When passenger crowding becomes problematic, many transit agencies look toward expensive engineering solutions. But sometimes, the situation can be improved with some low-cost techniques and education. That’s the approach Santiago took at one of its transfer stations.



Tobalaba station is a transfer point between two lines in the Santiago Metro. The layout of the platform is that the transfer exit is in the middle of the platform, and the direct street exit is at the “head” of the platform, toward the front of the train.

The problem is that some transferring passengers riding in the front half of the train head toward the middle to transfer, while some exiting passengers riding in the back half of the train head toward the front, and the two groups collide, causing significant congestion.

The real issue for the transit agency is a reduction in capacity. Due to the platform congestion, the next train can’t be platformed until the platform is clear. That had resulted in a train througput decrease from the 24 trains per hour (TPH) design capacity to just 22 TPH.

So, instead of opting for an expensive engineering solution, agency officials decided to try education. They installed a staffed gate midway along the platform. Anyone who is in the front half of the train must exit. There is no access to the rear half of the platform. Anyone who exits from the rear half of the train can only proceed to the direct exit after the platform has cleared.

As a result, people who exit from the front of the train can head for the direct exit unimpeded. People who exit from the rear of the train headed for the transfer are unimpeded as well. And everyone learns which part of the train to be in.

More importantly, the interval between arriving trains has dropped from 2 minutes and 40 seconds to 2 minutes and 10 seconds. The carrying capacity of the line has increased by 15%, or 4,000 more passengers per hour.

Implications

While an approach just like this might not work on Metro, it does show that innovative low-cost solutions can help. Gallery Place has severe crowding problems, especially on the narrow Shady Grove-bound platform. The Green/Yellow platform isn’t centered under the Red Line, instead being located at the far eastern end of the Red platforms.

As a result, passengers crowd under the crossvault, and especially when 6-car trains come in, waiting customers rush along the platform toward the end of the train, colliding with people exiting Red Line trains to transfer to the Green and Yellow Lines downstairs.

WMATA does nothing to encourage people to move down the platform. At Gallery Place and other transfer stations where exits aren’t optimally situated, like Fort Totten and Union Station, signage, announcements, or other solutions could reduce dwell times and increase customer satisfaction.

Of course, given the growing crowds at Gallery Place and the narrow platforms, an engineering solution is likely to be necessary in the future anyway. But WMATA could easily take steps to more evenly distribute customers now.

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Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.