When trains are bunched, an overcrowded lead train holds up one or more half-empty trains behind it. An organized campaign to "Board the 2nd Train" means the crowded train can stop *only* for passengers to exit -- anyone waiting on the platform will find plenty of room to board quickly on the 2nd train waiting just behind.
Metro's “Board the 2nd Train” Campaign
Metro trains naturally tend to bunch. Waiting passengers pile up on the station, taking a little extra time to board the train, giving the train behind a chance to draw too lose. When that following train arrives ahead of schedule at the station, fewer passengers have arrived since the last one, so passengers board more quickly, and the train picks up even more time. The result is an overloaded train in front, and an empty one (or more) behind, and excruciatingly long waiting times for the crowded train as passengers try to squeeze on board.
Many partial preventative approaches have been proposed and many have been successfully implemented – having the trailing train wait with doors open at the previous station, etiquette reminders about letting passengers off first to speed the boarding process, removing seats and poles from the door areas to reduce crowding at the entrance to the car, and so on. More extreme solutions focus on express trains – either a separate track (with a billion dollar price tag) or putting occasional trains into express mode: skipping ahead to a station farther down the track, and forcing passengers to leave their train if they want to get out at an earlier stop.
In conjunction with other preventative solutions, the “Board the 2nd Train” Campaign would help eliminating boarding delays from overcrowding, while restoring equal spacing whenever bunching does occur. One often hears conductors making announcement to boarding passengers about another train right behind, encouraging them not to squeeze into overcrowded cars and attempting to close the train doors as quickly as possible. That ad-hoc approach could be far more effective with a full-fledged program. Given the over-crowding on Metro, especially during SafeTrack, such a campaign could be a critical release-valve during many rush hours.
When conditions are right, trigger a “Board the 2nd Train” event. Most riders, even those with daily rush-hour commutes, would only encounter such an event perhaps once a week. The following conditions would have to apply, for an event to be effective and worthwhile:
1) Two trains are bunched, with two minutes or less of headway
2) The leading train is overcrowded enough to slow passenger boarding very significantly
3) The trailing train has sufficient room for quick and efficient boarding
4) The trains are approaching a station that participates in the “Board the 2nd Train” campaign, during the designated rush-hour time periods (see examples below)
5) The event can be triggered at least 60 seconds before the arrival of the leading train.
When an event is triggered, a series of announcements and other passenger communication will permit passengers from the lead train to exit at their stop, but NO NEW RIDERS will be accepted. The trailing train will then enter the station immediately after the lead train departs, with enough room to accept all passengers in a normal boarding process. The passenger communication techniques can include the following:
A) Beginning 1 minute before train arrival, public address announcements that the next train will accept “No New Riders”, as part of the “Metro's Board The 2nd Train Campaign”. Passengers will be thanked for helping to “Move Metro – and you – more quickly.”
B) Beginning 1 minute before train arrival, the LED display boards will alternate the following messages: “No New Riders” and “Board the 2nd Train”
C) Beginning 1 minute before train arrival, conductor announcements will prepare passengers to exit the train quickly despite a crowded platform, and that no new passengers should board at the next stop. Especially during the early days of the program, passengers could be encouraged to help enforce the “No New Riders” policy and explain to passengers waiting on the platform that they should “Board the 2nd Train” immediately behind them.
D) As the train enters the station, the destination display will be programmed to read “No New Riders” (as opposed to the existing text such as “Shady Grove” or “No Passengers”).
E) During a few seconds' pause before opening the doors, conductors will announce (with external speakers on) “No New Riders, please Board the 2nd Train”
F) Especially during the introduction of this campaign, and potentially on an ongoing basis, designated stations (see below) will have additional Metro personnel available during rush hour to staff the platform itself. These personnel will make supplemental announcements, and explain / enforce the No New Riders policy during the event.
The realistic communications goal is to minimize or even eliminate any delays due to passenger confusion. This strategy stands in contrast to the express train strategy, where passengers need to understand that the train they are on will be skipping stops, leading to a time-consuming sorting-out process where many extra passengers need to exit a train onto an already-crowded platform.
Conclusion: For a “Board the 2nd Train” event, passengers take exactly the same actions they usually would – those who wish to exit at their stop will do so, those who wish to board a train will simply stay where they are for an extra minute or two.
NOTE: It is essential that a “Board the 2nd Train” event only be triggered when the trailing train arrives on the platform immediately after the leading train departs, or rider participation and satisfaction will quickly evaporate.
The overcrowded leading train will reduce its crowding, because the event would only be triggered when approaching a station where a significant number of passengers will exit. The leading train will gain a significant time advantage by not waiting to board waiting passengers, an even greater gain when compared to the excruciatingly slow boarding process when a train is already overcrowded. The trailing train will become loaded closer to its capacity by boarding two trains' worth of passengers at that single station, and the normal spacing between it and the leading train will be largely restored.
Technically speaking, the “Board the 2nd Train” campaign will smoothly implement both of the recommended strategies for maintaining equal headway. Enforced minimums will arise naturally for the trailing train from boarding double the number of passengers, without an artificial “hold” at a previous station. And avoided maximums will be achieved naturally for the leading train by skipping the boarding process at one station and having more room for passengers at subsequent stations, without the disruption of skipping stops.
INTRODUCING THE CAMPAIGN:
During a period of time before any such events are used, various marketing and communication approach should introduce this new campaign. At stations designated to be part of the program (see below), free-standing signs will explain what happens, and the benefits of a “Board the 2nd Train” event. Printed hand-outs or flyers will be available at the same stations and at Metro ticket offices and other commuter stores. The Metro Trip Planner and Metro transit apps could add notification about potential events, particular when anyone searches for an itinerary that includes a designated station at rush hour. Other communication modes, especially those targeting regular rush-hour commuters, may also be used.
For example, after summer vacations are over, a one-month communications campaign could begin on the Monday after Labor Day, welcoming back commuters and explaining the new program to help speed their commute. All communications would explain that events would begin starting on October 1st.
Only a small number of stations would ever see a “Board the 2nd Train” event. For the event to proceed smoothly, a critical mass of the passengers who are present would need to be familiar with the process, so previous exposure and ongoing education are crucial. For the event to have the desired benefits, a significant number of passengers would need to exit the lead train, and a significant number of passengers waiting on the platform would need to board the trailing train. All of these conditions will only apply at certain stations at certain times of the day. In particular, during the evening rush, a smaller number of stations will have crowded platforms with many passengers waiting to board, while the morning rush hour's program would benefit from incorporating a larger number of stations.
Red Line example:
Morning Rush Hour – Shady Grove
--Possibly Rhode Island Ave or even Ft. Totten
Morning Rush Hour – Glenmont
--Possibly Van Ness through Friendship Heights
Evening Rush Hour – Shady Grove
Evening Rush Hour – Glenmont
Similar designations would apply to all Metro lines. Ongoing statistical analysis could quantify the benefits from including additional station or dropping some stations, measured against the costs of ongoing rider education and communication. The same analysis could refine the frequency of “Board the 2nd Train” events, striving to minimize any alteration to passengers' commuting routines will still maximizing the benefits of faster service.