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I hope this isn't a silly question but I've been watching TNG and this bothers me.

The transporter 'pad' area is relatively small. As a guess, maybe 12 people can fit on it. But the vast majority of times it's being used by 2-3 people.

However, the transporter is able to beam people from anywhere on the ship to anywhere (within some distance I presume). It's fairly common for them to perform a transport directly to the bridge.

So, why is there an actual room?

If a three man away team is to beam down to the surface of a planet - why do they have to walk all the way to the transporter room, then stand on the pad to get down there? Why not simply beam them from where they are, to the surface. The ship's computer is able to locate anyone on board.

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Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/q/5114/51 –  DampeS8N Sep 17 '11 at 1:38
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@RobP.: If one of the answers works for you, please consider selecting it as your chosen answer. That gives you a couple points, but also lets someone who put some time into it know their answer helped. –  Tango Jan 5 '12 at 0:55
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3 Answers

up vote 50 down vote accepted

Of course for all things Star Trek Memory Alpha has the answers.

Regarding transporter pads:

The transporters installed on Earth's NX-class starships featured one large circular pad that took up the entire platform. It was large enough to transport two to three people, provided they stood close together.

By the 23rd century, Federation transporter platforms featured multiple independent pads, typically six in a hexagonal configuration. One- and two-pad platforms were also available.

This became something of a standard layout for Federation transporters well into the next century. As an example, the platforms used on board Galaxy-class starships had the familiar six individual pads, with an over-sized pad (in the center of the platform) that could handle small cargo.

Why make them walk to the transporter pad?

The outer hull of a starship incorporated a number of emitter pads for the transporter beam.

At least initially they created a beam from the pad in the transporter room, which would then travel through a beam created from the hull. There wasn't a beam emitter that pointed towards the inside of the ship. As a result of this:

In the mid 2260s, beaming from a transporter pad to a location within the same vessel was a very risky proposition. The limitations of the technology at that time made it highly probable that any error would result in the subject rematerializing within a bulkhead, deck, or other structure.

Eventually they resolved these technical issues:

By at least 2268, limitations in pattern buffer and targeting scanner technology had been sufficiently overcome that it was now possible to transport from one location directly to another without the need to re-materialize the subject in between. (TOS: "A Piece of the Action") In the 24th century, this operation was enabled and controlled by the site-to-site transport interlocks. (TNG: "Brothers")

Site-to-site transport holds the matter stream in the pattern buffer while the ACB was re-targeted. Afterward, the matter stream was redirected to the new location and normal re-materialization was carried out.

This technique could only be utilized when sufficient energy was available to the transporters; all normal transporter limitations would still apply.

Based on the last part they probably where expected to normally conserve energy. It is typically in emergency situations that you see people using site-to-site transports (such as to sick bay).

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Excellent answer. One additional note is that each ship also typically had several cargo transporters in the cargo bays which consisted of one large pad for transporting cargo, so it wasn't just the one man pads you usually see in the shows. –  BBlake Sep 17 '11 at 1:03
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Might be a good idea to summarize more of this and have less of it be direct quotes to the source text. –  DampeS8N Sep 17 '11 at 1:42
    
Finally, weren't the armoury and storage of medkits and tricorders stored in rooms next to the transporter rooms, so away team would need to visit to pick up gear. Even the medical few don't routinely carry medical recorders when just walking around the ship. –  ewanm89 Jan 2 at 2:37
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The pad acts as a relay.

When a character is on a planet and wants to be transported directly to the bridge, they beam him to the transporter room buffer, and instead of materializing him there, they materialize he in the bridge.

That's why sometimes they don't use the transporter room.

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Aside from cultural formality and security concerns(especially with unknown/hostile races): '*Why use the door when you can use the window?', there were also energy concerns:

The main operator can likewise send those in transport anywhere with ease. A possible explanation for this is put forward in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, where such site-to-site transports would probably use twice as much energy as would be required for transport to or from the transporter room itself, since the subject would have to be beamed to the transporter, stored, then shunted to their destination.

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