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).

Sideways Sux

The new railcars are the same size as the old railcars, they are 48 feet long and 8 feet 8 inches wide at floor level. The new cars have 38 seats, the 3200 series cars on the Brown and Orange lines have 39 seats, and the 2600 series cars on the Red and Blue lines have 45 or 46 seats, depending upon whether they are the "A" or "B" configuration. Take a look at the photo at this link: It's a picture of one of the "test" seating configurations that was installed in a 3200 series car. Take a close look at the transverse vs. longitudinal seating. Imagine that there are passengers sitting in both types of seats. The sideways seats have VERY little additonal room between the seats and the aisles. With passengers seated in those sideways seats, there is actually LESS room in the aisles! Passengers in the front / rear facing seats put their feet UNDER the seat in front of them. Passengers in the sideways seats put their feet IN THE AISLE! The assertion that there is more standing room with aisle facing seats is FALSE!

Message From a Native

Message From a Native Chicagoan:

The New York Transit, isle-facing type seating IS A JOKE! Really. Personally, I've riden on the New York subway numerous times (IND, BMT, IRT, you name it). While you do eventally get used to the isle-facing seating arrangement, it's still awkward because you try your best not to lock eye contact with the person sitting accross the isle from you. Trust me, a lot of times that's much easier said than done. The other part that's annoying about this type of seating is when the train is packed (i.e., rush hour). Now you gotta deal with face-to-rump contact with people's backsides! Now, riding on the Green Line (Jackson Park or Englewood-Lake Street) might not be so bad because those lines may not be so packed during rush hour, like say, the the Dan Ryan-Howard Red Line. But after the Green Line gets its full numer of 5000 series L cars, the next line to get them will be the Red Line. I would hate to see what that would be like riding on a packed-to-capacity Red Line train using these new cars with isle-facing seating! CTA should have stuck with the old Chicago style of seating--period! Also, as a side point on the NYC subway car picture shown above: That car is either an R143 or R160, not an R142 as it has curve sides. The R142s do not have curved sides and are narrower exterior and interior-wise than the photo shown above.

Wrong question. Who cares

Wrong question. Who cares whether their bucket or bench? The direction of the seats is the real problem. Sideways seats are all terrible because:
a. you lose the view (and to those who say New Yorkers like em fine--well, most of their system is underground)
b. you lose bars and handholds for standing passengers. The straps are too high for most women, and the bars are too widely spaced for passengers who don't have the reach of your average orangutan.
c. Tall or large people will have to take up two seats. With forward seats, they at least have the option of putting their legs a bit out into the aisle. p.s., there are a lot of large and/or tall people in Chicago.
d. they facilitate harassment and other perv behavior. Just ask the women of New York, who have to withstand face-on leering, self-pleasuring and guys who just "have" to bump into you because of the straps.

New seating dangerous for certain people

What about those, like me, who have to sit with their leg fully extended (e.g., those with hip surgeries, broken legs, and other more long-term disabilities who can't always get paratransit)? This seating style means we are forced to leave our limbs open to the treacheries of the aisle instead of being protected from people not paying attention, crowds, children, rolling carts, etc. etc. HATE it!

Sideways = stupid

Those at CTA who forced the sideways seats upon us riders should have their chairs bolted sideways in front of their desks. There is NO more standing room with sideways seats, that "extra" room is occupied by peoples legs and feet, and also by their backpacks, packages, and whatever else they may be carrying, things that used to be placed (hopefully) UNDER the seats in the cars with the forward / rear facing seat configuration. C'mon CTA, admit that you goofed and order the rest of the new cars with the forward / rear facing plastic buckets that us 'L' riders have loved for a long time.


Yes! No room for packages or bags, and the strap-hangers shoulderbags swing into the faces of the seated passengers. Because there are fewer seats to begin with, then fewer seats occupied because of large people using 1-1/2 seats I don't see how the new cars are actually accomodating more people despite the extra floor room.

