New York City Transit is planning to redesign subway seating configurations based on observations of passenger behavior. Here is the caveat; this observation was NOT recorded during peak hours as it was stated that during peak hours it is difficult to make observations (really?). It was also stated that during rush hour passengers do not have a choice in sitting or standing. Yet, the behavior of passengers during off peak hours isn’t really all that astounding based on the fact that people value personal space. Maybe this observation should have been done during peak hours since most of the problem lies during that time frame.
The recommendations made by transit planners are as follows:
A) adding more vertical poles to the center of the subway car;
B) grouping transverse seating at both ends; and
C) positioning seats along the walls with partition separators.
Based on the elements in a subway car (seats, horizontal poles, vertical poles and doors) is a breakdown of what this observation has rendered…
Seats: First, passengers prefer to stand than to be sandwiched between two people for a seat or have straphangers hover over them. Second, many passengers opt out of an empty seat to stand closer to the nearest exit; exiting a train has become a race. Third, more people prefer to sit near partitions. These observations are pretty typical of what perhaps one would do, especially since sitting at such close proximity with strangers is not ideal. Passengers who stand near the door simply position themselves for faster egress because saving those precious seconds of standing up or walking from the middle of the car do count in NYC. Obviously seats with partitions are by far more popular than any other because of that little bit of extra privacy you’re getting.
Horizontal Poles: I can’t blame anyone for not hanging on to those since doing so puts you at a vulnerable position for getting pickpocketed, groped or yelled at by the occupant of the seat for hovering. Think about it, if you’re hanging on to that pole you’re pretty much positioned on top of the person sitting and that is not somewhere anyone would like to be if they are strangers. I guess I should also mention that horizontal poles aren’t really made with the shorter populace in mind either.
Vertical Poles: These seem to be the most popular and effective of elements in a subway car. Why? Well because for one everyone has easy access to them, two they are positioned away to avoid close proximity with seated passengers, three they assist in balancing better because your body can resist motion and four they are mostly located near the doors.
Doors: Considered to be the most crowded area on the train people relinquish any personal space or comfort when it comes to prime real estate near a door. Its simple…quicker egress. Being able to exit a train has become a race with people at the same time entering the train and the doors not allowing enough time for these two activities to take place. Perhaps this is the part that should be designed with efficiency in mind. I’m a frequent PATH rider and I’ve noticed that when I arrive at the 33rd street station the doors on one side of the train open to unload passengers then the doors on the other side open to load passengers. Amazing, it makes sense to design a system where people don’t have to face resistance when either entering or exiting a train rather gingerly being guided by common sense.
Perhaps extensive sociological studies of passengers may result in a totally radical design or be beneficial for a more efficient one as well as researching systems of circulation that work during rush hour. Furthermore, a generous approach would be to open the opportunity of design to the public and receive feedback from the people who utilize the system day in and day out.