Monday, May 20, 2013

The Art of Riding the NYC Subway

There's a rhythm to the madness of riding the New York City subway.

Like many others who live here, I know exactly which car of the train to board to be nearest the stairwell when I get off at my home subway station. Not only that, but I know the exact door of the car where I should exit. Same went for when I was commuting to work.

But that's the easy part. Slightly trickier questions include:

  • Should I bother sitting if I'm only going a couple of stops?
  • Just how close dare I sit to that stinky guy? How much stank can I stand?
  • If I'm sitting next to someone and a whole slew of people get off, should I move to a seat where no one is sitting? Will that offend the person I'm sitting next to -- or will it annoy her if I don't? 

I'm certainly not the only one with my own personal subway schemes. A draft report by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority shows "a transit landscape of convenience, game theory and occasional altruism, where often every movement is executed with purpose," according to an April article in the New York Times.

Unsurprisingly, both subway sitters and standers prefer spots by the door. Even less surprising was that standing riders much prefer grabbing onto vertical poles rather than overhead bars. (A not-so-secret trick to getting yourself more space as a stander is to make your way to the middle of the car and use an overhead bar. Standers congregate next to the poles, and it's very crowded. But it's a trade-off: Using the bars is quite uncomfortable.)

Here's my preferences if I'm alone:

  1. Sitting next to no one.
  2. Sitting next to a pleasant-looking, clean person.
  3. Standing next to the door -- you can lean against the door or an adjacent partition.
  4. Standing next to a vertical pole. (Note that Nos. 3 and 4 may be switched in an extremely full car. If you stand next to the door, you may have to get off the train for a few seconds to let people off the car. Annoying.)
  5. Standing in the middle of the car, using an overhead bar.
  6. NEVER: Sitting or standing next to a smelly person. AWFUL. Move to the other end of the car, or to an entirely new car at the next stop.

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