we call our C car.” He explains, “We’ve got a two-car train that you put together and you can put a middle section in them, an unpowered middle section and it adds about half again as much capacity on a regular car.”
He mentions they’ve been working on the process of installing these Kinkisharyo cars for a while now and they will be fully installed around the end of 2010.
For BART, Johnson states, “In 10 to 15 years we’re going to see another hundred thousand riders on the system.” He stresses, “The current crop of cars that we have in no way is able to carry that passenger load.
“Long term, we’re looking at replacing our entire fleet with cars that can get people on and off faster and can accommodate more riders and are more reliable than the current crop.”
He says they are starting a planning process now to prepare for the next 50 years of ridership. “Over the next 15 years we will start to see new cars come on the system and that will carry us into the next century.”
Meeting the Needs
Car manufacturers are doing what they can to help meet the needs of agencies by maximizing passenger space, while ensuring necessary equipment space.
Alstom’s AGV offers a wide width of 2.75 meters inside cars to offer passengers more comfort and ensuring accessibility for people with reduced mobility. With closed gaps and wide corridors between the cars, it allows easy circulation through the cars.
A modular design not only allows for easy upgrades, it makes a train that can be customized for the agency’s particular needs, such as more or less space for bicycles or work spaces.
“Sometimes the only way to go is up,” said Paul Larouche, director of product planning for Bombardier Transportation, North America. “When Toronto’s GO Transit found that its single-level commuter coaches were becoming filled to capacity, and that its station platforms could not accommodate longer train consists, GO worked with railcar builder Can Car (since acquired by Bombardier) to develop a unique vehicle known today as the Bombardier BiLevel car.” In service since 1978, today more than 950 BiLevel cars are in operation at, on order with, transit authorities in 13 cities across Canada and the United States.
“NJ TRANSIT faced similar challenges, as well as the particular infrastructure constraints of the Northeast Corridor,” continued Larouche. “Together we developed a multi-level vehicle that is compatible with all of NJT’s existing rolling stock and can operate anywhere on the NJT system, including through the Northeast Corridor Hudson River tunnels.”
Both car types feature upper and lower seating levels, as well as a spacious intermediate level at each end of the car for wheelchairs, bicycles or luggage, for example. “But increasing capacity does not have to mean sacrificing passenger comfort,” Larouche pointed out. “For example, both the BiLevel car and the multi-level vehicle offer a two-by-two seating configuration that eliminates the middle seat found on many single-level vehicles.”
Talking with Plesko at DART, they are seeing another problem from the increased ridership, overcapacity at the park-and-ride lots. “We’ve had fairly significant problems with overcapacity, more people are wanting to use the park-and-ride lots,” he says. One example is at the Glenn Heights lot. “It’s a little over 300 spaces. We’re adding an additional 200 spaces so we’ll have more than 500 and that should prevent people from spilling over into the neighborhood streets, which was happening before.”
When the lots for the stations were purchased, they often purchased extra land which can be converted into additional parking space. In other cases, he says, they’ve had to go and buy extra land.
“We’re adding capacity, which we believe will help us for a little while, but it may not solve all our problems,” he says. Something else they’re looking at is pricing. “We may start charging for parking to either generate revenue to purchase more space or to try to encourage people to use buses or carpool to the lot.” He adds, “We don’t know that we can always build our way out of every shortage of parking. We may have to use other techniques.
“The long-term is looking at how we can better manage parking so that we can encourage people to use the buses to a great extent, or bicycle, carpool or vanpool to get to the rail line.”
Looking to the Future
At APTA’s Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., APTA President William W. Millar noted record ridership shows the clear demand for public transit. “Now more than ever, the value of public transportation is evident and the public has clearly demonstrated that they want and need more public transit services."