17.7.08

THE RETURN OF THE BOWLING ALLEY CAR. The Chicago Transit Authority is using an old method of dealing with additional riders.


Under an experiment announced Wednesday, the Chicago Transit Authority plans to remove all the seats on some cars of rush-hour trains to jam in more riders who otherwise would be left behind on crowded rail platforms.

There's nothing new in this, as these photos from Chicago's Rapid Transit, Volume I, page 138 illustrate. These are the Metropolitan West Side's 2756-2781 of 1898-1899 construction, with the exterior of 2766 as rebuilt and the interior of 2756 as built with walkover seats and as rebuilt with more standee straps and longitudinal seating. (What happened to the Logan Square Vaudeville Theater? Horlick's Malted Milk is still available.)


The more things change.
Up to about 90 riders can sit or stand in each car on most standard CTA trains. By yanking out seats and eliminating the aisle, an additional 25 to 50 passengers could be crammed into each car, officials estimated.
The change illustrates a number of problems, some good, some not so good.
"I usually carry my laptop, and when I can't put it down, my back hurts," said Brown Line rider Abigail Szymonik, 29, at the State/Lake station.
It won't get any easier as you get older, toots.
But the reasons behind the change signal good news for the CTA: ridership is up, due in large part to soaring gasoline prices. But the extra fares from carrying more riders don't begin to cover the transit agency's operating costs, said CTA chairwoman Carole Brown.
The article notes that a new, unfunded state mandate to transport senior citizens at no charge has boosted ridership without revenues. The Legislature's failure to pass a capital spending bill also hampers the carrier.
In addition, the CTA cannot buy all the new rail cars it needs until the state comes through with new capital funding for transit, [Brown] said.
That legislative impasse has also put renovation of the Stevens Building and the modifications to Cole Hall on hold.

The carrier's reduced-seating plan might be a throwback to the Frank J. Sprague, Charles Tyson Yerkes era, but authority president Ron Huberman does not intend to import Asian notions of crush-loading.

The CTA began considering alternative seating several years ago when it tested a train car with more center-facing seats.

About 400 rail cars being built for the CTA will have some aisle-facing seats. They are set for delivery in 2010.

How far the experiment goes will depend on customer response, said Huberman, whose solution is a tacit nod to Japan's strategy for handling commuter congestion.

In Tokyo, uniformed "subway pushers" cram people inside overcrowded trains. The workers, called oshiya, or pushers, are assigned to every downtown station. Even when the rail cars seem full, the oshiya aggressively stuff additional passengers through the doors.

Huberman assured CTA riders that he is not looking to Asia or the Third World for ideas. He said CTA customers won't be asked to ride on the roofs of trains, as riders frequently do in India.

With overhead wire gone from the Evanston and Skokie lines, train surfing would not expose riders to the risks those Indian (and Brazilian) riders routinely run.

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