RapidRide brochures encouraging faster boarding

The impending end of the Ride Free Area, by October next year, should end the debate on the much maligned back door use policy. Seattle will finally operate like all the other big city transit agencies in this country where there’s almost no question on which doors can be used to exit. But old habits are hard to change and passengers will need to be encouraged to use the back door to exit whenever possible to speed up everyone’s trip.

Metro updated the decals inside buses to reflect current door use policy. The decal above the back door now reads “In Ride Free Area, Use Front Door Only, 7 PM – 6 AM”. This is to cut down on fare evasion caused by people unaware of or ignoring the RFA’s 6 am to 7 pm hours. From my observations, many people are already using the back door to exit after 7 pm, following the natural desire to use the fastest way out.

There are many ways to inform. Some Sound Transit buses have a big “EXIT DOOR” sign above the back door. TriMet buses have a giant sticker on the ceiling pointing towards the back. Muni buses automatically announce “Please exit through the rear doors” everytime a stop is requested. That may be annoying to hear but it works. How about one of Metro’s APTA award winning signs with tips for a faster ride?

I’m sure that when Metro figures out the specifics on phasing out the Ride Free Area, there will be a strong public awareness campaign backed up with strong enforcement.

Background on the policy change below the jump.

Following up on my first followup and original post on the back door policy, I asked Metro’s Linda Thielke a few more questions. I hope this clarifies the issue for you.

1. When and why was the original policy changed?

The policy was changed in response to a serious operator assault that occurred on Jan. 23, 2010. The policy was changed on Jan. 28, 2010 in an attempt to reduce future potential conflict between operators and customers over use of the rear door after 7 p.m.

The current policy has been in effect for almost two years but only until recently have customers been informed, leading to confusion. I became aware of the change after Matt Loar pointed out, almost a year ago, a section in The Book (Metro transit operator’s manual) that essentially permits any door exit after 7 pm. Since customers didn’t know of the change, they assumed that exiting through the back door after 7 pm was an occasional exception to the rule and thus never bothered to tell Metro that the signs were wrong and that some drivers were following one of two conflicting rules.

2. How were transit operators notified of the policy change?

Operators were notified of this change by Operations Bulletin #3406. These bulletins are posted in all transit bases and are required reading for operators.

3. Will there be any reminder of the policy change to operators who “didn’t get the memo”?

Yes. Operations Bulletin #3509 dated July 29, 2011 has been issued. In addition, The Book has been revised to reflect the policy change.

Jim O’Rourke, Metro Operations manager also issued another reminder bulletin sometime in August that states:

Rear doors should be used to deboard customers whenever a customer requests such in “pay as you enter” operations. The only exception to this is the Ride Free Area between 7:00PM and 6:00AM, where front doors should be used for boarding and deboarding. While you may use rear doors to deboard customers when in a “pay as you leave” situation when a bus is too crowded for front door only use, you must instruct customers to come to the front of the coach to pay fares. Rear doors may also be used whenever you have a security concern, regardless of the above rules.

4. What is the process after a customer files a complaint against a driver regarding (real or perceived) policy violations?

The Customer Information Office (CIO) office identifies the operator based on the complainant’s information and assigns a category to each comment within pre-established groupings. The CIO forwards the complaint to the operator’s base chief via the Metro Customer Services database. The chief follows up on the complaint. The follow-up process varies depending on the nature of the complaint and the comment received. Guidelines are provided to the chiefs. The operator is notified of the complaint via a “see-me” slip. In the majority of cases, the operator meets with the chief to discuss the complaint. Serious and disciplinable complaints are investigated further. Discipline is issued per the policy. Chiefs enter a response into the MCS database after meeting with the operator and/or conducting an investigation. The CIO office responds to customers as appropriate.

A reader forwarded to me a Metro Customer Information response with incorrect information as recently as August 24. I received a similar response on August 10. As of last week the same driver on the 255 that I complained about is still requiring front door exit after 7 pm. At the back door of his bus was this conflicting set of three signs, one official stating the correct policy in the right location, one official stating old policy in an odd location for this kind of bus, and one hand made taped to the door window. Sigh…

5. When will Metro Online be updated with correct information?

The webmaster is in the process of updating this information in multiple locations on Metro Online. It should be done later this month.

Since receiving this response on August 5, Metro Online has been updated (How to Ride page, Ride Free Area page, Fares page).

