Observed Customer Seating and Standing Behavior and Seat Preferences on Board Subway Cars in New York City

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - subway/metro, place - north america, ridership - behaviour


seating, standing, behaviour, preferencese, New York, subway cars, subway car design


An observational sampling methodology was used to explore seat occupancy patterns in New York City subway cars. The study was performed under uncrowded conditions on the basis of special attributes of what otherwise were highly homogeneous plastic bench seats. Onboard seating patterns, measured as relative seat occupancy probabilities, were explained in terms of interactions between railcar design, layout, customer preferences, and resulting behavior. Earlier research focused in general on passenger distribution between cars within long trains or on the desirability of attributes common to all seats, rather than on passenger seating patterns within a single car. Results of the study reported here had their basis in seating- and standing-room occupancy statistics and showed that customers had a clear preference for seats adjacent to doors, no real preference for seats adjacent to support stanchions, and disdain for bench spots between two other seats. On cars that featured transverse seating, customers preferred window seats, but their preference was almost equal for backward- or forward-facing seats. No gender bias in all seated passengers was detected, but as load factor increased, the chance of standing was higher for men than for women. Use of 90% of the seats was achieved only at a 120% load factor. Customers who stood strongly preferred to crowd vestibule areas between doors (particularly in cars with symmetric door arrangements) and to hold on to vertical poles. These findings were consistent with published anecdotes. In future, cars should be designed with asymmetric doors, 2 + 2 + 2 partitioned, longitudinal seats, and no stanchions or partitions near doorways. To understand customer seating preferences further, research should be conducted in commuter rail vehicles with suburban layouts and booth seating and in the subways of other cities.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.