Open letter to CTA board: Change new rail car seating

Series 5000 rail car seats.jpg

Photo by Ben Meyerson

Two weeks ago I reprinted a letter a from a self-admitted obese guy to the CTA, regarding the seating on the new Series 5000 rail cars currently being tested on the Red Line. The guy asked that the CTA:

  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.

Then I posted a click poll for you readers to have your say n the subject. The majority of 300 poll takers agree that the CTA should switch to bench seating without confining poles.

I promised to share these thoughts with the CTA board. Today is the regular monthly meeting of the board, but since I have a day job, I couldn’t be there. Instead I sent the following letter to Board Chairman Terry Peterson on your behalf.

Dear CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson:

I am writing to you on behalf of the thousands of readers of my blog, CTA Tattler. I am writing about the seating configuration of the new Series 5000 rail cars being testing now by the CTA.

Recently I posted to my blog a letter that a self-admitted obese man sent to you urging that two modifications be made to the current seating 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.

Here is my post reprinting the letter.

I also polled my readers about their preferences on seating. More than 50% of the 300 who took the poll agreed that the CTA should change the seating to bench seating without the confining poll.

See the post and the poll results here.

I encourage you and the CTA board to give careful consideration to these changes as you finalize the order for the Series 5000 rail cars.


Kevin O’Neil
CTA Tattler
Follow CTA Tattler at my new Twitter page. Post your Crazy Commuting Story on the CTA Tattler Facebook wall.


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  • Thank you Kevin.

  • On the other hand, several people, including me, pointed out that doing away with the stanchions discriminates against the short, and bench seats will make the whole car a hobo corner.

    Maybe an ADA suit by the short would get their attention.

    In the meantime, someone should ask them when the testing will be completed and the production order placed. They look about 3 years behind schedule, but if the testing is actually finding something, it is a good thing that they aren't going down the NABI road.

    In any event, the CTA Board has repeatedly proved that it is not in charge, so a letter one way or the other isn't going to matter. Now, maybe if you had prepared a 35 slide PowerPoint presentation, they would have at least been entertained.

  • One thing I do like about the bars is that it's better for short people. I'm 5'3" and I have a problem standing on the buses because I can't keep my balance when I'm stretching to reach the hand loop. I haven't ridden on the new trains yet, so I can't know for sure, but it looks like the loops are still rather high up (though not as high as on the buses?). But, it does look like there are a ton of the bars. I think they could probably get rid of half of them and it'd still be fine for shorter people standing up and for larger people sitting down.

    Another concern with doing away with the bars (in my opinion, it shouldn't be a concern because people should just give up their seats), is that younger children won't be able to reach the hand loops. It drives me crazy when I'm standing on a rush hour train and kids get on but nobody offers up their seats to them. I totally get not giving up your seat for teenagers or whatever, but like 6 years olds? Toddlers? Come on, people. If you do away with the bars entirely, either riders will have to get nicer or these poor kids will be constantly on the ground.

  • In reply to kmbieker:

    Why can't toddlers sit on the laps of their parents? I am a big guy, and I feel it is in the best interests of the entire car if I am sitting down, instead of clogging the aisle so that a tiny little kid can sit down.

  • In reply to Nirvana911:

    People aren't giving up seats to the parents either.

  • In reply to kmbieker:

    I think that if there are babies, toddlers, 6 year olds (none of whom are paying fares) on rush hour trains, their parents should pick them up and hold them on their laps if they have a seat. Paying adults should have priority. Babies in strollers take up the space of 3 seats. Sorry, but if space is an issue, making sure that children and other little people have seats is not necessarily the answer.

  • In reply to PaulaKruger:

    Right, but what if the parents don't have a seat? They're supposed to pick up their 6-year old and somehow balance using the hand loop while holding the child? I'm not a parent, but let's say someday I am, and I have a 6 year old. I'm supposed to stand on my tip toes to reach the hand loop all while holding the child? That's absurd. My point is that if you get rid of the bars completely, then the children have nothing to hold onto when nobody gives up a seat to the parents or the child. I think it's rude not to give up your seat to a small child, but if you don't want to, that's your prerogative as a paying adult. But, the CTA does need to provide an alternative for the children, and the hand loops aren't it since they can't even reach them.

  • @Jack and Katrina regarding the bars: We don't have to do away with the bars at all. We definitely need them. I've seen NYC rail cars with the bench seating and the bars positioned about 5-6 inches away from the bench. That way, someone could slide in and sit with the bar more or less between their legs.

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    But that doesn't help the obese guy who started this whole thing.

    Theoretically, he can lose weight. The children (say the 6 year olds) will have to wait about 6 years to reach the bar. My 52 year old 4'10" girlfriend isn't going to grow any more.

    I say, bring back the longitudinal seating with the handholds. Even with the depleted 2-1 seating on the 3200s, that still gives someone a place to grab. If someone is too obsese, they can sit in the single seat and hang over the aisle.

  • In reply to jack:

    As often happens, I realized that I goofed. Bring back transverse seats.

