A research article in the science journal Plos One tackles the causes and solutions of "an aggregation of vehicles that causes inefficient service" -- in other words, the maddening situation in Boston in which four or five B Line trolleys pass while you're waiting for a C Line trolley. Or three Red Line trains pass in the outbound direction while you, late for work, wait for an inbound train.
The authors give some advice to mass transit managers, but the most interesting part of the paper is where they blame the passengers themselves and lay down some rules:
- If a crowded vehicle arrives at a station after a long waiting time, it is very probable that empty vehicles are coming close behind. Do not board the crowded vehicle, contributing to its further delay and of all the passengers within. If even some people follow this advice, it is likely that crowded vehicles will be able to go relatively faster, allowing the vehicles behind them also to go faster, improving the performance of the whole system. Waiting at the station for another vehicle might actually contribute to a faster trip.
- Give way to people descending a vehicle before boarding. Trying to “win” and enter before others will delay everybody. Sometimes waiting for a second or a third vehicle is faster than attempting to board a crowded one (especially in transport systems that allow passing).
- Inside a crowded vehicle, go far from the doors. Giving space to ascending and descending people will accelerate the travel. Make way to the doors not too long before exiting.
All of these make sense, and I practice them, but they'll never become universal behavior. Conductors on the T often promise that "another train is right behind this one," but passengers act on the assumption -- not unreasonably -- that the other train is going to seize up and die before making it into the station. (A trolley in the station is worth two in the tunnel...)
And there will always be people who force their way onto a train as soon as the doors open (and then act annoyed when people try to get out). As for someone who stands near the door in order to be the first to get off at his stop -- well, he's more important than you or me. If he weren't constantly telling himself that his time was more valuable than everyone else's on the train, he'd probably end it all by jumping on the third rail. And then you'd really see a bunch-up of trains.