A committee of Metro's directors voted yesterday to approve the installation of video cameras on two trains to study how passengers move around the cars and to prepare for an experiment to remove seats to increase standing space.
By June, cameras would be recording all movements in two six-car trains rotating on the Red, Orange and Green lines, Metro officials said. The idea essentially is to replicate the techniques used in traffic studies, but to monitor the movements of people instead of cars, they said.
The patterns gleaned from the DVD recordings would be used as the baseline for a planned experiment to gauge how removing eight to 24 seats per car on two trains would affect the transit system and rider comfort.
Metro officials said the moves, if endorsed by the full Metro board, would represent a relatively cheap way to begin getting at a major problem: People congregate just inside the sliding doors, rather than moving deeper into the car, because they dread pushing their way back out when they arrive at their stop during the travel rush.
"We have to do something. We can't sit on our hands," Metro chief executive Richard A. White told members of the Metro board's Planning and Development Committee. He said it was "difficult to get on and off our trains. People are definitely scared to get outside that door area."
Yesterday's committee vote endorsed spending $160,000 to purchase and install the cameras and an additional $100,000 to analyze the resulting pictures.
The full Metro board is set to vote on the matter at a meeting scheduled for March 17. If final approval is given then, Metro officials will perform their study and present findings by November, at which time the board will need to vote again to authorize the removal of any seats for the second phase of the experiment, officials said. The second phase would cost an estimated $490,000, which includes $50,000 for consumer research.
Committee Chairman Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board, said the project has two goals: shortening the time that trains stay at stations waiting for passengers to embark; and making travel more comfortable for passengers as ridership expands faster than the system's resources.
Although Zimmerman said he would love a major increase in Metro funding for adding large numbers of trains and much new track, "everybody says there's no way to get the big solution."
"This board reflects the whole region's inability to move" dramatically to invest in Metro expansion, Zimmerman said. That leaves more modest efforts at improvement along the margin.
He said that if the experiments result in a more efficient way to use the train cars, Metro could increase its passenger capacity by 15 percent to 20 percent. The actual number will emerge from the experiment, Zimmerman said.
Jim Graham was the sole "no" vote on the camera plan. He questioned the cost and the wisdom of the preliminary study, saying it appeared aimed more at easing riders' fears about seat removal than at scientific inquiry.