OK, I give up then: CTA won't change configuration of aisle-facing seats on new rail cars

OK, I give up then: CTA won't change configuration of aisle-facing seats on new rail cars
July 1: CTA Green Line gets new Series 5000 rail cars. (Photo by Max T-M)

I can’t say I really expected the CTA to change its mind.

I sure did try though, a number of times in many posts. But the CTA has confirmed it will not change the aisle-facing seating configuration currently found on the new Series 5000 rails cars.

This was after Tribune Getting Around columnist Jon Hilkevitch made his pitch to get the CTA to abandon the “despised” seating setup on new trains currently in service on the Pink and Green lines. The new cars will be coming to the Red Line in November.

In his column, Hilkevitch featured a few riders who said they didn’t like looking at “rear ends and crotches,” while others complained about unsteady rides while swinging from the hanging straps.

Interestingly though, most of the commenters on the Trib column held the opposite view. In effect, many said we are whiners who just don’t want to change.

For the record, I support the idea of getting more space in the aisles. I just don’t like using the outdated, molded fiber/plastic seats. I’ve suggested using bench-style seating as found in some New York rail cars. And a plurality of you readers agreed with me in the click poll.

But I am ready to move on.

I hate being called a whiner anyway.


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  • It should have been obvious enough that when Huberman's recommendations of Jan. 2008 weren't implemented, CTA wasn't going to change anything.

    The only real question is the change of governance: Huberman posted Presidents' Reports, but in retrospect engaged in deception. On the other hand, Claypool doesn't post anything, but proved that once it became necessary to squelch something and tell the riders who is boss, he could speak in English instead of corporate speak.

    Thus, one can pick which of the governance models is less odious.

  • I understand the physical construction logic behind not immediately changing the design for the remainder of the cars. But - sticking with the results of a 10-year-old study? Especially in the face of contrasting decisions on other aspects of service that are based on, erm, slightly newer "studies". Couldn't have been a 10 year lead time to manufacture the cars, and I'm sure someone here knowledgeable about other transit systems can confirm if that is a usual plan/lead time. Guess the CTA continues to pick and choose how "rapidly" they act.

  • In reply to CarolynA2:

    Sorry, I replied to this under ibright05.

  • I think people would tolerate bench seating (I love them). You'd be surprised how many people you can pack onto a train with them. There is a precedence for redesigning seating arrangements. When the South Shore Extension of the Red Line went into effect, the ridership was significantly higher than expected so the MBTA ripped out the nicer seats and replaced them aisle seats. (http://nycsubway.org/wiki/MBTA_Red_Line under roster, near the bottom)

    Although will the Cta really look to changing if they haven't seen issues on the Pink/ Green yet? If people are sitting next to each other but grumbling, then the seats are passable (not necessarily likeable). That won't change on the red or blue.

    And the whole crotch/ breasts thing was one of the stupidest things I've read this year. As if that doesn't happen now.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    The "10 year old" date was blowing smoke.

    If you go to chicago-l.org, Rolling Stock > Car Roster > 5000 series cars, you'll see that the specification was for essentially 3200 series cars, with improved signs and the like, but one thing Garfield says is "use of 2x2 seating throughout the car (discontinuing the use of single seats started in the 3200s)." Garfield then notes that the procurement was canceled in Dec. 2002. As implied further on, and rumored elsewhere, the reason for this was that it had an obsolete spec for DC motors, on which the car builders would not bid.

    So, the spec was reworked sometime between 2003 and 2006, apparently also including the longitudinal seats.

    This indicates again that Claypool was told something by someone else to quench the fire, but in this case got the details wrong.

    The other thing to consider is that the Pink and Green lines are relatively light routes, and as was discussed with you yesterday, were running 6 car trains when they normally run 4. Imagine how it is going to be when the crush load of the Red Line hits.

  • I don't blame you for giving up, but I haven't.

