Readings — From the July 2013 issue

Tunnel Vision

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From Observed Customer Seating and Standing Behaviors and Seat Preferences Onboard Subway Cars in New York City, by Aaron Berkovich, Brian Levine, Alex Lu, and Alla V. Reddy, researchers for New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. A draft of the report was published on the website of the Transportation Research Board this April.

New York customers have a clear preference for seats adjacent to doors, no real preference for seats adjacent to stanchions, and disdain for bench spots between two other seats.

Some people seem to prefer standing over sitting — perhaps they have reasons to stand, e.g., traveling a few stops and wish to exit quickly.

Passengers overwhelmingly prefer transverse window seats to transverse aisle seats. This is perhaps perplexing as subways travel mainly underground and there may not be much to see.

Data is fairly scattered regarding whether customers prefer backward-facing or forward-facing seats. Perhaps preference for window seats is so strong that it overrides travel direction. Since subways travel relatively slowly, the gentle backwards motion may not be nausea-inducing.

Besides having multiple poles, the “doorway zone” has other desirable features that attract standees: ease of ingress and egress, partitions to lean against, and avoidance of the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of accidentally making eye contact with seated passengers.

When cars are further subdivided into those having symmetrical and asymmetrical door arrangements, “door” standing spaces are occupied more quickly on symmetrical cars than on asymmetrical ones.

As load factors (including standees) grow, the ratios of standees to seated passengers grew much more quickly for men than for women, probably because New York’s gentlemen live up to cultural expectations regarding giving up seats to ladies and children. Interestingly, though, women seem a little more likely to stand at low load factors — further research would be needed to understand whether the effect is significant and the probable reasons.

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