6. Under what circumstances an operator is required to not open the back door?

In the Ride Free Area between the hours of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., the front door only is to be used except if there are safety or security concerns.

7. If an operator decides to not open the back door, what are they required to do (e.g. state policy, state reason, etc.)?

Operators are instructed to inform customers when conditions change, such as the rear door becomes inoperable, they need to pay as they exit, etc.

8. How many customer complaints over the past year were related to issues with the back door policy?

The CIO received one complaint related to rear door policy in the last year [as of August 5]. Seven complaints were received concerning overloaded coaches and drivers not opening the rear door.

39 Replies to “Getting People to Use the Back Door”

  1. Any time an agency has this much trouble getting an accurate explanation of it’s own policy to its own employees, let alone its customers, there’s something wrong with at least the policy.

    Mark Dublin

    1. As a former Metro driver of 13 years and an Executive Board member of ATU Local 587, I can tell you with no reservations that so-called “policies” mean nothing to Metro management.

      Sure there are drivers with attitude problems. Some of them as a result of years of abuse at the hands of both the riding public as well as the managers they work for.

      No matter the policy, no matter where it appears, when it comes to a difference of opinion between driver and passenger, when management gets involved, the driver is almost always wrong. I saw this happen time and time again. Even supervisors could decide to blatantly break policies designed to assure a driver’s safety with no fear of discipline. It was always the driver holding the short end of the stick.

      The driver is between a rock and a hard place in following Metro policy and serving the public.

  2. Un-expletive believable that Customer Service was not informed.

    Oran, did you ever submit a complaint about that hand-created note on the 255?

      1. I had to complain several times to Metro before the issue of busses skipping a stop inside the Shoreline P&R was resolved. Some drivers (and I mean a small few) have a bad attitude towards customer complaints, or are just stubborn, and tend to ignore them. It’s a shame, but it is.

      2. That sign is no different than one saying “Fare $5, Pay Driver Directly”. Operators can’t just print up signs and start enforcing their own personal policies. Complain about that driver as often as you need to, which is to say until he gets the message and stops this sort of behavior. If he can’t abide by Metro policies, he needs to quit, or talk to his union, or something. But not this.

        And, personally, if I ever get on that operator’s bus, that sign would be torn down darn quick.

      3. Metro pays the driver to do a job. That job involves allowing passengers to exit through the rear door outside the RFA past 7pm. If the driver refuses to perform the duties of the job, Metro shouldn’t be paying the driver.

  3. Oran’s posting deserves more reader response. Must have been a rough weekend. Regular readership knows what I think about everything, but I’ve seen this problem of door-and-fare policy from both seats, driver and passenger, for a long time, so maybe I can help.

    As a driver, I always felt that it put me in danger of an assault to force anyone to walk by me to get off the bus- anywhere in the system. And as a passenger, I find it infuriatingly discourteous to force me to use any door but the most convenient one.

    From both perspectives, I don’t think the money lost in Downtown Seattle due to deliberate fare evasions comes close to the money lost through the aggravation caused by this added inconsistency to an already counter-intuitive fare policy.

    Calculation: what is cost of one operating hour for a bus? If it’s $100, then every minute the bus is standing still costs $1.67. Ten instances cost over $17. Get my point?

    If after-7 fare evasion via the back door is that bad of a problem, Metro needs to add some “emphasis” security presence, just to let everyone know the system cares about the problem.

    A lot of things are long overdue to get fare collection out of the way of service. But this one can be done with one simple bulletin: “Passengers who have paid fares or shown passes will leave by any door they choose, safety permitting.”

    Word to Dow Constantine and your County Councilmember.

    Mark Dublin

  4. When a bus has 3 doors, is there a separate policy concerning the use of the middle door. It’s neither the front or the back door.

    1. Yes.

      Between 7 PM and 6 AM, you may exit by the middle door as well, but only if you first high-five the nearest seated passenger, then walk backward off the bus.

  5. Most buses in Germany have turnstiles at the front door that strongly discourage front exits. Of course, most buses in Germany also have sensible fare policies and reliable schedules, but hey, ya gotta start somewhere.

  6. I hope that systemwide pay-as-you-enter will finally clear this up. I’ve never filed a complaint with Metro about anything an operator has done, but I’ve been forced to muscle my way to the front of a crush-loaded 48 many times during daylight hours – a pay as you enter route.

