For the past seven weeks, Metro Transit has been experimenting with a change to MetroLink service — and it’s listening to passengers who aren’t happy about it.
The public transport agency announced at the end of September that it would start operating some trains with one car instead of the normal trains that include two cars. Metro Transit described the change as a pilot project that will allow “more flexibility” that “provides opportunities to test new innovative options that can better serve the changing travel patterns of our MetroLink riders.”
But as the experiment continues into its seventh week, with no publicly announced end date, some riders are fed up. A recent Metro Transit Facebook post apologizing for the lack of communication surrounding the experiment attracted 70 comments, none positive.
Passengers shared how overcrowded the single-car trains were and the stress of trying to fit into a single car during the train’s too-short stops. One described being “crammed in like sardines.”
Wrote another: “I get into the Central West End around 345/4pm and it’s awful. One of the drivers often says, “That train leaves in 10 seconds” as people crowd into a train, down the tracks. I don’t even have time to get on the train! These single carriage trains are hilarious! The trains are so packed that people in wheelchairs can’t even get on because people can’t get out of the way.”
Even a driver weighed in on Metro Transit’s post. “A single car train KILLS dwell time and any chance of keeping the train on time because you have a whole platform of passengers trying to fit into four sets of doors as opposed to eight,” he wrote. “The Central West End at rush hour is a prime example of this. And a lot of times that one-car train is already full before I get to the Central West End and that adds to the problem.”
Frequent public transport user (and former RFT proofreader) Evie Hemphill tells RFT that the difficulties with single carriage trains are particularly acute for people using wheelchairs or bicycles. The two-car train has three bicycle areas — at the back of the first car and then at the front of the next, as well as at the back of the second car. A one-car train means that everything on wheels is stuck in the back of the car, which she has seen become dangerously overcrowded. She blames the one-car system for her bike’s broken fender. “I had to make my own way,” she says.
Hemphill says the lack of communication has also been frustrating. Metro Transit originally proposed doing this as an experiment that could help reduce attrition and be “more efficient” for patrol security. She says she’s skeptical of those reasons — and her attempts to figure out how long the pilot will last remained unanswered.
“Be honest with us,” she says. “Are the cars out of order? Not enough mechanics? They can’t blame the lack of drivers because the number of drivers is the same.”
In a statement to RFT, Metro Transit said it will make a decision on the future of single-car service by the end of November.
“Metro Transit launched a pilot program on Oct. 2 to evaluate MetroLink single-car service operations,” the statement said. “The motivation for this pilot program came from the pandemic, where limited resources and manpower impacted our ability to provide transit service in the region. We want to determine if single-vehicle service provides any resource or operational efficiency advantages that could be useful for future service planning or as a contingency in challenging situations. In addition, we also wanted to assess any potential impact on the safety and security of the system, as well as driver feedback.”
If nothing else, they get feedback.
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