Monday, May 14, 2012

Front door-only boarding and alighting

In recent news, the MBTA is going to pursue a policy of front door-only boarding and alighting at Green Line surface stations, as a means to stop people from dodging the fare-box. I find that people get upset and irrational about fare evasion. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the people that seem to be "evading" are actually monthly pass holders looking to board more conveniently. It's unfortunate that nobody seems to be able to put a solid number on the losses. There is no cost/benefit analysis to this campaign. It may very well cost more to slow down operations by forcing everyone through the front door bottleneck.

Still, it may be worth a shot to see just how bad it gets. Although not formally recognized, peak-level congestion for the "B" extends well into the late evening, due to the large numbers of students riding. It is common for outbound trains at 9pm to be at crush loads during the semester. But, with careful discretion, it may be possible to implement this policy while opening all doors where necessary. Already, for the past year, drivers typically delay opening the rear doors by 5-10 seconds. It seems to produce a psychological effect which motivates people outside to move to the front door, while creating a slight amount of consternation for those waiting to alight. On the other hand, with the semester already over, they may not get to really test it under load until September.

By comparison, the fare structure in Pittsburgh is oriented around front door-only boarding and alighting outside of downtown. The idea there is to allow opening all the doors where the bus may find itself most congested, and balance that by closing the rear doors where it should be less congested. This is somewhat similar in rationale to the old system in Boston where outbound street-level trolleys did not collect fares. This new initiative by the MBTA doesn't pursue the goal of alleviating congestion, however. It seems to be an overreaction to the perceived problem of fare evasion.


  1. Fare evasion is indeed a problem, but the front door boarding policy really ends up punishing everyone by making the Green Line even slower. It seems like the people making the policies for the Green Line never actually ride the Green Line. The D line similarly gets very crowded well after rush hour. Part of the problem is that they often send one car trains on weekday nights. So when there are 50 people waiting at Fenway Station at 10 pm, it's going to take a long time to have everyone board via the front door.

  2. The people in charge of these decisions never think of passengers as customers who they need to satisfy. When they think of fares as a source of revenue, they end up thinking just in terms of fare evasion rates, and not in terms of people who are discouraged from riding by rider-hostile policy. Agencies will make the passenger experience terrible to save trivial amounts of money: cutting the fare evasion rate by one percentage point, getting a few hundred thousand dollars a year in station naming rights, etc.

  3. Thinking about this some more. Supposedly, the policy went into effect according to one driver. But I haven't yet seen anyone forced to use the front door to exit the train. Last night at 9pm, as I described above, a late train finally arrived completely full, and the operator just waved the large waiting crowd on-board the rear doors.

    Presumably that will happen a lot at rush hour too. Which is when the bulk of the possible fare evasion happens. Typically, if one person tries to sneak on-board when it isn't crowded, they are noticed. But when it gets busy and hectic, that's when it's easy to board unnoticed. But this policy will only apply during off-peak times, which weren't the problem anyhow.

    There may not be any upside to this. It's purely political posturing.


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