Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How to Get a Seat on a Crowded NYC Subway Train

  1. Consider positioning yourself on the platform to board either the first car or the last car on the train. You'll have a longer walk to the stairs at both your home station and your destination, but as a result those cars are usually notably less crowded.
  2. If a train pulls in and it's stuffed to the sliding doors, think about waiting for the next train. Frequently riders will grab the first train that comes along, especially after an extended wait. These trains often end up overloaded and uncomfortable, and chances of getting a seat are practically nil. However, these crowded trains are often quickly followed by near-empty trains, as everyone in a hurry pushed onto the previous train, and the ride as whole in these trains is much more pleasant.
  3. After boarding a crowded train, move out of the doorway and into the seating area as quickly as possible. All successful seat-getting on the train depends upon correct positioning within the seating area.
  4. The best place to stand in the seating area depends on the layout of the train. In an "H" train, where the seats form a "H" shape (broken vertically through the middle by the aisle) between each set of doors, the ideal location is at the joins of the lines, as near as possible to the corners created by the vertical three-seat and the horizontal two-seat. On one of the new trains with blue benches bisected by a central pole, the ideal location is midway between the pole and the end of the bench. On a train with gray benches lining the sides, however, you can hang anywhere along the bench in front of a Likely Target.
  5. Observe your fellow seated passengers carefully to determine the Likeliest Target. A Likely Target is anyone who is currently sitting down but likely to stand up somewhere along the course of the route (and well before you reach your destination). Likely Targets vary with route and location. On the 2/3 line from Brooklyn to Manhattan in the morning, a man in a business suit is a 3-1 bet to get off at Wall Street, and so he makes a great Likely Target if you're going further uptown. A 19-year-old on the F train with an NYU patch on her backpack is likely to get off at West 4th; a woman in scrubs on the uptown 6 train at Bleecker St. is a terrible target because she's probably bound for the hospital complexes on the Upper East Side. Consider the possibilities of transfers as well; a woman in hose and sneakers (signifying heels in her tote bag) on the Q train might very well transfer to the 2/3 for Wall Street at Atlantic Ave., so she makes a great Target if you're at Prospect Park. Look for several Targets in one seating area to increase your chances of success.
  6. Once you've chosen the Target, grab the horizontal pole above his/her head, assume a wide stance for balance and to assert your future right to the seat, and hang on. Do not loom or get in the Target's personal space. (You can take hold of the central pole in the aisle, if the train offers it, which potentially gives you access to Targets on both sides; but beware that people standing directly in front of Targets then get first dibs on those seats.)
  7. As the train approaches a station, particularly a good transfer point, watch your Targets and their seatmates carefully. Is anyone gathering up a bag or folding away a newspaper? If the space in front of that person is free, move into it, even if s/he was not previously identified as a Likely Target. If someone else is standing in that space, respect the right of your fellow Stander to take that seat first.
  8. When the train stops and a Target rises, back off to give him/her space to move out of the train. Once the Target is clear of the space, you can drop a purse, umbrella (dry only), or newspaper into the seat to identify it as yours until you are able to sit down. Note that if you have competition from a fellow Stander for the seat, this technique may get you some dirty looks.
  9. Turn around so you are looking into the train, pull your legs together and all personal belongings to you, and sit down. This is an especially useful technique if you are taking up residence in a middle seat and need to squeeze between two people. N.B.I.: Men almost never want to sit in middle seats. N.B.II: Men are also notorious for opening their legs wide once seated. This is annoying, men. Please take up the width of your seat space and no more.
  10. The following people must always be given the option of taking a seat before you, or offered your seat if you're sitting and they're standing: pregnant ladies; young children; parents holding young children; anyone with a cane/crutches/other obvious impairment; the elderly. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you're sitting and need to offer your seat to someone, you should stand up as or after you catch the person's eye, because many people will not take the seat they deserve if you remain sitting down when you offer. (You can say "I'm getting off at the next stop" as you offer the seat, whether it is true or not; it will ease their conscience at taking the seat and grease the wheels of the transaction.) It is also polite and admirable to offer your seat to women wearing heels (because a lengthy standing train ride in those babies is both tricky and tiring), people with lots of bags, or people who just look like they've had a really long day.
  11. If you are not tired and there are few seats on the train, or if you're within two stops of your destination, ignore these rules and don't sit down -- let one of your fellow New Yorkers catch a break. Good seat karma will come to you in turn.
Happy subway riding and sitting!


  1. *sigh* You make me miss NY.

    I will never NEVER forget my Brooklyn Italian friend telling me how to get on a crowded sub train if it's super crowded and people won't get out of the way. He demonstrated:

    -Open arms and legs spread eagle
    -Step into as much of the train as you can.
    -Lean forward until people move

    It always worked for him!

  2. Thanks, this made me laugh.

    I've never been to NYC, but I grew up in Hong Kong where many of the same rules apply.

  3. I have not had the experience of riding a NYC subway, but I can tell you that #2 and #5-#11 will also work when attempting to acquire a seat on a Walt Disney World bus.

  4. Good advice. Works for the DC Metro too.

  5. I used to visit my sister in NYC when she lived there, and this brought back interesting memories of me risking the subway alone while she was at work.

    Thanks for the laugh!

  6. Haha! I could just as well use these rules to board the super-crowded Bombay trains, especially the bit about the Likely Target :)

  7. Whew! I'm glad I live in the Midwest. I got clausterphobic just reading about that.

  8. You say: "The following people must always be given the option of taking a seat before you, or offered your seat if you're sitting and they're standing: pregnant ladies;..."

    What if they're pregnant but not ladies? Skanks, for ex., is it permissible to ignore them?


  9. This is much more complicated than my strategem of going to work at an ungodly hour and in an ungodly neighborhood. Seats aplenty!

  10. wow! When I was in NYC I just stood unless there were plenty of open seats just to make sure I didn't get myself into a "situation".

  11. Another option: Take the local! I <3 the R train in the morning. :) Always a seat waiting for me...

  12. As one currently encumbered by both cast and cane, and rapidly losing a certain amount of faith in humanity based on her subway experiences of late, oh, how I wish that more people followed your Rule #10!

  13. Molly's experience reminded me of when I had a broken foot, was on crutches. Even tho healthy male, people regularly offered their subway and bus seats to me.

  14. Good tips! I think that watching the smaller rows of seats at the end of the cars on the 1/3 train is also useful as many times people don't notice them. You know that grouping of 2 seats and 4 seats? People tend to look to the middle, not the end. But I'm also helped by not traveling at rush hour too often.

  15. I enjoyed these tips, but I've found a even better alternative to go from my area of Brooklyn into Manhattan: express bus! Always a seat and less stress.

  16. Ha! I love seeing something I've come to take as a natural process filled out in such thorough detail. (Chicago and Boston subways aren't *exactly* like this, but very close.)

  17. I agree with all the tips and almost always get a seat for my commute. Another great tip is once you've got a seat, make sure you have a portable seat cushion so you can enjoy it. In NYC the subway seats are rock hard fiberglass. I got my travel seat cushion at subwayseat.com. It makes my commute so much more bearable!

  18. Look this is the true way of always getting a seat on the train bring a bag of dog sh33t or let your cat piss on a cloth or better yet eat something which causes great amounts of farting then you can have the whole goddamn train to yourself cus everyone will leave the train!