Monday, January 16, 2012

New York Times Misses Reason Why NJ Transit Is Buying Double Decker Trains

Leave it to the New York Times to ignore the main reason why NJ Transit is committing to purchasing 100 additional double-decker railcars. While the Times focuses on seat width, it's all about maximizing capacity.

The Times focuses on the seat-width and notes that the behinds of passengers has grown and this is in response to the growing backsides of its passengers.
Each time an agency decides to purchase new trains or buses, it must consider whether to make its seats wider, knowing that a decision to do so could come at the expense of passenger capacity.

New Jersey Transit has a five-year plan to add 100 double-decker train cars that have seats 2.2 inches wider than the 17.55-inch seats found in its single-deck trains; the seating configuration has been changed to two seats on either side of the aisle, rather than three on one side and two on the other.

Amtrak intends to introduce “designs that will be able to accommodate the larger-sized passengers” on 25 new dining cars starting next year, said a spokesman, Cliff Cole.

But while transit agencies consider the needs of heavier passengers, they do not always yield to them.

Over the past half-century, the width of New York City subway seats has not changed much, said Marcia Ely, assistant director of the New York Transit Museum. If anything, the seats have occasionally gotten smaller — and immediately encountered resistance.

Joseph Smith, who retired in 2010 as a New York City Transit senior vice president who also oversaw bus operations in the city and on Long Island, said that the agency once had to abandon plans to introduce Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses, which are popular in Europe, after riders complained about too-narrow seats.
Seat width isn't the main reason that these double deckers are being ordered. It's capacity; both per car and per train; you can get more people through the Hudson River tunnels on the bilevel cars than the single level cars, and they are more efficient at handling the crowds.

The Bombardier bilevel cars can seat 142 comfortably, while the Comet V single level cars can sit a maximum of 117. The new cars sit 25 people more than the old ones, though some of the older Comet II, III, and IV cars can sit more than the 117 on the Comet V (due to the center door configuration, additional space at the end of each cars for disability seating, and lavatories.

The bilevel cars can functionally carry more people because hate sitting in the middle seat of the 3-2 seat combination found on the single level cars. Commuters would rather stand and block the aisles than make their way into the middle seats. At the same time, passengers look to spill over their belongings on to the middle seat so as to garner additional space to prevent anyone from using the middle seat. During rush hour, that means additional time to board and disembark from the trains.

The double deckers are designed to slightly increase the number of seats compared to the existing single level cars, and to do so in a manner that maximizes the number of people who will sit. There are no 3-seat rows, which means no one gets stuck in a middle seat, and it also makes the aisles wider, easing access. That the seats are slightly wider is almost an afterthought when the purpose is to maximize the number of seats on the cars.

The new double deck cars have a greater capacity than the older cars, and have two additional high level exits to facilitate stops at high level platforms to reduce dwell time. The single level cars often have a third door in the center of the railcar at high level, but those doors are susceptible to problems in cold/snow/ice conditions, and they reduce the number of seats per car. The new cars would solve these problems, and they further reduce the amount of equipment exposed to the elements that may cause problems in extreme weather events.

More people per train means that the trains are more efficient and can get more people through the Hudson River tunnels - a necessity since there's no way to build in additional capacity at this time.

Had the Times sought to focus on the rationale for buying the cars instead of imposing its view that obesity is the impetus for the purchase, they would be doing their readers a service. Instead, the Times put an ideological agenda ahead of the facts.

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