Finding an optimum position in the Metro

On regularly using a network, one begins to see patterns, patterns that can be harnessed to one’s advantage. The Delhi Metro for instance looks chaotic, especially during rush hour, but there is some method to the madness. And if you’re like me getting squashed in the crowd, with nothing much to do than think, at some point you’ll think of how to minimize the squashing. Here’s how I do it.

delhi metro rush

-Rather than telling you what the optimum spot is, I shall give you a snapshot of the process of thinking through it. As the network evolves, you’ll have to evolve your strategy too.
-This stuff is pretty obvious. It’s quite likely that you’re doing some of this without very concentrated thought, in that case read the following as an articulation of those thoughts.]

When I started using the metro regularly, I was overwhelmed by all that was happening. Regulars rushing along paths deep imprinted in their memory, lost souls breaking the streamline flows of the former, people submerged in their phones oblivious to the world around, and then there were the babies and the bags… This was in stark contrast to the steely metro that held it all!

Within a few days I noticed there was some spaces that where relatively less dense than others. I had to crack the code – I had to be in those spaces. I’d stand at different places taking in the distribution of people – observing where there are more people and where there are less. (No, I did not count people and have solid data points and graphs. What I did have though, was an informal mental thermal map of the distribution – it’s easily observable).

I didn’t stop here because all I had was information for my daily route. I wanted information for all routes at all times. (I’m not all that bored to keep traveling on the metro to cover all routes and all times, there are smarter ways to going about it.) The smarter way is to explain the distribution I observed – find the reasons for those patterns and then extrapolate it to other routes and times when I encounter them.

Reasons like what you’d ask.

Reasons external to the metro – where you’d have to have an understanding of the city. What does the flow look like during rush hour – where are the high density hubs and at what time? Fairly obvious things like in the morning, people from residential areas will move to commercial areas eg. Mayur Vihar to Noida or Gurgaon. Regions busy throughout the day- market places like Chandni Chowk. Basically superimpose the metro route over the map of Delhi, and thanks to convenient station names, this isn’t a tough job.

Then there are reasons internal to the metro – for a particular station, where do people enter and exit the platform from, where are the elevators and escalators (people are incredibly lazy), where are the bottlenecks on the platform itself – look at the architecture of the station. Imagine possible routes people would take. Groups of stations along the line follow similar patters – so observe and extrapolate.

And finally reasons for our behavior. Apart from the above reasons, why do people stand where they stand, why do people do what they do. Put yourself in their shoes, and you’ll find some answers. People in a hurry who cannot wait for the next train will get into the door closest to them rather than walk a little distance for a slightly emptier coach. This means that coaches near the platform entry/exit points are more crowded. That’s fairly straightforward.

Some people figure this out and gravitate towards the first/last coach. You’d even see a bit of a crowd at the first door of the first coach or the last door of the last coach. You’ve got to be smarter! It’s like a Nash equilibria shift. Don’t pick the door at the end. If you’re at the door at the end of the train, people can move in only one direction once they enter (the other side is the driver’s cabin) – that reduces the possibilities of spread by half.

Picture the constraints, picture the possible routes, picture the flow of people.

Now while you are entering, which side of the door should you stand on?(Yes, I’ve thought of that as well) Narrow platforms impede movement through their length – like the Rajiv Chowk ground level platforms. People will move towards the entry/exit points. The mass of humans that exit move as a larger organism gravitating towards those points. Stand on the side that doesn’t get you in their way. That’s usually also the side people begin to line up at. Seems obvious, but people often stand in a line that is even just one person shorter when the lines are short

Once you’ve entered the coach, where do you stand? If you’re one of those who can’t get into a metro because it is stuffed to capacity, and look in longingly through the windows, you’ll realize there’s still space. People can barely move their fingers near the doors, but between the doors, in the middle of a longitudinal section, there’s still space. If you have a longish journey, that’s your spot.

Since the patterns keep shifting and factors keep evolving, optimal points/paths will keep shifting too. Understand the logic, observe and decide where to stand. Calibrate your position to the evolving network.

Why am I sharing this?
– Well, if people were more optimally distributed within the constrained space, the metro would function at better capacity, and travelers would have a better experience since they wouldn’t be as squashed as before.
– According to me, thinking about ways to optimize our choice (even simple ones like this) is a good exercise.
-And if not all that, hopefully I’ve guided your attention to spaces and flows influencing you.

Bon voyage to you!


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