Don't tell me not to run in the station

Don’t tell me not to run in the station.

Announce my platform well in advance so that if I reach the station in good time, there’s no need to hurry at any point.

Signpost my platform properly so I don’t have to run around as I struggle to find it.

Hire more staff. A 20-minute queue to buy my ticket turns “plenty of time” into “maybe I can make it if I sprint”.

For the same reason, get some ticket machines that work properly and don’t cause problems which take time to sort out.

Think about the point from which most people are likely to approach the train on the platform. Put the standard-class carriages at the place that’s most convenient for most people. A long line of empty first-class carriages is a barrier to boarding the train promptly without running.

Another barrier to not-running: a ticket-selling system that means there are serious consequences to missing your advance-booked train. Nobody’s going to run if they can just get on the next train...

...unless the next one isn’t for an hour. More frequent trains will also reduce running in the station.

Think about networks. Delayed trains eat into connection times and make people more likely to run. Reassurance that the connecting train will leave slightly later makes them less likely to run.

Don’t allow trains to leave early, because that teaches passengers to stop trusting the advertised departure times. It teaches them to be anxious and rushed even when on time.

There will always be people who run in stations because they didn’t allow enough time for their journey, because they’re careless about their safety, because they just like running. But a lot of the factors causing running in stations are structural.

You can remove most of those structural factors if you have a transport system that’s about the user. A transport system that’s about putting resources into helping people get where they want to go. More staff, more information, more integration.

Right now we have a rail system that’s about profit. It’s about milking the passenger (and the taxpayer) for as much money as possible while putting as little money as possible into the system. It’s a system in which delaying a connecting service has bad consequences for the train company (missing punctuality targets) and no good consequences (because they’re not rewarded for joined-up thinking). The system sets up situations in which passengers will miss connections unless they run. So they run.

First-class carriages are another symptom of the problem: if your goal is to help as many people as possible get where they want to go with a reasonable level of satisfaction, they make no sense. They’re a poor use of space and having to walk past them when the train is leaving in a few minutes tempts many people to – you guessed it – run. But from an economic point of view, they make total sense. (This may be a clue that there’s sometimes a clash between what makes sense economically and what makes sense in the real world inhabited by humans.)

We need a user-focused, integrated national rail system where resources are being put into it for the benefit of the passenger rather than extracted from it for profit. My personal (or should I say “political”?) views on how you achieve that aren’t relevant to this blog post. Because my point here is: if you genuinely want to reduce accidents caused by running in stations, you need to remove the structural causes of that behaviour. Until then, don’t tell me not to run in the station.

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