A seating arrangement on subway cars that encourages straphangers to gaze out the window or strike up a conversation is on track to become just a memory.
The MTA’s recent $1.7 billion order of 640 “futuristic” train cars spells the end of the cars with orange and yellow plastic seats arranged in groups of twos and threes.
The cutting-edge cars, which are fancier versions of modern trains already in service, will be gradually introduced through 2028, replacing the older trains with the vintage “conversational seating” arrangement, the MTA confirmed.
The new trains have fixed benches and folding benches on both sides, as well as extra space at the end of the car with no seating at all.
The older cars, most of which have been in service since the 1970s, break down more than twice as frequently as their modern counterparts, creating less reliable service and more headaches for the MTA.
Trains with the soon-to-be-obsolete seating arrangement primarily travel along the B, D, N and Q lines, allowing riders to take in the East River, the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn waterfront while crossing the Manhattan Bridge.
Analiese Yu, 30, was among the seated riders looking out the window earlier this week as her Q train crossed the bridge.
“If you’re able to sit like this so you can look out the window, that’s great,” said Yu, of Los Angeles.
On another train crossing the bridge, Marie Green, 25, sat next to her boyfriend Sean Noonan in two seats by the window. They were knee-to-knee with Green’s mother, who sat on the three-seat bench in front of them.
“It’s funny it’s ‘conversational’ because I feel like I can be more private in this setting than when it’s a line and you’re all squeezed together on one bench,” Green said.
“There’s something about these trains, I like them more.”
Noonan agreed that the older trains have a certain charm – but added that he also wants to get to work on time.
“I’m sure they break down a lot, as we can tell a lot by the weekly delays,” Noonan said. “I’m always happy to see new trains because that means we're getting a more efficient train system.”
The increasingly rare seating arrangement dates back to the very first subways 118 years ago, when seats were covered in fabric. The seating layout was then known as “Manhattan style” – a reference to the trains that ran on elevated lines in Manhattan.
The layout doesn’t just make for easy conversation. It also allows straphangers to prop their feet or a bag on the seat in front of them, sending a message that they want to be left the hell alone.
“I just think it's a nicer experience. You're more in your own space, you may not be bothering someone else,” said Andrew Albert, the MTA’s longest-serving board member. “It provided a meaningful space for people to walk down the aisle, not interfere. If you had things with you, you could sometimes, depending on their size, put them adjacent to your seat, but not sticking into the aisle. Without that ability, everything will be in the aisle.”
MTA President Richard Davey acknowledged riders' nostalgia, but said that didn’t change the need to buy modern train cars with wider doors, security cameras, built-in electronic signal technology, digital information on train stops and clear, automated announcements.
“All good things probably must come to an end, and this is no different. Our No. 1 job is to increase capacity in the system. The new cars will allow for that.” Davey said, noting the modern cars gave passengers more room to get on and off, speeding up service.
Other riders had mixed feelings. Veronica Karpoich, 33, said the older seats encouraged passengers not to spread out.
The new, long benches don’t have “that marker where you should contain yourself, which I feel like, for a lot of people, is really necessary,” said Karpoich, who lives in Park Slope.
But she added that plenty of people have poor subway etiquette on the older trains, too.
“You get a lot of people that take up both seats anyway, or they put their feet up on the other side, and that bothers me almost more than people spreading,” she said.
But then the Manhattan skyline came into view. Karpoich took it in and had to admit, “it’s a lot nicer.”