The one thing I want when I get on the metro is a seat, because I have a rather long ride, and because it’s easier to read sitting than it is standing. So I was less than thrilled to learn that D.C. Metro is considering new seating plans, all of which involve fewer seats on the trains.
Commuters would encounter some subway cars with fewer seats, additional handrails and more overhead handles to grab as Metro begins a test of ways to squeeze more people onto a rail system already at capacity.
The plan — which received preliminary approval yesterday and will begin in the spring if the full board approves it this month, as expected — calls for installing cameras on two dozen test cars to study how three seating arrangements with up to 32 fewer seats and 40 percent more handrails could accommodate more riders and allow them to move on and off trains more quickly.
The decision to try out various interior designs is part of Metro’s effort to find inexpensive ways to increase capacity and efficiency on trains and platforms as daily ridership surpasses 700,000.
“The seating configuration was laid out when Lyndon Johnson was president, and we were hoping people might leave their Oldsmobile at home and try transit. Now we’re dealing with success,” said board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County.
Seats on the 24 test cars will be laid out in one of three ways.
I spend a lot of time on the D.C. metro since we moved to Maryland. Fortunately, I get on at a stop on the Red Line that is a starting point for some trains. Typically, the first train that shows up in the morning comes from Silver Spring and is full. People are already standing in the aisles. But if I let that train pass, the next train that shows up is empty, so I’m guaranteed to get a seat. I change trains at metro center, so the second half of my ride holds no guarantee of a seat. I’ve let trains pass that are so full that there’s no chance of getting a seat, and I’ve gotten off trains that turn out to be so crowded that there are no seats.
That’s on my morning commute. In the evenings, I’m reasonably sure of getting a seat for the first half of my trip. When it’s time to change trains at metro center, I’m reasonably assured of getting a seat if I wait for the train that has my station as it’s end point, since more people are getting on the train that’s bound for Silver Spring.
If you ask me, the answer isn’t fewer seats on the metro. The answer is more cars on the trains, and more frequent trains. Of course, I’m not a mass transit expert or engineer, so I don’t know all that’s involved in making that happen, though it’s probably more cost efficient to yank seats out than to add more trains.
With this plan, it’s likely that I’ll still be able to get a seat on the metro, until we move to the new house. Then it’ll probably be standing-room-only, but at least I’ll probably also have a shorter ride.