    I have a hunch that many operators choose not to allow back door use in areas they feel have a high rate of fare evasion. The 48 around Garfield High, and the 14 through Little Saigon are the most common places I personally see this, even with crush loaded buses.

    I had never thought about the service-hour costs of this, but now that Mark brings it up it seems like a serious concern (and I think the number is actually $89/hr, btw). When I’m elbowing my way from the back door to the front of a packed 60′ coach, the boarding passengers are waiting on the curb for a good 30-60 seconds for me to get off. Add up those delays for every stop while the bus is crowded – that’s quite a bit of delays.

    1. I’ve seen that at the stop behind Hale as well. Every time the operator announced “please exit through the front door at the next stop” before we rolled up.

  7. There is no reason for those decals to be on the inside of the bus at all. If folks are already on the bus in the RFA 7PM-6AM, they already paid when they got on. There’s no fare for them to evade. And passengers shouldn’t have to remember whether their stop is in the irregularly-shaped RFA if it’s after 7PM since for all practical purposes the RFA doesn’t even exist. If a passenger rarely goes downtown during the day, they’d have absolutely no way of knowing where the RFA begins or ends.

    The only place those decals make sense is somewhere outside the coach, since fare-evaders would be those trying to get on via the rear door in the RFA 7PM-6AM. And indeed the decals are posted on the outside of the door. But when a bus pulls up, no one stops to read decals on the door, they just try to get on. And, of course, if they’re set on evading a fare, it won’t really matter what the signs say.

    It seems to me the only really reasonable place for these decals is on RFA bus stops signs, right next to the decals that indicate the stop as being in the RFA. But make ’em nice and big, two or three times the size of the current RFA decals on stops. “Board by front door only, 7PM-6AM”. If passengers are deboarding in the RFA, open the back doors and try to close them as soon as possible. (Or, you know, Metro could just start ordering push-to-exit doors.) If someone manages to sneak on, let ’em—fare enforcement isn’t the operator’s job. They can call for assistance if they want someone to kick the freeloaders off, or they can just drive. And when the freeloaders want to get off, let ’em off through the same back door they came in through. No conflict, no delay.

    1. Yeah, the decals should still be on the inside–the driver won’t be opening the rear door on inside the RFA, and the sign lets the passenger know that the door won’t open there.

      1. Right. What I’m saying is that the driver should be opening the rear door in the RFA, since 7PM-6AM all of King County, including the RFA, is a “pay-as-you-enter operation” (as Jim O’Rourke terms it). Not letting people off through the rear does nothing to prevent fare evasion when a bus is pay-as-you-enter; if it does prevent fare evasion, it does so equally outside the RFA 7PM-6AM as inside the RFA 7PM-6AM. All pay-as-you-enter buses should be exit-through-the-rear, period. And all buses in the RFA 7PM-6AM are pay-as-you-enter.

      2. I agree with pay-enter, exit-rear at all times. However, the existance of the downtown RFA and its limited hours creates confusion and Metro used that to justify this exception.

        That’s why we need real fare enforcement and a firm message: No more free rides.

      3. @Oran it would also be nice if people got their belongings gathered and ready to go (if not even standing at the door) by the time the bus arrived at the stop so they are ready to quickly get off the bus when the doors are opened. Theres nothing worse than having the coach stop, and waiting for someone to slowly gather their stuff up and than get off the coach…

      4. The exception in the soon-to-be-former RFA is probably to avoid troublemakers getting on the bus via the back door when other people get off.

  8. I had a bus driver about a month ago who kept yelling at everyone trying to use the back door, “Front door only after 7!” He was incredibly loud and rude about it, and when I finally told him that Metro changed that policy long ago, he got mad at me, too. Metro is not doing a good job of communications if drivers still don’t know the new policy after a year and a half.

    1. Another perspective combining old and recent personal experience:

      Reason I stress directing critical observations to elected King County politicians is that, literally, they and their immediate predecessors petitioned the public for the responsibility.

      Throughout the years of construction on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, the King County Council waged a concerted and determined effort to essentially take over the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, the independent public agency in charge of public transit and water quality.

      Much like Sound Transit now, Metro was run by a governing board comprised of elected officials from the local governments in its service area. One of the chief arguments for the proposed change was that service would benefit from directly-elected representatives governing the system.

