How to Get a Seat on a Crowded NYC Subway Train

  1. Consider positioning yourself on the platform to board either the first car or the last car on the train. You'll have a longer walk to the stairs at both your home station and your destination, but as a result those cars are usually notably less crowded.
  2. If a train pulls in and it's stuffed to the sliding doors, think about waiting for the next train. Frequently riders will grab the first train that comes along, especially after an extended wait. These trains often end up overloaded and uncomfortable, and chances of getting a seat are practically nil. However, these crowded trains are often quickly followed by near-empty trains, as everyone in a hurry pushed onto the previous train, and the ride as whole in these trains is much more pleasant.
  3. After boarding a crowded train, move out of the doorway and into the seating area as quickly as possible. All successful seat-getting on the train depends upon correct positioning within the seating area.
  4. The best place to stand in the seating area depends on the layout of the train. In an "H" train, where the seats form a "H" shape (broken vertically through the middle by the aisle) between each set of doors, the ideal location is at the joins of the lines, as near as possible to the corners created by the vertical three-seat and the horizontal two-seat. On one of the new trains with blue benches bisected by a central pole, the ideal location is midway between the pole and the end of the bench. On a train with gray benches lining the sides, however, you can hang anywhere along the bench in front of a Likely Target.
  5. Observe your fellow seated passengers carefully to determine the Likeliest Target. A Likely Target is anyone who is currently sitting down but likely to stand up somewhere along the course of the route (and well before you reach your destination). Likely Targets vary with route and location. On the 2/3 line from Brooklyn to Manhattan in the morning, a man in a business suit is a 3-1 bet to get off at Wall Street, and so he makes a great Likely Target if you're going further uptown. A 19-year-old on the F train with an NYU patch on her backpack is likely to get off at West 4th; a woman in scrubs on the uptown 6 train at Bleecker St. is a terrible target because she's probably bound for the hospital complexes on the Upper East Side. Consider the possibilities of transfers as well; a woman in hose and sneakers (signifying heels in her tote bag) on the Q train might very well transfer to the 2/3 for Wall Street at Atlantic Ave., so she makes a great Target if you're at Prospect Park. Look for several Targets in one seating area to increase your chances of success.
  6. Once you've chosen the Target, grab the horizontal pole above his/her head, assume a wide stance for balance and to assert your future right to the seat, and hang on. Do not loom or get in the Target's personal space. (You can take hold of the central pole in the aisle, if the train offers it, which potentially gives you access to Targets on both sides; but beware that people standing directly in front of Targets then get first dibs on those seats.)
  7. As the train approaches a station, particularly a good transfer point, watch your Targets and their seatmates carefully. Is anyone gathering up a bag or folding away a newspaper? If the space in front of that person is free, move into it, even if s/he was not previously identified as a Likely Target. If someone else is standing in that space, respect the right of your fellow Stander to take that seat first.
  8. When the train stops and a Target rises, back off to give him/her space to move out of the train. Once the Target is clear of the space, you can drop a purse, umbrella (dry only), or newspaper into the seat to identify it as yours until you are able to sit down. Note that if you have competition from a fellow Stander for the seat, this technique may get you some dirty looks.
  9. Turn around so you are looking into the train, pull your legs together and all personal belongings to you, and sit down. This is an especially useful technique if you are taking up residence in a middle seat and need to squeeze between two people. N.B.I.: Men almost never want to sit in middle seats. N.B.II: Men are also notorious for opening their legs wide once seated. This is annoying, men. Please take up the width of your seat space and no more.
  10. The following people must always be given the option of taking a seat before you, or offered your seat if you're sitting and they're standing: pregnant ladies; young children; parents holding young children; anyone with a cane/crutches/other obvious impairment; the elderly. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you're sitting and need to offer your seat to someone, you should stand up as or after you catch the person's eye, because many people will not take the seat they deserve if you remain sitting down when you offer. (You can say "I'm getting off at the next stop" as you offer the seat, whether it is true or not; it will ease their conscience at taking the seat and grease the wheels of the transaction.) It is also polite and admirable to offer your seat to women wearing heels (because a lengthy standing train ride in those babies is both tricky and tiring), people with lots of bags, or people who just look like they've had a really long day.
  11. If you are not tired and there are few seats on the train, or if you're within two stops of your destination, ignore these rules and don't sit down -- let one of your fellow New Yorkers catch a break. Good seat karma will come to you in turn.
Happy subway riding and sitting!