    Maybe not on getting the seats fixed, but on making the larger point and figuring out some leverage for ourselves so we can make them listen in the future.

    The CTA was told and told, and given a variety of specific reasons, why this configuration was a bad idea and would make for uncomfortable riding in many ways.

    The CTA decided it was going to do what it was going to do anyway, and never mind the reasons. Why? In my estimation, they decided that passenger ergonomics need not be factored into the equation to balance other design considerations.

    Why? Because passenger discomfort carries no consequences for the CTA. So they need not care at all.

    Maybe that's true. Maybe it's not. It might be that we have a way of bringing the consequences after all. If we think about it, we might come up with some they're not expecting.

    One thing I learned from this whole fiasco is the long lead time, and the fact (allegedly) that the seat design is baked in to the car design. So those who made the decision may be long gone and will bear no consequences either. Is that lack of consequences something that really cannot be fixed for the future? Acting together, have we no way of holding the CTA accountable?

    Oh, by the way, use of the term "whining" signals only that the side using it has no counter-argument to offer other than "shut up.". It's characteristic of a belief that those speaking up have no right to an opinion and are expected to take what they are given and like it.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    "but on making the larger point and figuring out some leverage for ourselves so we can make them listen in the future."

    Has that ever happened in recent history? Do you think it is going to happen on Tuesday with the "decrowding hearing," especially when Kevin indicated otherwise? So far, there has been only minimal response to the Red Line hearings (only ones reported by the ministry of propaganda being extending the 8A and 71 buses and instituting a shuttle to Chinatown).

    Look, this is what you get when you elect a mayor who thinks that the qualification for being CTA President is being a political ally that lives two blocks away. And, yes, Cheryl, you can verify that in any on-line telephone "book."

    Reread my comment on odious governance. Unless you are the CTU and get a seat in the state legislature's back room bargaining, lots of luck.

  • In reply to jack:

    I sure as heckfire didn't elect him.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    I was going to probe further, but I'll just accept this as an ambiguous response.

    Obviously, the generic "you" consisting of 55% of the voters who voted in Chicago did.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm just saying: some people like to average me in with those who did vote that way, and then say that because that makes me a part of it, I'm not allowed to object to the results. Illogical.

    But our constitutional system is supposed to provide for minority opinions to be respected, and should provide for minority preferences to be accommodated.

    For instance, in a more responsive transportation system, there would be some side facing seats and some forward facing seats, in proportion to who wants them. I don't deny that some people may like the new configuration. Why do they feel they must deny that some don't like it and have good reasons for that? Why do they feel they must condemn us to discomfort and say "you're crazy if you don't like it, and bad if you speak up about it?"

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Look at how many times I've been told to "shut up" - yet I keep tilting.

  • "Oh, by the way, use of the term 'whining' signals only that the side using it has no counter-argument to offer other than 'shut up.'. It's characteristic of a belief that those speaking up have no right to an opinion and are expected to take what they are given and like it."

    I respectfully disagree. If on some given issue 1% of the people like it, 19% hate it with a fiery passion, and 80% have little feeling about it one way or the other, the 19% will vehemently complain about it while the 80% will likely say diddly-squat. Given those ratios, should the vehement complaints of the 19% be treated like they're the numerical majority just because they're the majority of the discussion on the topic?

    To be more concrete, this is the dynamic of NIMBYism. A city needs a sewage treatment plant, for example, and it's gotta be built somewhere. While most residents of the city, asked point-blank, would say the plant should indeed be built, few are going to feel strongly about it and even fewer will make an effort to speak out for it. But in the neighborhood where the sewage plant is actually going to be built -- and again, that's going to be somewhere, until someone finds a way to treat real-world sewage on the Internet -- there are lots of people who feel strongly that the plant should not be built. If the city builds the plant anyhow, is that proof that the city government doesn't care about its residents or ignores complaints? Or, to avoid such allegations, should the city gov't let the complaints of the residents of that neighborhood (and the next neighborhood the city gov't chooses to put the plant, and the next, etc.) serve as a veto on the needs of the city as a whole?

