Over on the DVARP (yay!) Facebook (boo! hiss!) page, a discussion is brewing over the internal layout of the M-4 Market-Frankford Line trains. The current setup involves nearly all seats facing either forwards or backwards, with a narrow aisle running through the seating areas. Posters in the DVARP thread are advocating converting to longitudinal seating (backs against the sides of the car, facing the center aisle), for the purpose of a more pleasant experience for standees, at the cost of a few seats per car. Those arguing for the status quo argue that the loss of seating capacity, especially in the off-peak hours, is not worth the ability to cram in more standees in the peak.
I have to come down on the side of longitudinal seating. Every passenger on the El starts and ends their ride as a standee. The current setup does not allow for more than a handful of standees per car, before awkward contortionism is required as people try to navigate to the doors for their stop. While I sometimes ride the El desiring a seat above all else, there are other times when I would actually rather stand than take an available seat, and my observations of other riders on the El, the Subway, and in other cities, suggest I am not alone. With the El definitely at capacity at rush hour and beyond, it’s time to treat it like what it is: the trunk line that carries more riders than the entire Regional Rail division put together, along the city’s main commercial axis. Station dwell is a function of how efficiently trains can unload and load. Speed the ride. Turn the seats sideways.