Mind the Doors!


I know that I’m way behind in blogging.  I have lots of different things to talk about, and different pictures to share, but little time to make it happen.  One of the things to post about that’s been on my list for a while, though, is this issue about the train door buttons.  Now, before you say anything, let me reassure you; I understand that I’m nuts, and that if this is my biggest problem in life then I’m doing pretty well, and so on and so forth.  BUT – this is a major pet peeve that just drives me nuts on a daily basis!

So, what is the issue?  Well, it has to do with the use of passenger-operated door controls on trains here in the UK (and, in fact, in most of the world) – and by trains I mean suburban/commuter/intercity, as opposed to metro/subway/underground.  What this means is that when the train stops at a station the on-board staff (driver or guard or conductor) enable/unlock the doors, activating the buttons for passengers to open them.  Typically a close button is also provided, although the closing function is usually done globally by the train staff before departure. 

The outside (open only) button on one of the typical trains that serves our station

Why do this?  Well, doors, as you might imagine, get a lot of wear on trains, and are a common failure that causes delays – not major delays (like those caused by bigger issues like electrical or signalling problems), but lots of little delays.  They are also, of course, a cost in terms of maintenance.  This arrangement means that doors are only opened (i.e. a door cycle occurs) if someone actually wants to get on or off the train at that door.  Also, this can keep the cool air in or out, depending on the season.  This is only worth it, of course, if there are enough instances where not all of the doors need to open – such as when long trains serve outer suburban areas with lower numbers of passengers, or trains operating in the off-peak direction where there are many fewer passengers. 

So, in theory, this is a good practice.  My problem has to do with the passengers.  Now, stick with me; on almost all trains, the buttons illuminate when active – in other words, they are normally not lit, but when they light up that means you can press the button and cause something to happen.  Often, there is a slight delay after the train stops before the doors are enabled, mostly so that the staff person controlling them can make sure that it is safe to open the doors (i.e. make sure the whole train is in the station, especially important where some stations have shorter platforms).  What DRIVES ME MAD is that people pay no attention to the system – they stand at the door repeatedly pushing the button, or just holding it in, without regard for the illumination.  The worst case, which I see probably once a week, is someone who pushes the button several times before it is illuminated, gives up, and just stands there after it is illuminated without pressing it. 

Is this system so difficult?  Sure, if you are a tourist or a train virgin, I will forgive you.  Perhaps you haven’t yet had a chance to observe this very simple system.  But for all those regulars – come on!  Now, I admit, it is perhaps illogical why this bugs me so much, but I think it is the lack of thinking or observation on the part of people.  I’ve started with the passive-aggressive bit, saying out loud “Gee honey, I think I’ll wait until the light comes on before I press the button” and stuff light that.  Of course, Astrid now toys with me by pretending to press the button over and over with increasing frustration before it is illuminated. 

This is admittedly rare, which I guess implies that the system is successful - but perhaps because of very repeated pushing by dumb passengers?

So, the battle carries on.  It is really better if I’m just not near the doors, so I can’t observe people being stupid about it.  Some of the newer trains that run on other lines have some new features, and I have to wonder if the train designers or planners involved share my issue.  Some trains have a chime that plays (usually three times) that occurs when the door buttons become active (illuminated), and one train class actually also plays an automated announcement that says “the door buttons are now active.”  What I want to know, and haven’t had the opportunity to observe, is whether these additional cues have an effect on people’s behaviour – I sure hope so. 

So, if you come to visit, please keep this in mind; of course, if you really want to get me (“take the piss”, as the Brits say), you will also know exactly what to do!

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Posted on 08/12/2010, in Silly British Things, Transit and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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