    Sometimes, people call legitimate complaints whining in an effort to silence dissent. But sometimes a cigar is nothing more than a cigar and the complainers really are whining. I refuse to give my opinion on which is the case with the new L car seating. :^)

  • In reply to jbredin:

    :slow applause:

  • In reply to jbredin:

    jbredin wrote: "...until someone finds a way to treat real-world sewage on the Internet..."

    I wish someone would invent that, if only because there is a lot of semi-real-world sewage on the Internet.


  • In reply to jbredin:

    On further reflection, it doesn't make much difference to the 35 (uncrowding goal) or 55 (assuming current 95 passengers on a car) who must stand in any event.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    Not sure where you got those percentagee, but here are mine: It's a generally accepted principle in communications that for every 1 person you hear from on an issue, there are 99 more who feel the same way and just didn't get in touch.

    If I am paying for something and not getting the value for what I pay, I have the right to complain. Period. Particularly if it's a government-enforced monopoly and I didn't even vote for those in power.

  • I went into this a couple of days ago on a different thread.
    I flat out say the CTA is lying about the construction of the cars & that they can't change the seat layout.
    Because you never lock yourselves into a design that can't change over 40 years!
    They will end up changing this disaster because this side seating is going to cause more crowding, not less. They are suffering from a case of cognitive dissonance when it comes to how people ride the L.

    And I'll bet anything, that the fools who decided on this rarely ride the L or they never would have done it!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    They might change the shells to something like on the buses. However, any change they do in this regard is usually retrograde, like replacing the black leather seats in the 2200s with these cheap plastic ones. Don't expect improvement.

    I explained that one in my "things are different after Yerkes" post.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    So now it is somehow a "disaster"? Why because a few people on a blog somewhere don't like it? Every single person I have talked about this with (friends, colleagues, family) all prefer the new arrangements. Every. Single. One.

    The choice individual seats is the only peeve of mine, but that can easily be changed down the road, either on this order or at a later date. But until then I will enjoy not having to deal with window seat riders, suitcases blocking the aisle, a lack of overhead handles or making the dreaded walk down the aisle past rows and rows of fat people.

  • In reply to untitledreality:

    That's funny, because all of the people I talk with do not care for it and see the obvious problems. Every. Single. One.

    Suitcases still block the aisle - are you blind?

    What's is your beef with window seat riders - that you have to get up to let them out? How sociable of you.

    And now you say will no longer be confronted with those awful "fat people".

    You are one class act my friend.

  • In reply to untitledreality:

    Just because you looked into the mirror & it agreed with you is irrelevant.

    The disaster will be when there are fights over the lack of seating, or some huge fat person squeezes into the seat next to someone & crushes them, or some jerk sits with his feet blocking the aisle & trips people.
    At some point, someone will have a gun & all hell will break loose!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    You are exactly right Scooter.....

  • We'll all get used to the new seating arrangements or buy cars.

  • It's pretty obvious why CTA continues to use the individual bucket seats... the manufacturer (Freedman) is a Chicago company, and it is undoubtedly well-connected at CTA.

    The second Freedman begins to make a fiberglass bench product is the day we'll see it installed on a CTA railcar.

  • In reply to ardecila:

    I don't think that is correct, either.

    The only bus on which Freedman furnished seats to the CTA was 7800, the Compobus that was rejected.

    You tell me if these 1972 style seats are on any New Flyer bus that has been delivered since 2006.

  • I do not understand why everyone is complaining about the new seating arrangements. When I first moved to Chicago and had to ride the red line to work, I was pretty surprised that the seats were arranged like seats on a bus. The only other city I have lived in with decent public transit was London, and nearly all of the trains on the tube had aisle facing seats, and it always seemed to me that trains configured that way could fit so many more people much more comfortably. Just make like the British and keep your eyes down if you are in an aisle facing seat, and you will not notice what bits of a stranger's body are at eye level.

