If we were asked to name the one measure which would do the most to facilitate rapid transit on congested lines of suburban and city travel, we would unhesitatingly suggest the provision of separate entrances and exits on cars. For all our boasted alertness and freedom from tradition we are, even in America, very much the creatures of habit. The typical American car, of great length, provided with a central aisle, and having a door at each end, was admirably adapted to the necessities of the day in which it was invented; and, indeed, even at the present time, for continuous journeys where long runs are made without a stop, and communication throughout the length of the train is desirable, it still remains, all things considered, the best type of car. Three quarters of a century ago there was less congestion and greater leisure, and the delay of several minutes incidental to the exit of passengers, one by one, from the ends of the car, and the equally slow admission of the passengers who were boarding the car, was a matter of small moment. Certainly it worked no such hardship upon the public as it does in these times of strenuous haste. But the phenomenal growth of our cities, the equally remarkable increase in the percentage of people that travel and in the frequency of trips per individual, have rendered the once-useful end-door car about the worst possible type of conveyance for rapid transit. The spectacle of the whole of the traffic on the splendid subway system of this city being held up, as it is, at Forty-second Street to allow twenty or thirty people to file, one by one, through a narrow door, and then twenty or thirty other people to file in through the same door, is one of the most ridiculous anomalies to be found in the whole field of transportation today. Here was a case in which forty millions of the city's money was expended in producing what is, without exception, the very finest system of city rapid transit in the world. It was built of the best materials and equipped throughout with the most up-to-date plant available. No expense was spared in the purchase of costly real estate at street corners, in order to reduce the curves and allow the fastest possible speed to be made by express trains. And yet, when the subway was turned over to the operating company, its engineers deliberately proceeded to throttle down the system to about seventy per cent of its proper maximum capacity, by equipping it with the worst possible form of car that could be used. We smile contemptuously at the ox-car of the Hindoo, the jinricksha of the Japanese, and the passenger wheelbarrow of China; yet the conservatism which maintains these curios in existence is not one whit more hidebound than the perverse stupidity which put the end-door passenger car in our Subway. However, there is an end to all things, and there may be to this; for we are encouraged to note that the Hudson Companies are making provision, by the use of center doors and separate loading and unloading platforms, for the proper separation of passengers; and the Metropolitan Street Railway Company are about to achieve the same end, by placing on the streets cars with wide end-platforms, each of which has a separate entrance and exit door. It is but fair to the reputation of the last-named company, however, to state that, according to their own admission, they have been impelled to this momentous change by purely financial considerations, the primal object being the gathering in of a large number of nickels which at present arc lest to the company. Be that as it may, the operation of the cars will be accelerated, and the many discomforts attending the present single entrance will be avoided. To the Illinois Central Company and its former sagacious president is due the credit for the introduction into this country of what is unquestionably the best car for the rapid handling of passengers. We refer to what is known as the "side door" car; that is, one in which the seats are arranged transversely, with a door in the side of the car adjoining each seat. The advantages of this system are obvious; for on the arrival of a loaded train at a station the time of unloading is simply that occupied by four or five persons in passing out at one exit, as compared with thirty or forty persons, which must be discharged through each end door of the old type of car. Figures recently elicited from the management of the Illinois Central Railroad in answer to a request from the Merchants' Association of this city, show the time of stops at suburban stations has been reduced in some cases to one-fourth of that occupied when the old cars were in service.
This article was originally published with the title "Separate Entrances and Exits on Cars" in Scientific American 97, 24, 438 (December 1907)