Seat jockeying: Just one common behavior on the CTA

The train is crowded as it leaves the Loop during the evening rush hour. As it reaches various neighborhoods, commuters disgorge bit by bit, and the train car gradually becomes less and less crowded.

As you sit next to the big guy in the puffy down jacket, you keep looking around the car for two vacant seats together, planning your move so you can both spread out and have a little extra room.

Finally you see your opportunity, and you slide over to one of the two empty seats across the aisle down the way. Ahhhh! Relief.

This move to a vacant pair of seats is just one of the unspoken common behaviors we all practice on the CTA. Like always sitting in one of a pair of vacant seats before taking a single vacant seat next to someone.

It’s just what we do.

What other common behaviors do we share like these?


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  • Yes to this one, but we all know that CTA has come up with the cure for that. That also cures trying to move to a forward facing seat if such opens up.

    There are also those who know where to line up on the platform to be in front of the door, while others don't know and have to run to an open one. Of course, in the day of the railfan seat (and since there is some ambiguity what it means, that is the one under the front window of the lead car, now inaccessible), running to the first car, so one can use that.

  • For those more novice CTA riders, I did a post about what Jack is talking about in his second paragraph:

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    In my second paragraph, I was referring to "entrance strategy," i.e., being in front of the door of some car, in advance of the train actually stopping there. However, "exit strategy" would be another variation of that theme.

  • I also notice if a seat opens up on a crowded train, everyone stares at each other, and no one wants to be the one to take it.

    I am one of those that knows where to stand on the platform to be right in front of a door. It always cracks me up when a train pulls halfway into a station and then stops and everyone scrambles to be in front of a door, even though there is no way they will open where they are stopped since half the cars aren't even in the platform. I just stand put and usually have a door right in front of me.

  • Most of the time when I'm in the aisle seat of a two-person seat and a whole double seat opens up, I figure the person I'm sharing with would appreciate it if I went over there and gave him/her some personal space. Sometimes I wouldn't mind just continuing to sit there (as there's no crowding problem or discomfort), but I go anyway, assuming the other person wants me to. Other times, I've only got one cheek on the seat anyway and am very glad to go and sit normally in the one that opened up.

  • In reply to scottknitter:

    And there eventually comes a point where so many double seats open up, that if the person sitting on the aisle next to you does not get up and move, it seems very odd and rude of them to keep you trapped. The exact point where this happens is subjective, though.

    Another good reason to vacate is that it's easier for the window-seat person to get out when their stop comes, instead of having to judge the moment to ask you to get up and let them out, neither too soon nor too late (given how many things you'd have to shift or put away) or at a time when you would have to be extra careful not to lose your balance. In other words, by moving you allow them to avoid causing you a problem. Everybody feels more considerate.

  • Every morning I transfer from red to brown at Belmont heading inbound, although Fullterton would occassionally be faster (hat tip train tracker for the concrete knowledge) so that I can be standing right next to the door to the railfan compartment for the ~60% of trips that the motorperson deigns to open the door.

    People visiting always tell me that the front-seat ride into the loop is one of the coolest things to do in the city. Railfans especially totally cream their jeans between Merch Mart and Washington- river bridge immediately followed by grand junction swtiching? Holy crap.

  • In reply to TylerMGuth:

    Especially on a portion of the L you describe.

    It wasn't so much fun in the subway, except, when they were using wayside signals, to see the one in the next block turn from red to green just as the train was approaching it. I don't know why that always seemed to be the case.

  • In reply to jack:

    At the loop junctions you can watch the tracks switch and the people in the tower wave, AND the block notifications.

    Is brown line in from Fullerton the only place that this is still allowed? I never got to ride up front underground, but I'd be inclined to agree with you. All of our tunnels were dug at about the same relatively recent time, without major reroutes, rebuilds, abandonments, or mistakes, so the scenery's probably pretty limited, unlike New York, where you get to see abandoned stations, spurs, and homeless camps all over the place.

  • In reply to TylerMGuth:

    The operator should keep the door across the aisle closed. However, Armitage and south, I believe that all the platforms are on the cab (right) side. Still, you would think that the operator would want to keep the front clear to get to the door controls on the return trip.

    Obviously, on the Red and Blue lines, most, but not all, platforms are on the left.

  • In reply to jack:

    Some of the Skokie Swift motormen let you sit in the railfan seat. I love it, it's where I always sat as a kid.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The converse was when there were 1 car units on the Evanston and Skokie lines, and while one was not supposed to get into a closed cab, plenty of people did.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Totally agree ... the Exit strategy .... last car on brn line forward doors at quincy puts you in a straight path for the exit only stairs to adams and wells. Though once I was nearly run over by some 60 something hell bent on leaving the prple line at davis st to connect up with the 201 bus. Crazy to make that connection.

  • In reply to eflam201:

    Before the Howard station was remodeled, car seven, rear door was right next to the stairs to go down.
    Even better is to wait for a Metra train. The engineers almost always stop at exactly the same place every time & people know exactly where to stand to get on the train.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    As an infrequent Metra rider, I haven't quite figured out the pattern of which doors will be opened and which cars used on any given run. I end up waddling at top speed to the door at the other end or whatever. I suppose if I used the same train daily, I'd learn. :)

  • In reply to jack:

    i like to watch people struggle with the decision to cross though the accordion section of a crowded articulated bus, based on 1. whether congestion in the front of bus necessitates this, and 2. if they're able to fit comfortably on the other side of the accordion. also, god bless those who snag a leaning spot near the door on LSD express buses because they're getting off at the first stop, and god damn anyone who does this without getting off at the first stop.

  • In reply to mickcube:

    I like to go as far back as possible on a bus (shouldn't we all?) and will even take the Red Line from Lake to Jackson to catch the 147 at State/Van Buren where it starts its run, just so I can waddle back to the back corner, right side, and enjoy a nice long ride home, people-watching or reading as we go. Good leg room there, too.

  • In reply to mickcube:

    Folks, you sound like a bunch of transplants from Ohio and Michigan calling it the "railfan compartment". It's called HOBO corner. I don't recommend you sit there unless you want to endure dried vomit, feces, urine or semen.

  • In reply to illinimatt81:

    I've often sat in the hobo corner and have rarely encountered such nasties. Granted, I've been warned away on a couple of occasions by a kind person who noticed something horrible (poo, I think) and graciously sat in a nearby seat and watched for people headed toward the hobo corner. She yelled, "You DON'T want to go in there, Sweetie!" And by then I had smelled why. I thanked her for the warning, and she saved me from seeing anything. A couple of times I've seen liquid on the floor and assumed the worst. Many times, though, it's been dry and clean-ish and no problem.

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