How do you like the new train seats?

There’s been lots of talk about the seating layout of the new CTA 5000 series rail cars that we’re seeing on the Green Line and Pink Line trains. From what we’ve heard it seems like the new aisle-facing configuration is here to stay, but that has brought up a new source of debate about the seats themselves: bucket or bench?

Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Hilkevitch has made it clear he’s not a fan of the current bucket style seats and asks CTA to listen to riders on the issue. So Riders for Better Transit is asking you!

There are advantages and disadvantages to both seating styles, as we’ve heard from riders.

Those in favor of a bench seat say that parceling out space for people makes for an uncomfortable ride. Not all riders fit in the allotted 17.5” seat and when some spill over onto the next seat, it makes for a tight squeeze for their neighbor.

Bench style MTA R142 (New York); photo courtesy of LTK Engineeering Services.                        
CTA 5000 rail car (Chicago); photo courtesy of CTA Tattler. 

Riders who prefer the bucket style seating featured in the new CTA cars argue that without the seat markings, there’s nothing to stop people from taking up even more space than they need, putting bags, jackets and other items next to them. 

Both the bench and the bucket style seats allow for more standing room, allowing more people to fit on crowded trains.

Take our poll below or click here and tell us what you think! We’ll share the results with CTA. We’ll also enter your name in a raffle for a chance to win a free copy of the book, Carless in Chicago. Take the survey before Oct. 14. 

Here’s how staffers in the Active Trans office answered:

  • 50 percent voted for bench seating
  • 44 percent voted for bucket seating
  • 6 percent no preference 

This survey is now closed.

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Yeah... I felt that there is

Yeah... I felt that there is indeed a lot of space to accommodate luggage, which is the main advantages of travelling in trains. Anyways thanks a lot for sharing such a lot of information mainly about the pros and cons of travelling in train.


Whoever designed the new el cars must have been small. Here's a MAJOR issue with them. There is no longer ANY shoulder room. The old 2 seat config meant two men could sit next to each other and shoulders could find room. Now I dread sitting between two other men. I have to fold my arms to lessen discomfort. All the new cars really needed was a car-length horizontal pole with hand straps and the seats kept the same.

isle facing seats

I agree the isle facing seats are a joke. On a good note- the bums that ride the Red Line will be able to lie down when they sleep on the train.

Now its so unpleasant to ride the el

The Green Line just recently switched to the new sideway cars. While commuting every day on the el is not always a great experience, it is now downright unpleasant because of the new seat configurations. Nothing like starting and ending the day scrunched like a sardine for a half our train ride. I can't beleive this total debacle.

Need a 4th choice on survey

If the CTA really wanted to know what their customers prefer, they would have added a fourth answer to their survey: "I hate the sideways seats, I want the classic Chicago-style seating in our new railcars." By limiting the survey choices to a trivial "bench" vs. "bucket" choice, the CTA officials are demonstrating their disregard for the comfort of their patrons. Hey CTA execs, how about us customers deciding how your seating is arranged in your workplace? We know the most efficient arrangement better than you do.

New Cars

What about dedicated space for bikes? Why don't we follow California's lead instead of New York's?

If you don't ask... you don't get

I've sent the following to the CTA via their website at

You might want to send something similar...

    Helpful Information: Some other CTA facility or infrastructure - [Fill in] New Equipment

    Subject: Seating on new rapid transit cars

    TO: Forrest Claypool, President
    Terry Peterson, Chairman

    On there is a letter you authored titled "A letter from the Chairman and President". The last sentence of that letter says "All of our efforts serve to support one goal - to provide the type of service where people want to ride the system and ridership increases because of the experience."

    Who are you kidding?

    You have received an enormous amount of feedback concerning the aisle-facing seating on a billion dollars of equipment that we will be stuck with for 40 years. CHICAGOANS... YOUR CUSTOMERS... HATE IT. Still... you have no intention of changing your mind. Is it your money? Do you ride the system? Are you a dictator? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?

    WHAT IS THE BASIS OF YOUR DICTATORIAL PROCLAMATION? Exactly what is gained by this seating configuration? "It's what they do in New York" doesn't cut it. This is Chicago... and people live here for a variety of reasons... none of which is on the hope it turns into NY.

    Is it a cost issue? Well... spread the cost over 40 years of service. How many people will sit on each seat during the life of the equipment? Does the increase in cost amount to 1/1000 of a penny per use? If it's an economic decision... it's a very bad decision. NOBODY WANTS TO COMMUTE IN A CATTLE CAR. Penny-wise... pound foolish.

    To give the appearance of actually listening to your customers... you've now turned a bad solution into THE problem - "bucket or bench". How about paying attention to what YOUR CUSTOMERS say they want?

    I've been in the "test cars". If I have a seat on a crowded train I get to look at a crotch. If it's not crowded I can't look out the window. Why not get rid of the windows too?

    How about those backpacks and rollaboard suitcases? Sitting on an aisle-facing seat leaves no choice - block the aisle... or use an adjacent seat.

    This decision is totally removed from what the people want. Yet you arrogantly say "All of our efforts serve to support one goal - to provide the type of service where people want to ride the system and ridership increases because of the experience."

    I did not write this to be ignored and feel inconsequential. I WANT AN ANSWER. Exactly what do you perceive to be the overwhelming benefit of using the aisle-facing seating... enough of a benefit that it overrides what your customers are demanding? Where is the wisdom in this decision?

Completely agree


You made EXCELLENT points in your post, I completely agree with you. Somehow, we are supposed to believe that "extra" room has been created in the new railcars, which are the same size as the old railcars, approximately 416 square feet of total floor space in each car. The operators cab occupies some of this space, the remainder is for customers. The number of seats in a car determines how much open space remains. Sideways seating does make for a wider aisle WHEN THE SEATS ARE EMPTY. However, when passengers are in those seats, their legs and feet are, out of necessity, IN THE AISLE. The aisle is now NARROWER because peoples legs and feet are taking up some of the "extra" space. In cars with the forward/rear facing seats, the riders legs and feet are NOT IN THE AISLE, therefore, there is actually MORE standing room with this configuration. Apparently, this logic escaped the decision makers at the CTA. Take a look at the difference the next time you're in a crowded 'L' car, compare the "Chicago" style seating to the "New York" style seating, and the difference will be obvious.

Hate new CTA/train seats

Re: New seating on CTA buses and Trains:

I hate the new Cta/train seats! For all the money I have to spend on public transportation, I prefer a Geoffrey Baer view of Chicago through a window, not somebody's blobby guts in my face standing in front of me in the aisle.

Ridiculous new trains

1.) New York sucks, as do their train seating arrangements....
2.) Screw you, CTA, if user experience isn't a high priority for you....
3.) I DO have other options for transport (I bike way more often now).

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