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.
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.
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.