  • I don't buy Claypool's excuse that the entire under-carriage of the car would have to be re-engineered in order to change the seating layout. If my mind serves me correctly, didn't the CTA reconfigure a couple of 3200 series cars several years back to test out longitudinal seating??? Hmm. I don't recall them having to do expensive reworking of components and car structure in order to do this test. I actually think the 3200 seating arrangement is ideal and wish the 5000's used it. So what we lose a few seats....the 3200 cars do have a lot more room to move around in, which I thought was the goal.

    I wouldn't be surprised that there is some Chicago-style multi-year contract with the seating manufacturer. If you go on Freedman's website, none of the images of their various models of bucket seats for transit vehicles show them in any configuration other than 2 seats together. A few of the styles are strikingly similar to CTA's train seating. Also, absent are bench style seating for subway cars, not a surprise because they probably do not manufacture them. If bench style seating was designed in such a way that it has it's supports going into the floor at the same places at the bucket seats, "re-enginneering problem" again doesn't hold water!

    I believe someone at the CTA or on it's board royally messed up and they know it. The more I think about it, I bet our answer why the CTA is being so stubborn lies in the contract with the seating manufacturer. Claypool has been simply doing his job as a politician to deflect the questioning and put the issue to rest ASAP before something highly embarassing is uncovered. Nothing more, nothing less. Too bad this thing known as the internet allows anyone with a computer and an internet connection to do some research and figure out there is more to the story than we are being deceived to believe. Too bad we can't view the actual seating contract. Anyone know if Freedman has any political ties to the city or the CTA??

  • I don't see anything royally messed up about it. It makes more sense for the seats to be facing the aisle. You can fit more people and it's easier to get on or off the train. If you really don't want to look at people's midsections, bring along some reading material. Or close your eyes.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    With rows of forward-facing seats, you could prop your briefcase or tote in your lap leaning on the seat in front of you, and use your hands to read a book or newspaper or device. With aisle facing seats, you have to use your hands to keep your bag from falling off your lap. The only way to read is if you put your bag down where someone will trip over it and/or steal it.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Sorry Cheryl, but you can't fit more people in a CTA L car with sideways seats!
    Because really wide fat people are going to take up at least 50% of the two person sections, unlike New York's bench seats, where you sit anywhere on the bench.
    So there will be enormous numbers standing, with cars packed to the gills.

  • fb_avatar

    Hi everyone...please "like" the new facebook page on this issue so we can prevent unpleasant train rides for the next 40 years! Thanks.

    Facebook link:

  • In reply to Steve Solomon:

    Other than the Blue Line, I think you are about 7 years too late.

    Zuckerberg doesn't have any influence on Claypool. Certain not if Hilkevitch did.

    But delude yourself.

  • The main point I was trying to make in my post was that I do NOT have a big problem with aisle facing seating IF they use seats that were designed for such an arrangement, such as the bench style seating used in other cities. The small standard-issue CTA train bucket seats are completely incompatible for being placed side by side in a long row. They aren't even designed to properly fit the shape and space of the car...there is a 2-3 inch gap behind the seats of wasted space that they had to fill with a piece of stainless steel between the back of the seats and the window sill! I've traveled to many cities and been on many rapid transit cars, most with aisle facing seating and I can't think of one with such ridiculous individual seats. The CTA is going to be very sorry when capacity is actually reduced on such heavily used lines such as Red and Blue, which are bursting at the seams even during some night and weekend hours. I can usually count at least 4-5 seats that end up going unused on a 5000 series car because there simply is not enough room between two people on some seats for even a small person to sit.

    I'd like to require the CTA board, Claypool and anyone else with a hand in this decision at the CTA to have to sit shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, for an entire day on one of these cars.

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