A Stratification of Metro Transit Light Rail Vehicle Seating

In the 1944 musical film Meet Me In St. Louis, Judy Garland sung these famous words:

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings
From the moment I saw him I fell

Fell she did–into our hearts, and into the seat of a turn-of-the-century streetcar. But if you’re like me, you’re left wondering: “What if Ms. Garland, a Minnesota native, had sung the Trolley Song today?”

Why, you’d have to assume she’d still be falling into our hearts but also into the seat of a modern Metro Transit light rail vehicle, or LRV. What would that experience be like?

Rolling Stock

We have two distinct types of LRVs in the METRO system. The older cars, which run exclusively on the Blue Line, are Bombardier Flexity Swifts, which are delightfully named. The newer cars are Siemens S70s, named by the less imaginative but ever practical (there are 70 seats incl. the operators’) Germans, and they run on both the Blue and Green Lines. There are 27 Flexity Swift vehicles and 59 S70s.

Both run in two and three car configurations, and have a pleasant electric “whirr” as they zip along their routes.

But how are the seats?

Let’s review in chunks here. Originally the plan was a sort of deadpan ranking of all seats but there are just too many seats and the I couldn’t find the schematics for the Flexity Swift cars at a high enough resolution to sensibly label them all on a diagram. Here is an S70, though.

Siemens S70 diagram

They are actually quite large! Three of those in a row can easily carry several hundred people in relative comfort, more after sporting events in less comfortable arrangements. You’ll note that one bus and one three car train both require one operator, and people are Metro Transit’s largest expense.

So, we could divide LRV seating into four categories: Primo Seats, Middlin’ Seats, Awkward Seats, and Why? Seats.

Your Primo Seats

You know them–the good ones. The best seats are:

  • Forward-facing
  • Face-to-back, not face-to-face
  • Already down
  • Not jammed up against a bulk head for some reason

So I think we all know what we’re talking about here, but if you need the image, here it is:

S70 seatsThese seats are the best seats. Woe unto those wretch’d knaves who put their purses and backpacks on the seat next to them, forcing you to seek lesser accommodations.

Of course, these seats will face the other direction exactly 50% of the time, knocking them down to Middlin’ Seats, which we will discuss below.

Train Seats ReversedYour Middlin’ Seats

Middlin’ Seats are okay–they’re alright, really. Unlike most buses, train cars move in two different directions, and they don’t really have a “front.” So it makes sense to not make all the seats face one direction. Still, it reminds me of drawing the short straw on road trips as a kid and having to sit backwards in the station wagon, which definitely made sense for me to do as the brother who got motion-sickness; thanks Tom. Your Middlin’ Seats will:

  • Not face forward
  • May require some effort
  • Barring motion-sickness issues, be equally as comfortable as Primo Seats

Here are some Middlin’ Seats:

S70 pull down seatsThis technically makes some sense! Having the middle area open in the LRV is probably good when it is very full. But the extra effort associated with folding them down, as well as the sideways orientation, makes them not Primo Seats. Shout out, though, to the love seat in the Flexity Swift accordion:

Flexity Swift Accordion Love SeatYour Awkward Seats

Even more so than the accordion love seats, the ones that face each other are just awkward and not great. As mentioned above, there is maybe a benefit in having half the seats face one direction and half face another, seeing as the train can go both directions. But staring at someone and bumping knees with them is the worst. As if we needed another reason to bury our terrible heads in our terrible phones.

Face to face seatsI remember when the University of Minnesota switched out all the Campus Connector buses to face-to-face seats. Why even have Welcome Week if you just have to stare at random people all day? It’s redundant. Also, everyone puts their feet on the seat and that’s kind of gross, especially in winter. Here is someone doing it last night!

Seat feetYour Why? Seats

Why????

Why? SeatsThese are bad! A special guest appearance by the author’s regular-sized legs confirm that this is a bad situation. The scrunching is to simulate an adjacent passenger; my right thigh is approximately along the middle of the seat.

Bad SeatThis seat is no fun to sit in and is in fact the worst seat in the entire system! It is worse than any seat on a slow and crowded bus.

Caveat

It should also go without saying that wrapped advertising over windows is terrible–even a primo seat on any LRV (or bus) is automatically really bad. We have to pay the bills, of course, but it’s just the worst when the windows are covered. An awkward face-to-face seat on a crowded train with a wrapped window? Not great. Where do you look!

Conclusions

You are now familiar with the relative quality of different LRV seats! Choose your seats wisely, as Ms. Garland would.


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10 Responses to A Stratification of Metro Transit Light Rail Vehicle Seating

  1. Matt Steele August 1, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    Fun fact: there’s a type of seat called the “walkover” I’ve seen on Chicago’s Bi-Level Metra cars (and I think similar CalTrain cars?) where the seat back will flip side to side. The seats can then always face forward, with a simple push of the seat back.

    Some good history on the seats here:
    http://www.didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk/zrailmotor93/features/features.html
    And Metra’s use of them here:
    http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=64&t=41964

    “BTW, on older equipment, all of the seats were “walkover” type so that you’d always be able to sit facing forward. Stuff ordered by RTA in the 70’s (all still in use by Metra) had fixed seats facing the center of the car. Everyone hates those, so 1990’s orders came with walkovers again.”

    • Matt Steele August 1, 2015 at 10:49 am #

      Oh, and another Metra fun fact not related to seats: It is (usually) legal to drink alcohol on the train. http://metrarail.com/content/metra/en/home/utility_landing/riding_metra/faq.html#q18

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 1, 2015 at 11:03 am #

      That’s true of the St. Charles streetcar in New Orleans too. The conductor pushes all the seats to face the opposite way at each end of the trip.

    • brad August 3, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

      Many regional trains I rode in Japan had these kind of adjustable-facing seats. In addition to being good when the train switches direction, they’re also better for conversation when traveling in groups of 3-4 (and have way better leg room when facing)

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 1, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Pretty much dead on!

    You forgot to add the (stupid and) never-used-for-their-intended-purpose “disability companion accommodation” seats that have been added to the Green Line that replaced about 1/3 of the bike racks.

  3. Julia August 1, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    I like the idea of ranking the seats! I don’t mind sitting facing backwards (variety! novelty!), nor do I mind the seats facing other people (covert people watching! way more knee space than on the U of M connectors!). I also dislike the flip up seats in practice–they’re difficult for me to use and flip back up on me when I’m not fully standing.

    I’m all about the windows, though. I hate ending up with no or half-window. Or those horrible wraps–it really feels strangely insulting and demeaning, as if my (quality of life) is being sold to those driving single occupancy vehicles next to me. Public transit having to sell us out to make ends meet while we subsidize sprawl and highways feels about as backwards as the old quote about schools having to have bake sales while the we flood the army with bombers.

  4. Keith Morris August 1, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

    I’m all about the middlin’ seats: I get to sit right next to my bike and get a nice wide view of whichever side of the Mississippi I’m facing.

  5. Peter Bajurny August 1, 2015 at 10:46 pm #

    DC Metro has the thing where some seats are forwards and some are backwards and some are sideways, and I have a friend that can only sit in the sideways or backwards, she gets dizzy in the forward seats.

  6. Anders Imboden
    Anders August 2, 2015 at 2:40 am #

    There’s a somewhat obscure German insult, which is to call someone a Straßenbahninfahrtrichtungssitzer (one who sits in the direction of travel on the tram). Similar to a Warmduscher (one who takes warm showers), or a Schattenparker (one who parks his car in the shade — and we’re talking about men here), a Straßenbahninfahrtrichtungssitzer may be seen as a sort of ‘sissy’. Food for thought.