Plea from obese guy: Fix the seating on the new rail cars

Plea from obese guy: Fix the seating on the new rail cars

A regular reader of CTA Tattler wrote me last week to share this letter that he wrote the CTA after riding on the new prototype Series 5000 rail cars. I agree with his assessment and his proposed solution. His letter:

I have been a rider of the CTA every workday for nearly 13 years.

Today, I had my first opportunity to ride the new subway cars that the CTA ordered and are now testing out on the Red Line.

Series 5000 rail car seats.jpg

Photo by Ben Meyerson

I beg you to carefully read this comment, as my statement is a problem
that a very large number of Chicagoans are going to encounter.  And not
only do I state the problem, but I offer a solution, one that will mesh
with the Authority's stated intentions yet solve the problem.

Let's not be at all coy about my problem with the seats: I am obese, and
the seats offer utterly no way for me to sit down without making my
fellow riders deeply uncomfortable, not to mention my own severe
physical discomfort.

In the former seating construction, if I was the first to sit down and
had a "window seat", I could either pull myself close as much as I
could, or the person with whom I shared the 'bench' had the option of
the free space in the aisle.  Since the "window seats" were not
perfectly flush with the wall, pushing myself against the wall could
give the aisle-seat rider some room.  I could put my arm up on the
"window ledge" for further space, allowing me to put my body flush with
the wall (instead of my right arm).

If I had the "aisle seat", that was often better; I had the ability to
let myself partially hang off the seat so as to give the window-seat
person more room.

Today, I sat down, and despite literally rolling my shoulders forward to
a point where I was deeply uncomfortable and having to breathe shallow
breaths (much less read the book I had with me or look at my
smartphone), I knew I was deeply inconveniencing my fellow riders to the
left and right.

Moreover, even when the person to my left was able to move over when the
seat to *his* left freed, I couldn't do anything to relieve the
crowding.  Why?  The metal bars that you have running from every other
seat from seat edge to ceiling.  This means that no matter what seat you
take, you have a metal bar either pressing into your left leg or your
right; moreover, it means that obese people can *only* use a freed-up
seat to relieve pressure on their seatmate if it is on the side of their
body that is not blocked by the metal bar -- meaning that 50% of the
time, a freed-up seat doesn't even do any good.

The CTA Tattler weblog is fairly convinced that you have decided that
longitudinal seating is here to stay. 

If it is, I
strongly urge you to make two modifications to the current car design:

  1. Remove the metal bars that run from the seat edge to the ceiling, and
  2. Replace the "molded seat" design with a flat bench design such as
    what New York City and other longitudinal-seating subway systems use.

I understand that many people are not fond of the obese, and certainly
don't want to be sharing a seat with them.  I've been aware of that
sentiment, and although I'm not about to let the whole world start
having a debate about my personal weight issues, I ... and a lot of
overweight people ... desire to infringe upon our fellow riders'
personal space as little as humanly possible.

These new cars are a tremendously huge step backward in that regard,
pretty much producing a situation where transit seating is only for
people who have no weight problems at all.  In a city that's the home of
the deep dish pizza, that's a very poor design choice.  If you're going
to keep longitudinal seating around, help rectify this poor design
choice by making the two changes I suggest.



Leave a comment
  • I am 6 foot 3, 180 pounds and generally pretty athletic. Definitely not overweight of obese. However, I run into these same issues that were described in the story above. It's horribly uncomfortable! I totally agree that something needs to be done to rearrange the seating if these cars become permanent. If I can't fit comfortably, I'd imagine it is a million times worse for those that are much bigger.

    One thing to note: There ARE a couple sets of the seats that either face forward or backward on the new trains, although during rush hour you're probably not going to see those available. If I find myself on one of the new train cars I try to grab those seats if possible.

  • In reply to Nirvana911:

    I know EXACTLY what you mean. I'm 6' 8" and I can't fit anywhere. Those vertical metal poles just KILL me.

  • Several of us have said this before & the CTA refuses to change its mind on this.
    I too am overweight, but mine is in the front. But I also have wide shoulders & the longitudinal seating is very uncomfortable.
    The vertical stanchions dig into my thighs.