NO extra floor space

As "L Rider" has stated in his post, the new railcars are the same size as the old railcars, therefore there is no additional room in the new cars. Fewer seats will increase the amount of available floor space, so if the CTA doesn't care what their customers like ,and they REALLY want to pack us in like sardines, they should order the cars without ANY seats! Hey CTA, since you believe that sideways seating creates more standing room and a better rider experience for YOUR customers, will your next order for new busses specify that they have all sideways seats? It seems that most people HATE riding sideways, and most people would prefer to sit instead of stand, so how about 46 forward/rear facing seats in our railcars?

seating on trains and poor connections to buses

I prefer the Metra seating which is similar to trains which bring commuters from outlying areas to NYC. However, I live in the city and walk 1.5 miles to the Kimball station as the buses are unreliable and even if on time, not in sync with the train I wish to take. In other words, with the bus I arrive too early or too late.
I spend 40 minutes on the train each way. Being able to sit and read makes the commute bearable. I enjoy the privacy of the current seating arrangement on the Brown line.
It is a shame that my daughter has to stand for 35 minutes when returning home from high school. She has a heavy book bag and could use the time to study. Unfortunately, trains are crowded when highschool teens are returning home and seats are not to be found.
The sideway seating only has disadvantages as others stated. I do not want to rub body parts or observe others. It would be difficult to hold on to my belongings and a book as well.

Reconfigure the poles too

If they have to keep the aisle-facing seats, not only would bench seats be preferable, but they need to get rid of some of the poles -- the NY configuration just has poles at the ends of the seating groups. If there are large people taking up 1-1/2 seats on either end of a 4-seat grouping, a third person can't sit in the middle because of the pole. As a Green Line rider, my overall comment is that the designers and the administrators who approved the configuration totally disrespect the passengers and know that most of us have no option but to ride the CTA and they'll still collect fares from us no matter how uncomfortable we are.

Dislike New Sitting Plan

I dislike so much the way CTA wants to change the seats. For one, sitting sideways gets me so sick to my stomach and not to mention the way I feel after getting off the train. Not enough poles for people to hold on too. And what about those who are not tall enough to reach the handles? I like facing forward or backwards as long as I can see out the windows and not other passangers faces. Please CTA dont bring those cars out. In that case I rather take the bus home.

seating is the least of the problems

Seating is the least of the problems. Get rid of the amateur rappers with their cellphone boomboxes, the pan-handlers, those who urinate in the bum-seat, and put some alarms on the emergency exit doors, which are used by criminals who ride the trains every day.

Hate on new CTA seating

I am sure that the CTA execs who ordered these sideway seats did not first try them out themselves, under ordinary commuting conditions. They would not put up with the indignity of it all. I don't like rubbing hips and shoulders with strangers. Or facing them square in the crotch. I am not overweight, and I barely fit in the seats, much less your average big-butt Chicagoan. And guys, regardless of build, all seem to want to spread out their legs and take up space when they sit. Yes, the winter coat season will be a nightmare. It would be interesting to know how many of the CTA executives commute to work on the CTA trains. What were they thinking?

sideways; no way

I dont like the sideways crowded seating. I dont like looking in someones face for a long, slow, noisy trip. I like the seats that face front to back. New seating is a horrible idea. This is why I mostly ride metra. The people who approved this probably dont have to ride the greenline in the morning. Worst commute ever! The CTA needs conductors and a quiet car option.

Poles too close together

To a transit nerd like myself, the longitudinal seating configuration makes sense. However, Chicagoans need to learn how to move away from the doors and into the aisles. That is why there is so much room. The argument that you can't see Chicago go by is BS, just look out the window across from you.

The bucket seats are a bad move. You should only take up the space that you need, not have it defined for you. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if the poles weren't so close together, but if there is someone sitting in one of the seats between two poles, forget about sitting in the other one. They made a big mistake with that.

current blue line

When will we see aisle-facing seating and cameras on the blue line trains? I prefer bucket seats over the bench-style seating; the bucket seating will help prevent people from sliding into each other. That said, sideways is much better than the current configuration; after being the victim of an attempted robbery and the victim of an assault on the blue line, the sideways seating allows all riders the ability to keep an eye on what's around them at all times.

Pink line

I agree with the other pink line passenger. The cold weather is now upon us, with big bulky coats, bags, wet from rain/snow, and only 4 cars, people are going to be more uncomfortable. The cars are starting to get so crowded the older people have no place to sit and holding onto the straps is very uncomfortable, especially for the shorter people. We will become prime candidates for robbers - we are so packed in the four cars. The pink line goes around curves that almost throws you off the seats, someone is going to be seriously injured trying to balance holding onto the straps. We need more cars.

Bus seating

These new trains really stink, and I do mean stink. I am tired of peoples private parts in my face. I ride the pink line. There are 4 rail cars, where there should be at least 5 or 6. Some people are just too big for those seats. I can't sit between 2 fat people. The CTA is a joke. What made them even decide to try to do something stupid like that. A crowded train is a crowded train no matter how you look at it. Even with the new rail system people are still crowding up in the doorway. The aisles could be empty but they will still stand in front of the door, so, I say what difference does it make if there is room or not. You still have to ask people to move to get off the train and there is a lot of room where they don't have to stand in front of the doors.

