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At the Keilaniemi station. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

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Before Christmas, I traveled the whole length of the metro, from west to east and back again. Opened to a big fanfare, the eight new underground western stations are great, each one a different architectural theme to reflect the designs of buildings in the area on the surface. For example The Aalto University stop has a bronze toned metal ceiling reflecting the copper and bronze incorporated into the red brick campus above ground.

The western extension is deep underground to travel under the sea, avoid the cold winter weather and it keeps the fast transit system out of sight. However, going so deep down has a few disadvantages; the initial cost is high, and more relevant to the people using the system, the escalator and lift (elevator) runs are long. It takes time to get down from street level to the new stations, and I am not sure if the authorities realize this, especially since of January 3 when the Espoo to Helsinki direct buses now only go the metro hubs of Matinkylä and Tapiola.

Crowded escalators. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Feedback from the many people I have spoken to on my travels was mixed.  Those that live near the new stations think the metro is fantastic, it is now much quicker for them to get to work or where they need to be in Helsinki. Ronak Thakkar originally from India, now lives in Matinkylä and works in Keilaranta, was full of praise for the authorities and government putting all this investment into infrastructure. “Very pleased to be working in such a country.” His journey to and from work is so much quicker than the buses used to be.

Folks that live further from the metro who have had their direct buses to Helsinki diverted to a feeder station are the most disgruntled. My wife and I use the bus stop about half-way along a major road from the Länsiväyllä motorway towards Espoo Keskus.  Often when traveling from the central Helsinki bus station at Kamppi, the one bus journey would take about 20 minutes.  Now with the introduction of the metro, the bus takes us to Matinkylä and adds between 10 and 15 minutes to the journey, depending on how long the wait is at the change of transport mode.

Imagine the commuters dismay to discover that apart from the above delay at the Matinkylä station there are only two of the three escalators going one way, and they are always going upwards. So, in the morning rush hour, there is a long queue to get from bus to the top of the escalators. Often the lift is much quicker!

[alert type=white ]From my simple observations, the escalators appear to be traveling at the maximum of 0.75 meters per second, 2.7 kilometers per hour, the speed of a slow walk.[/alert]

Rush hour at the Matinkylä station. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Last week I have been watching queues to get to the bottom of the disquiet in the commuting community. Maybe things could be improved by simply ensuring the two same direction escalators go in the direction of maximum traffic flow at different times of the day. From my simple observations, the escalators appear to be traveling at the maximum of 0.75 meters per second, 2.7 kilometers per hour, the speed of a slow walk. That may be fine for people in a shopping center thinking of their next purchase, but the metro is supposed to be a “fast transit” system and so there are folks walking up and down the moving escalators indicating their frustration at the speed. Are they really in such a rush or just keeping fit?

However, I feel the problem may be deeper rooted than just the maximum speed of the shaft escalators.  Matinkylä station appears to be not designed for the volume of people that are converging there. The numbers of new apartments in the area has ballooned to coincide with the arrival of the metro and the station could probably cope with the local population easily.  However, it doesn’t cope well with the addition of being a major bus terminus like Kamppi in central Helsinki.  Kamppi has three escalators at each end of the metro station platform and there are brief queues too during rush hour as each train discharges passengers. Outside of rush hour, the system works fine but apparently, the Espoo politicians are worried and considering putting a few direct buses back on the road especially after last week’s metro failures.