One disadvantage of spending a lot of time working with/thinking about/talking about the trains is that it becomes easy to forget that just because something is obvious to me does not mean that it’s also going to be obvious to tourists or other people who don’t ride the trains often (why no, most people do not have the motto “Eat… Sleep… Run trains”).
Case in point: I was downtown last week on one of my days off, walking east on Morrison near the Pioneer Courthouse and Pioneer Place Mall. I crossed 5th Ave and saw a woman in a wheelchair on the westbound platform waiting up near where the lead cab of the train would stop. Looking further down Morrison, I saw the train that would be coming in had a Type 1 as the lead car.
So to save her (and the operator of that train) some time, I mentioned to the woman that the front car of the incoming train would have stairs and no ramp, so she would have an easier time boarding if she went further down the platform to where the low-floor would stop. She thanked me for letting her know and asked “How were you able to tell? I’ve never known where to wait to get on.”
I pointed out the windshield of the train: Type 1s, which are the only cars in the fleet with stairs and no bridgeplates, are also the only ones with a bevelled cab where the cab windows flank the windshield, making it look like the windshield is in three pieces. You can tell a Type 1 at a distance because all of the rest have a single pane windshield and the cab windows are on the sides. If you see a train with a 3-piece windshield coming in, then the front car of that train has stairs and the trailing car will be a low-floor with bridgeplates (this keeps every train ADA accessible).
I also said that since the cars with stairs are always coupled to a low-floor car with bridgeplates, the best place for people waiting to board with a mobility device is about halfway down the platform. That way, it doesn’t matter whether the leading or trailing car is the low-floor, the passengers will have at most half a car length to go to get to a door with bridgeplates. This is mentioned on TriMet’s webpage, but I don’t think it’s very well-known because I see a lot of people who will need bridgeplates waiting at one end of the platform instead of the middle (in which case they’ll need to go almost a car-length and a half, or roughly 140 feet, to get to a bridgeplate door if the end they’re waiting at gets a Type 1). Not a small distance to cover in a hurry!
Related to this, I went back and dug up a post I remembered of Al M‘s from a while back showing video of a TriMet board meeting where a panel gave a presentation on serving the needs of an aging society. One of the comments brought up during their talk (at about 40min 30sec in the video, I looked it up so you don’t have to) was that they wanted to see the low-floor car always in the same location on every train – by which I’m assuming they mean something like the trailing car will always be a low-floor so people with disabilities know where to wait for easier boarding. They thought this had “been addressed” but “apparently that’s not the case, it still moves around and makes it hard for people with disabilities to know where to be on the platform.”
My Twitter background. On the left, Train 9 had a trailing Type 1 coming in westbound to Hatfield; it will have a leading Type 1 going east to Cleveland
Looking at the video of the meeting, I don’t think anyone responded to this at the time, but the answer is that it does not work, practically speaking, to always have the low-floor car be in the same place. The alignment isn’t a loop on which the trains run in a circle which would allow the same car to always be in the front. At the ends of the lines, operators switch cabs – what had been the trailing car coming in is now the leading car going out. It’s not going to happen that a pit crew will be on hand to uncouple the cars, shuffle them, and recouple so that the cars will be in the same position going out as they were coming in (though that would be pretty cool, now that I think about it..) There really isn’t anything to “address” with this, aside from TriMet proactively educating people with disabilities on where to wait to board the trains. More outreach needed maybe?
One more thing about the bridgeplates that often isn’t known by people who aren’t regular MAX commuters is that the doors must be closed for the bridgeplates to deploy and retract. Many passengers who aren’t used to how the bridgeplates work will see the doors start to close and force them to reopen because they think they’re going to be left behind. This is how the doors are designed to work though, and the doors will reopen once the bridgeplate is extended. If you need the bridgeplate and the operator sees you, they can be deployed from inside the cab. This is faster than hitting the blue bridgeplate release button outside the train since you’d have to wait for the doors to close first. However, if the operator does not see you and deploy the bridgeplates for you, you can use that button yourself as long as the doors are open or on release. The doors will close, the bridgeplate will extend, and then the doors will reopen so that you can board the train.