The construction

Get rid of the fabric on the seats. They hold odor and attrack bed bugs.

I ride the pink line and it

I ride the pink line and it is very uncomfortable! We only get four carts and they get packed right away. While other lines get over six carts. We live in an obese society, I'm sorry but it's true. You have people spilling over to 1.5 seats, who wants to sit in half a seat? Its barley fall and its uncomfortable I can only imagine how it'll be in the winter time when everyone has their oversized coats. Instead of having a view of the city you sometimes get a view of a crotch or of someone with their pants half way down their ass. That's a sight to see!

CTA seating is fine as is.

Sideway facing seats are horrible!
New York can keep that style of seating.

Winter coats--and sightseeing

I don't like the center-facing seats primarily because for me one of the joys of riding the 'L' is watching Chicago go by. With the new seating we get to watch Chicago rear ends (or crotches!) instead. Not nearly as attractive.

And speaking of Chicago's rear ends. I can assure you that the average Chicagoan will spill over a 17" seat--I certainly do. The advantage of the front-facing seating is that the outside passenger can sit partly over the edge, but there are scarcely any edges on the new seats. And just wait until those Chicago rear ends become incases in bulky winter coats. It will be ridiculous.

Finally I notice that the ads are are smaller in the new cars--and higher up. I'm sure that the proliferation of smart phones and kindles has meant that fewer people notice the ads anyway, but this may make them even less effective. Fine for the riders. Less fine for the advertisers and ultimately the CTA.

As a former blue line rider

As a former blue line rider who recently became a green line rider, I am positive the inside-facing configuration is preferable. On crowded lines, like the blue and red, extra standing room is critical. But the bucket seats are terrible. Chicagoans, god love them, do not fit neatly in the deliniated space. I also always note that it's not just about weight- men with broad shoulders and "wide stances" spill over too. Basically we all have to accept that we are going to be touching each other a lot more than we want to be, and the bucket seats are not going to be able to be the firm physical boundaries we assume they are. Bench style seats would have been so much better and less awkward for everyone. I am dreading down-coat season on the green line. I just don't see how it's going to work.

This was a reasonable try.

This was a reasonable try. But in New York, London, and a few other systems with this style seating, the cars are bigger. A few centimeters in width makes a big difference. With these cars, I prefer the older CTA configuration.

Przpraszam po polsku. Lo siento en espanol. Nobody here talks the English good anymore, so never mind.

-- Jim the Jew, West Loop

Unacceptable Seating

I dislike this seating. Fortunately, I have a choice of rerouting to take Metra downtown or driving, as parking is provided for me. I can assure you that anyone who has a choice will not accept such primitive seating arrangements. I've been riding the "L" for a long time and was perfectly satisfied with transverse seating vs. longitudinal seating. I am not interested in letting this downgrade in service leak in as a standard in Chicago. Please correct CTA's lapse in management judgement and do not order any more cars with this unfortunate seating configuration. I suspect that their response will be that it's technically not possible, but I'm sure there's still time to modify the add-on (option) cars to the base order to a more civilized seating arrangement.

By the way, I'm not buying the limited question option play of longitudinal bench vs. bucket seats in the survey. The answer is that almost no passengers want this form of seating. Get rid of it.

For now, it's either Metra or I'm driving.

Brown line better

I think it is very telling that these new cars are being rolled out first among those with the least means to complain. Buckets vs. Benches is NOT the question. It is facing forward or backward versus sideways, and sideways is simply unacceptable. It treats us like cattle.

seating on the new cars leaves a lot to be desired

Sideways facing seats in the bucket configuration is the WORST of all possible worlds. I agree with David's comment above. A configuration like the brown line cars is much better - a bit more standing room, but better seating.

If we gotta sit sideways, please make it NYC style bench seats, so that there's more flexibility in how people fit into the space. Having poles every two seat spaces is too close together, especially when people are bundled up in winter coats. NYC did it better in that respect, too.

Happy medium?

How about we split the difference between the new "more standing room" seating arrangement and the old "I'm forced to sit next to someone on one side of me at most" seats and roll out the current seating arrangement on the Brown Line to the new cars? Of all possible options, that would be my top preference.

Sitting Sideways Sucks

  1. Why use New York as a model for anything?
  2. Marking things off does at least offer some kind of measure. Of course, you've got the nihilists for whom no boundary need apply but really you can't help them.
  3. Finally, when the real issue is sitting sideways, worrying about to bucket or not to bucket is a nice attempt at distraction -- nice try.

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