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    I recently realized that the Brown Line's current seat configuration (pre-5000) is perfect. Let's just stick with that.

  • CTA had fiberglass only seats in the 3800s. Also, in most of the GM new looks (1000s/7400s/9000s/9600s) the inserts (then plastic) were replaced with some sort of wood composite ones. Not very comfortable, cheap looking, and, I don't know if that was the case on the CTA, but elsewhere, the buses were leaky and the seats without inserts filled with water.

    As Kevin Zolkiewicz pointed out the last time this topic was posted on the Tattler, newer designs are being used on the buses. There were also press releases a couple of years ago that the higher back seats then being introduced on CTA and Pace buses had a wider area on which to place the buttocks. Why CTA can't do the same on the L cars is a question both Kevin Z and I think should be presented.

  • Well, to solve some of the problems people are discussing, they could remove some of the poles so that short people still have something to hang onto and then they still eliminate some of the poles for the people that don't like them.

  • In reply to chris:

    And what's the odds that someone with an issue, one way or the other, will be able to squeeze into a part of the car that accommodates them in this regard?

  • In reply to chris:

    One thing that would help by putting in the bench seats:I wouldn't have to wipe the cloth seat with the back of my hand to see if someone peed or spilled a drink on it.

  • In reply to Chirob:

    As I mentioned a couple of posts up, either you would see the puddle of pee on the seat, or sit into it in a more liquid form. Pick your poison, the pee is not going away.

  • In reply to jack:

    Honestly - how many times has anyone really seen pee on a CTA seat? I've been riding for more than 25 years and I've never seen it on a seat. On the floor? Sure. Seat? Never.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm sorry, but maybe people should lose weight first for health reasons, and then concern themselves about the cta seats.

  • In reply to jpod88:

    You say that as if it were easy to do. If it were, then people wouldn't be experiencing this problem. If we're going to talk about solving an accommodation problem by modifying our bodies from how nature programmed them, maybe we "should" all learn to fly by flapping our arms. Then we wouldn't need to take the CTA. My point is don't be sorry, be realistic.

  • In reply to jpod88:

    Just like hormones help determine height, hormones also help determine weight. The "just lose weight" argument doesn't work for everyone.

  • In reply to jpod88:

    The new CTA trains are smooth, quiet, and decent, but I'm not a fan. Read the full review here-
    (twitter @ChicagoRanter)

  • In reply to jack:

    I like the poles. I don't like having to play twister to find something to grab onto...especially since people are apprehensive about moving INTO the train car.

  • In reply to jack:

    I like the polls and the longitudinal bucket seats. Bench seats lead to an awful lot of seat spreader problems not to mention the napping hobo issue. Bucket seats encourage people to remain within a certain confined area allowing for more people to sit down. If everyone were allowed to spread out according to comfort the train will seat, and thus carry, fewer people.

    Longitudinal seats also make moving around on the train much easier than transverse seats. Especially when trains are crowded which is more often than not the case after the latest service cuts. No more of the ridiculous getting up in order to let the person in the inner seat go by while the train is in motion (bumping the person[s] that were standing in the aisle).

    Quite honestly, transverse seating hasn't been a picnic with the large and fat. Often the fat would either take up two seats (overlapping w/ the inner seat or simply making it inaccessible) or obstruct the aisle making it much harder to move on the train. I'm tired of these people barricading seats or obstructing the aisles and I don't think the mass transit system should be built to accommodate the comfort and sensitivities of the obsese.

  • In reply to jack:

    I think your letter to the CTA is misleading in terms of which of your readers agree with the notion of removing the bars and replacing the seating with a bench. First, though you may have "thousands of readers", if your poll had only 300 respondents, how is it that you know you're writing on behalf of thousands of readers who agree with you? I don't.

    The bars provide a place for people to hold on other than the overhead straps. On a crowded train, this provides more options other than grabbing onto a stranger if there isn't an overhead strap available nearby. I'm not a fan of armpits either, and the fewer that are in my face the better.

    As far as bench seating goes, a bigger person is going to roll outside of the boundaries anyway. As far as I'm concerned, the molded seats provide a visual indication of seating; i.e. a person carrying a bunch of crap will splay it all across a bench seat, while the molding at least makes it obvious to the person and other riders that they are taking up extra seats.

    It seems that you are in favor of accommodating wider, taller people who might also be carrying a bunch of stuff. How about those of us who are narrower and shorter and who respect that we only get so much space in public settings?

  • In reply to relaxocatalyst:

    I am not at all opposed to polls. They could be placed 5-6 inches in front of the bench seat so someone could sit with the pole between their legs.
    I never said the poll is scientifically valid. But it does represent the opinion of 300 people, and it's probably more than the CTA did in terms of asking people what they want.

  • In reply to relaxocatalyst:

    I'd have to agree that it's probably more than CTA did in terms of riders' opinions. I think your poll was a good, helpful tool in terms of riders' opinions. But still, you had 300 respondents while your letter states that you write on behalf of thousands. This is unsubstantiated however possible that might be. Basically, I agree with most of Jack's comments. In the meantime, raising the bar as you mentioned would be a partial solution.

