Yes, about those TriMet “Open door” buttons…

You know, I have other drafts in the works, but I keep getting sidetracked by current events.

Old picture, but a good one.  Who knew those little buttons would cause so much strife?

It’s come to my attention that Joseph Rose, writer for the Oregonian, did a piece on the door buttons.*  I’ve read it and reread it a couple of times, and… I can’t make heads or tails of it.

Says Joseph:

“What’s the point if having ‘door open’ buttons on the outside of MAX trains? It seems like every time a child gets separated from an adult at a station, there’s a surveillance video of someone desperately trying to get the train’s doors to open by pushing those buttons. They never work.”

What we have here is a basic misunderstanding of coming and going.
Of course, TriMet hasn’t done a bang-up job of educating the public about when we can and can’t use those buttons. Basically, they’re designed to work when MAX is coming. Or, more precisely, when it has arrived.

That buttons [sic] are for the rare times when a light rail train pulls into a station and its sliding doors don’t deploy. Hit the button and they should hiss open like they’re on the Starship Enterprise.

Says I:

I can only assume, given that Rose quotes a conversation with TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch later in the article, that he got this information from her.  

Too bad it’s wrong.

Go ahead, give that a shot the next time you’re at a platform and an out-of-service train stops there. Push the button on the outside of the train and see if the doors hiss open like the Starship Enterprise.  Tell Picard and Data I said hi.

No, all you’ll get for your trouble there is the operator coming over the external PA to say “This train is not in service.”

As I’d said before, those buttons only work when the operator puts the doors on release. If they’re not on release, hit the button all you want and the door still won’t open.  If you don’t know what “on release” means, go look. Seriously, I got pictures there and everything!  I’m trying to help!

Released interior door buttons on a Type 4

But since in Portland people are accustomed to the train pulling in and the doors opening, the doors are rarely on release at platform unless the train gets held there for whatever reason. Your friendly neighborhood rail operator will be taking care of all door operations for you.  And if s/he doesn’t put the doors on release, the buttons aren’t going to do a thing. So I’m trying to figure out what times Rose is referring to when he says a train rolls into a platform and doesn’t open the doors.  If the train is out of service, the operator is going to keep the doors closed, so they won’t be on release.  If the operator forgets to hit the door open button (it can happen, though it’s rare), then I really doubt that they would’ve somehow thought to hit the release button.  Or maybe they opened the doors on the non-platform side of the train (oops) but that’s still not going to have an effect on the release door buttons on the platform side.  So… I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I’m assuming it’s information he got from Mary Fetsch, which was either given incorrectly or misinterpreted before it went to press.

The kicker, of course, is that Fetsch is an official representative of TriMet, so her information is supposed to be considered the accurate and approved TriMet response to questions when released by the press, so by that logic I guess what Rose wrote has to be correct.  I, on the other hand, cannot/do not represent TriMet or light rail operators/operations.  My blog is sort of like the lottery or psychic hotlines – at best it can be considered for entertainment purposes only since I can’t claim anything on here to be official TriMet information.  Doesn’t matter that neither Fetsch nor Rose has operated a MAX train, and likely neither one has spent time in the cab of one for anything more than a photo op.  If even that.

And I guess while we’re at it, let’s address the bolded part of Rose’s column. Here’s a “best practice” for you – if you are traveling on MAX with a small child, hold onto them as you get on and off the train, and mind them while you are on the train. It’s not even just about the risk of being separated from your child by closing train doors – it’s not safe for them to be running around near a train.  Period.  I promise you the operator really does not want to run your child over, but if a child is small enough to dart away from you when you don’t hold on to them, then they’re small enough to put themselves in danger around a train.  Please keep your kids safe around trains and other vehicles!

*Update 06-27-10: I see now that Rose updated his post earlier today to reflect that the doors need to be on release and the train needs to be in-service for those buttons to work.  Much better!  And for reference – Old J. Rose article and New J. Rose article

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4 responses to “Yes, about those TriMet “Open door” buttons…

  1. Obviously you posted this to Rose’s article right?
    Or should I go do it for you?

  2. sometimes the doors are closed at the end of the line, while waiting to leave again.That’s when the door button is useful. Wish we coukd close them when its cold!

    • Yep, doors are put on release at the end of the line to keep the doors shut if no one wants to get on, which keeps in the warm (or cool, in the summer) air. Only the 4s will automatically reclose a released door that’s been opened; in the rest of the fleet the doors stay open until the operator closes them.

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