    The worst part on the buses is, there are places where tow front facing seats could be installed instead on one sideways seat over the rear wheels in the front section of the bus.
    And for some reason, they have also not put the two sets of seats on the rotating section & they're isn't any way of holding on there either.

    Remember the buses where they removed a section of seats completely?
    That idiocy ended quickly & so should this.

    This ridiculous seating layout, which is also on most of the articulated buses has been forced onto us by out of touch with reality CTA management which never actually rides the buses & trains, but travels around in CTA owned vehicles.

    At some time in the future, there will be violent confrontations over this.

  • I have a feeling that continuous-bench seating wouldn't fly, as it's too easy and comfy for people to lie on and sleep: that's why many platform benches have handles or some such protuberance to make it a pain to sleep there. But I do agree that the new train's configuration needs tweaking to make it a comfortable ride for real people. I'm big, too, and can relate to the preference for the current configuration. I'm also a big fan of the single inward-facing seat in the corners. You never have to climb over anyone to get out (perhaps on a Cubs game day I've had to "excuse me" my way through a crowd, but that's usually not a problem).

  • I'm going to post this to both of today's seating threads.

    I just measured my shoulders.
    They're about 21.5" wide. And that was wearing a shirt, not a bulky winter coat. There's no fat there, it's just skin over bone.
    I don't know what the seat widths are, but they're sure not that wide.

    By going to side seating, the CTA is negating the widening of the cars caused by the fishbelly sides, that were first used on the North Shore Line's Electroliners of the 1940s.
    The CTA adopted that design with the original 5000 series [renumbered 51-54] & onward through today.
    That design gives a bit more shoulder room.

    If you look at the side seats on the newest articulated buses, that's even more insane.
    There, you have shaped, metal frame seats that don't even fill out the entire space. There are several inches of unused space at each end in several seating areas. And these seats are really narrow!
    The problem is an over reliance on standardization, so they can have a smaller inventory of spares. But that's just foolish.

  • I'm fat and I haven't had any trouble with the 5000s the few times I rode them, but then I didn't ride them during rush hour. I don't "get" the Chicago hatred and fear of longitudinal seating, and my feeling was reinforced by a recent trip to Boston and New York where I traveled almost exclusively by subway and where most of the subway cars have only longitudinal seating. The New Yorkers and Bostonians (proper and otherwise) seemed to deal with the unspeakable horror of longitudinal seating just fine.

    That said, replacing the molded seats with benches makes sense but getting rid of the vertical poles does not. Standees need those poles. My usual commute is by Metra, where there are often plenty of standees in rush hour though the cars were not really designed for standees, and having only the half-useless handholds on the ends of the seats is a pain in the ass.

    In my opinion, a vertical pole every two seat-widths is a good compromise between giving large sitters some minimum of comfort and giving standees a useable place to hold on.

  • To add to my post above: On Metra, passengers don't have the overflow option that L passengers do when sharing a double seat, although ironically we do in the section of fold-down longitudinal seating near the doors. While the double seats are benches rather than molded or divided seats, the armrest on the aisle keeps one from overflowing into the aisle. We manage to deal with it.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    Metra's seats are far wider than CTA's seats.
    Two large people can easily fit into a Metra seat & they don't even touch.

    CTA train seats are about 17.5 inches wide, I measured them today.
    I repeat, my shoulders are about 21.5 inches wide.
    You do the math!

  • In reply to jbredin:

    How about replacing the vertical metal poles with horizontal poles that run longitudinally along the top of the car (parallel to the new seats) and attaching straps to those? Then Chicagoans could be straphangers too.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    If the NYC subway can have bench seats, then we can too. Their entire system runs 24 hours a day, which makes it even easier for New York's homeless to use the train as a moving bed. Somehow, they get by. We can too - only two of our lines run 24 hours a day.

    I haven't ridden on the 5000s, but I understand they have a smoother ride quality than other railcars. Is it smooth enough that standees can get by without a firm grip on a pole or strap?

  • In reply to jbredin:

    In Japan, instead of poles to hold onto there are handles. This gives hand holds without the problem that poles create.

  • In reply to mollyemmons:

    Not having poles helps when the train is packed and the people need to be pushed in...

Leave a comment