The strategies of subway riders

Do you like to stand or sit? If you choose to stand, do you prefer vertical poles or overhead bars? Researchers spent weeks recording our decisions.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor on

Subway riders are making series of minute decisions all the time. Stand and hold the pole or sit in a crowded row? Stay in the same seat or move to an available spot by the door?

Now, the daily seating calculations of New York subway riders have been recorded by researchers of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over three weeks last winter. New York Times reports.

The snapshots combine to sketch a transit landscape of convenience, game theory and occasional altruism, where often every movement is executed with purpose.

Some findings:

  • When there are more passengers than seats, 10 percent of seats aren't taken. Even when a car is less than half-filled, some riders inevitably choose to stand.
  • Riders are “overwhelmingly attracted” to vertical poles, compared with overhead bars.
  • Those who stand prefer to be near doors -- to lean against partitions, save seconds when exiting, and avoid accidental eye contact.
  • Seats near a door are preferred, and spots between people on a bench are disliked.
  • Because seat-changing requires effort and risk (if someone snatches it before you), riders often give up their “current less-desirable seats” before busy stops -- positioning themselves near seats with likely turnovers.
  • In crowded trains, children make up a disproportionate share of ridership, and men are more likely to stand than women.
  • Women are less likely to ride in near-empty cars, preferring middle cars closer to the conductor.
  • On trains with seats facing both directions, riders in New York -- unlike in other parts of the country -- don’t seem to have a preference.

It’s unclear what effect the research might have on future plans for cars, but the report did suggest a remedy for crowding near exits: asymmetric doors. Exits that don't face each other would stagger the crowds that form near them.

A draft is published on the Transportation Research Board website.

[Via NYT]

Image by S J Pinkney via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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