Chicago Changes Gears On Rail Car Seats

Aug 2, 2013
Originally published on August 2, 2013 3:59 pm

Commuters in Chicago have spoken: they don’t like the New York-style rail car seats.

So the Chicago Transit Authority is making sure that new trains have aisle seats instead of cars with rows facing center.


  • Brian Steele, spokesman for the Chicago Transit Authority.
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The Chicago Transit Authority is listening to its riders and changing the seats in its L Train cars. The CTA had ordered new train seven years ago, modeling them on New York City's subway car design, but the cars prove unpopular with commuters. And with me now to discuss the change is Chicago Transit Authority's spokesman Brian Steele. And Brian, yeah, I would have thought that the way forward would be this kind of seating that we see in New York with two rows of seats on either side of the train because you can fit more people in that way. Why are you guys in Chicago abandoning that?

BRIAN STEELE: Well, transit customers in the city of Chicago had been accustomed to a certain type of seating style that's been around for well over four decades, and that includes most of the seats being either forward or rear facing, not aisle facing. A couple of years ago, the CTA introduced its very first aisle seating only railcars, called our 5000 series. And they met with really an equal mix of praise and scorn from our customers. Some people saw the advantages of having more space to stand, easier boarding and the lighting of the cars because you have more space by the doors. But an equal amount of people were simply unaccustomed to looking at the center of the railcar and looking at their fellow rail passengers.

HOBSON: Yeah. I see the Chicago Tribune reports that the most common complaints from riders about the center-facing seats are that seated passengers are being eye level with the, quote, "crouches and buttocks of standing passengers."

STEELE: Probably I'll leave that up to the Tribune...


STEELE: determine whether or not that is the case. I will tell you that obviously when you're seating center facing, you are looking at the customers that are in the middle of the railcar. And indeed, we already have some aisle-facing seating on some of our railcars and never before had we heard that being an issue. But again, I think it was such a dramatic change in the style of seating that CTA customers have been accustomed to for a half century or more. And when the previous CTA administration changed it, it was a pretty abrupt change, and probably most of importantly, it was a change that was made without really getting feedback from customers.

HOBSON: But can't you fit more people into a train car when there's just one big open space in the middle?

STEELE: Under the hybrid design that we've come up with that features both transverse, which is the forward facing, and the aisle-facing seating, we're able to get roughly the capacity that we have in our aisle-seating railcars. I think we lose maybe a seat or two, but we maintain a lot of the space by the doors, which is one of the most important considerations. So this new hybrid design that we've come up with is a proverbial best of both worlds.

HOBSON: Brian Steele is a spokesman for the Chicago Transit Authority. Brian, thanks so much.

STEELE: My pleasure. Thank you.

HOBSON: And coming up, HERE AND NOW chef Kathy Gunst heads north for some Alaskan cuisine. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.