      The voters agreed- as voters’ county representatives need to be reminded every time they simply forward complaints back to Metro.

      In my own driving days, the way I looked at drivers who mistreated passengers was that they were threatening my own income. Today’s antagonized passenger is next election’s Tim Eyman voter.

      Personally, though, given policies like the elimination of recovery time this last shake-up, based on the word of an auditor, it’ll be a long time and a real outrage before I file a formal complaint against a driver.

      Transit driving occasionally legitimately requires superhuman effort. But to be entitled to demand it, policymakers need to be sure operating people are treated like humans.

      Mark Dublin

      1. So why have people been saying Metro’s former structure was unconstitutional and it had to merge with the county?

      2. The old Metro’s board of directors was established by the Legislature back in the ’50’s, and the result was that the board grew in membership with every new city incorporated. When it was disbanded, the board was about the size of the state senate (49 members).

        And the old Metro board did come afoul of the US Supreme Court’s decision in the New York City Board of Estimate case, although I don’t recall if it was actually adjudicated, or whether local officials acted on their own knowing what the outcome would be in court.

        BTW I’ve never read anything by Mark Dublin that wasn’t 100 percent on the money. Good work as always, my friend.

    2. Mark, great comment. And as per your and Oran’s suggestion, I will be contacting politicos about rider experience issues.

  9. So does this apply to Metro operated Sound Transit routes (like the 550)? I’m pretty sure the 550 I boarded this afternoon had something about how riders must enter through the front doors between 7p and 6a on the outside of the back door.

  10. Go to HistoryLink.org and type in “Metro Transit” for good background. Have to admit serious personal prejudice over events leading up to the end of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, chiefly from this perspective:

    In the middle of an unprecedented transportation project, an enormous amount of the very attention required to manage the project was diverted to matters that had nothing to do with it.

    Countless critical decisions about the day-to-day management of the Downtown Seattle Project either didn’t get made, or got made badly, excuse being the issue of “governance”, a word I still hate.

    The necessary changes in electoral representation could have been achieved without ending the agency. And the whole matter could have been settled without prejudice to anyone’s rights after the Tunnel was completed.

    But like everything else I write or say, this truly is one man’s opinion, which by reflex should be checked against as much history as possible. Greatest thing about the internet is how easy this is to do.

    Mark Dublin

  11. Is Metro going to all pay-as-you-board next October? Or will RapidRide continue to have some off-board payment? Or will the Central Business District become a mandatory off-board payment zone? Or will there be another confusing mish-mash of payment systems depending on where and when you are?

  12. To help prevent people jumping in the coach through the rear door, they should reconfigure them to be switchable inbetween driver operated and passenger operated. Have them driver operated on coaches that run the RapidRide and in the RFA while it still exists, and passenger operated outside those areas/times. Most coaches already have the CLASS system installed, simply reprogram its operation, and install the nessasary drivers toggle switch and passenger indicator lamp, which its probally all controlled through the coach’s PLC anyway so it shouldent be too hard of a job on most of the coaches. For those without CLASS, i’m sure it would be an easy retrofit at the same time the doors are reconfigured, and only apply to a couple hundred coaches since the 2300s, 3200/4100, and 4200’s are scheduled to be retired and replaced in the coming years.

  13. “Metro updated the decals inside buses to reflect current door use policy.” Correction. Metro updated the decals inside some buses, but not all.

      1. I rode on a bus yesterday and the decal on the back door read “Use front door only 7 PM – 6 AM.” So it’s incorrect to say Metro has updated the decals inside buses to reflect current door use policy. They’ve only done it on some buses.

    1. There was a decal at the back door on my 131 tonight saying “Front door only after 7 pm.” The operator was stern about not letting anyone out the back door, so loading at Burien TC took about 2-3 minutes.

  14. As my my friend said “can’t we all get along” The world is being ran by lawyers and want to be lawyers include every man women and child now adays.I have to defend myself daily from the passenger that does not really understand the situation to the city counsil member that does not know how bad it is. And I don’t get complaints does that mean Iam smart good driver, today Iam but I will be on gaurd tomorrow cause common sense and common courtiesy is out the window cause everyone has their own way & world they are in and I get to walk that line.”Oh but you chose that profession” yes I did and I still injoy it. But comunication is the key “not easy”.

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