  • In reply to relaxocatalyst:

    Late to the party but thanks Kev. I don't like defined seats. I was on the subway in NYC yesterday and while I stood (since its so flipping crowded, even at 1pm), I definitely took note of the amount of space I had to stand that doesn't exist on the CTA currently. I have an issue with demarcated seats because while I'm by no means obese, I have broad shoulders and I feel like I have to squeeze in when I sit next to others. Bench seating allows an undetermined amount of people to sit comfortably, regardless of size. And again, I am biased since I did grow up with the bench seating in NYC. It just makes more sense for cleaning trains, comfort for people and overall capacity. The 2600s and 2200s are a disaster for the blue line during rush and anything to realistically and pragmatically improve the overcrowding situation should be explored. It's like what I'm doing in Savannah for the public hearings to CAT's service, you can't please everyone so do what is right for the majority. If the majority wants bench seating with less bars and its logistically possible, do it. The others will either adapt or find another mode. Who knows, the improved conditions may attract new riders who don't like riding the 'L' because its so overcrowded during rush.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    Don't oversell's not THAT crowded at 1pm. I got a seat every time I rode the subway on my recent trip.

    Also the straps are f-ing stupid. They offer no balance, and you have to stare at 20 people's armpits on your ride. The poles are solid and offer a grip anywhere along it. Pushing the poles outward more will just make the train look more crowded again...and I feel people won't move INTO the train. Leave them as they are.

    And give me a break, the poles are spaces 2 seats apart. 2 SEATS. If you can't fit your girth comfortably in that space, or share nicely with your neighbor, maybe you should be walking to work.

  • In reply to mugen:

    I'm sorry you're telling me that I'm overselling my experience on a train line when I was on the train yesterday? You don't know what train line I was on, you have no idea where I was going. Nor do you have any idea that my career relates to dealing with issues such as passenger loads on transit vehicles. You literally are talking out of your ass right now. Just because you didn't get on a crowded train doesn't mean they don't exist at 1PM.

    So now lets go through your miserable attempt at a response:

    1) We already covered your "NYC isn't crowded on the subway at 1PM" even though you weren't there.
    2) If you can't use the strap properly, go take a class. I learned to use 'em when I was younger. It's not hard.
    3) Have you rode on the CTA? It's pulling teeth to get people to move into the train. I have to force my way through on a regular basis to get into the middle where I have ample space.
    4) Really? Again you're making some gross assumptions and solutions that quite frankly are making me laugh. You have no idea of me or my size and yet you're telling me that I have girth issues. I work out so I'm rather wide. Now instead of telling me to walk to work you should go back to school and learn to form a cohesive argument.

    Thanks for reminding me why I go on this site every so often. I can last for a few weeks before people like you kill enough of my brain cells with your lack of sense or civility that I have to go recover.

  • In reply to ibright05:


    1. I've been on nearly every line in NYC, both during rush and not, weekday and weekend. Don't even think about telling me when I'm talking out of my ass. Ohh, big deal...your PARTICULAR train was crowded... Don't make it seem like it's standing room only on the MTA at all hours. IT ISN'T. But yea, you are correct that I wasn't on your particular train.

    And I couldn't care less what your career relates to. Get me some stats on that exact run your were on or STFU.

    2. Please post a diagram to help me better understand, because clearly I've never grabbed anything above my head before in my life. I need your expertise and knowledge.

    If you even READ what I posted, I said they offer no balance and only one or two people can grab a strap at a time. Poles are solid, offer better balance, and more than 2 people can grab it, from all angles. ...but I guess your OPINION is better than mine for some reason.

    3. Yes I have. And yes, it IS like pulling teeth. Either sharpen your elbows or quit bitching. What I said was keep the poles as they are...pushing them out more into the aisle will just encourage people to stand by the door because the middle looks more crowded.

    4. Actually I do. And I wasn't referring to you in particular, but rather people who keep complaining about fat people not fitting. I'm quite sure you can squeeze into one of those seats. Anyways, I'm just tired of conforming to this far-culture we live in. It's f-ing disgusting. Rather than get healthy we just adapt fat-sized things. If you are too fat to sit in a regular seat, then you should be considered "handicapped or disabled" and plop down in the designated area. Ohh, and you don't have to can also ride a bike.

    "Thanks for reminding me why I go on this site every so often. I can last for a few weeks before people like you kill enough of my brain cells with your lack of sense or civility that I have to go recover."
    I don't quite understand...did I INSULT you in some way? Take away some of your ny-pride? Besides the fat person comment (which wasn't even aimed at you in particular) I see nothing that warranted:
    -miserable attempt at a response
    -talking out of your ass right now
    -go back to school and learn to form a cohesive argument.
    -people like you kill enough of my brain cells with your lack of sense or civility that I have to go recover.

    But thanks for bringing it up. Your post reminds me why

  • In reply to ibright05:


  • In reply to Chirob:

    I like the idea of moving the poles out from the seats best.

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