My question relates to the relationship between frequency and capacity. In Boston on the MBTA … for many of the trains, there are 2 employees running the train. On the Green line, trains are 2 cars long, with a driver in the first, and in the second an operator responsible for opening and closing doors and making sure no one gets on without paying. For the other lines, the 2nd operator only has to open and close doors because you need to pay to get into the stations.To me, it seems like a waste to have to pay a second individual to open and close the doors. Outside of the highest frequency travel times, and even possibly during those, wouldn't it be better for travelers to have service twice as often even at half the capacity? Outside of the truly busy travel times, trains rarely run anywhere near capacity. Especially on weekends and in the evening, trains are never full but the less frequent service does not encourage those spontaneous transit trips that are so vital to urban life.
I am unaware of anything that non-driving on-board employees do that would be utterly impractical to automate today, the best evidence for which is that trams, streetcars, light rail, and heavy rail can be found operating with a single employee all over the world. (Fully grade separated heavy rail, of course, can also be run with zero on-board employees, liberating the agency to operate intense frequency even late in the evening.) Fare collection is increasingly handled by Proof of Payment systems which feature roving fare inspectors. While these fare inspectors have a cost, their number is not directly related to the number of vehicles in service, so they are not such a direct barrier to increases in service.
This is one of those issues that is intensely local, and where examples of experience from other cities just have trouble penetrating a local debate. It happens even in Europe. See for example the peculiar fare-collector job that exists on Amsterdam trams. A little cubicle placed at the middle of each tram contains an employee who serves as a cashier, selling tickets. Boarding and circulation on Amsterdam trams is awkward, and effective capacity much reduced, because you're required to board only at certain doors and exit at certain others.
This second employee on Amsterdam trams is, as near as I can tell, unique in Europe; everywhere else trams run with one employee (the driver) and roving fare inspection. Get a European transit professional going on how bizarre this Amsterdam practice is. It's great fun over a beer. But they can also explain, politically, why it will probably never change.
If readers know of recent stories where second employees have been successfully removed and retrained as drivers, thus allowing more service, please post a link in the comments.