In the future, rush hour trains with no seats at all


For the vast majority of rush hour subway commuters, getting a seat is the Holy Grail of the ride home. That seat provides us riders with our own too-small space underneath the packed masses of disgruntled cube dwellers trying to make their ways to or from work in a train that’s too crowded, too hot, too slow and not on time. That seat is a beacon of hope, individuality and space in a place where, all too often, those three traits are noticeably absent.

But with if those seats were gone? What if, instead of standing expectantly above a seat waiting for that person to get off at DeKalb Ave. or Rockefeller Center or 68th St., those seats simply didn’t exist at all in the subway? Could more people fit into the trains at rush hour? That’s what New York City Transit head Howard Roberts is wondering, and he plans to find out.

In a pilot program announced over the weekend and set to debut in five-to-seven months, NYC Transit will be eliminating seats from some rush hour subways an in effort to combat over-crowded subways. Pete Donohue had more:

The agency is planning a pilot program featuring a train with flipup seats in four of 10 cars. The flipup seats will be locked in the up position during rush hours, meaning everyone inside the car will have to stand, the Daily News has learned.

“Each car will be able to carry more people,” NYC Transit President Howard Roberts said of the no-sitting strategy. “It means more capacity. It gives the ability to pick up more people, and have fewer people left on the platform waiting for the next train.”

After rush hours, workers will unlock the flipup seats for riders to use, Roberts said.

Right now, the MTA is still attempting to work out logistics of this program. The NYCT chiefs do not yet know which lines will enjoy these seatless cars, and officials aren’t sure of the long-term prospects of the plan. But those in the know believe two things to be: More people will fit into the cars, and passengers won’t like this plan.

It’s hard to argue with the former point. With seats gone, people will squeeze into every available inch of a train car. No one will sit with their legs spread open as annoyed and tired commuters glare uselessly in that person’s direction. No longer will people sit on top of each other for seats; instead, they’ll stand too close to each other.

It’s the second statement — Gene Russianoff’s assessment that passengers won’t like this plan — from which I dissent. If the MTA adheres to the NYCT plan and keeps six out of ten cars with seats, passengers looking to take a load off can still gamble in those cars. Sure, it may mean more people rushing for seats, but I, for example, could rarely if ever get a seat from W. 4th to 7th Ave. along the BMT line. I would be happy to find a car without those annoying seats that jut into the car so prominently featured on the R68s.

The folks who stand to lose are the aged and infirm who can’t stand up for the duration of their subway rides. The folks who stand to lose are those who get on early enough and ride far enough to get a coveted seat on the way home. The folks who stand to gain are the rest of us, and outside of rush hour, when the seats will be flipped down, nothing will seem changed. The needs of the many — space in a train on the way home — outweigh the needs of the few who want seats for their short commutes at the end of the day.

8 Responses to “In the future, rush hour trains with no seats at all”

  1. Kai B says:

    Now all we need are some white-gloved train loaders ala Japan. They’d enable the fitting of an additional 20% more people!

  2. Peter says:


  3. KaiB says:

    In all honesty though, there is also the problem of the bars hanging from the ceiling. If you are over 5’10” you’re not getting into that extra space without ducking. I’d be hitting my head all the time.

    Or are we going back to straps?

  4. Boris says:

    I’m a bit skeptical about the locks they will use to keep the seats up. Consider how often you see first stop/last stop signs set incorrectly (the ones that have to be wound manually). And that’s just one or two per car. Many station clocks are wrong, and they need to be set probably at most once a year.

    Depending on how the locks work- whole row at once, every individual seat, how many turns of the key, etc- there may be many irregularities with those seats. They may be either available or unavailable at the wrong time, in more or fewer than 4 cars, etc. And there may be a proliferation of picks or copied keys to unlock the seats.


  1. […] weeks ago, we talked about the MTA’s plan to install flip seats in subway cars in order to maximize rush hour train capacity. Today, The Times takes a look at the […]

  2. […] the MTA announced plans for a seatless car experiment in August, Boston’s MBTA has beaten them to the punch. As the Daily News reports today, some […]

  3. […] combat overcrowding during peak travel times, the MTA proposed last August to remove seats from some trains during rush hour. At the time, it appeared as though the MTA would unveil a trial train car by […]

  4. […] a single car by removing seats. That’s the path New York City Transit first started to follow in April 2008 when the agency announced a pilot that see seats removed at rush hour. Now that this train car is […]

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