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Manspreaders Aren't as Callous as You Think, Study Says

 A new study of subway etiquette finds that New York riders aren't as inconsiderate as you might think.
A new study of subway etiquette finds that New York riders aren't as inconsiderate as you might think.
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Shutterstock/Allen G.

A study of subway etiquette out Thursday challenges some of the assumptions New Yorkers have about issues plaguing the city's subways. 

The study from Hunter College comes two days after the New York Times reported that subway use, with almost 1.8 billion trips taken in 2015, is at its highest since 1948. 

Its findings suggest, for one thing, that manspreaders targeted by the MTA's "Courtesy Counts" campaign aren't as oblivious to their surroundings as they're often portrayed. 

While student researchers recorded an overall 8.5 percent of male riders as guilty of spreading their legs so wide as to take up two seats, that number varied depending on the crowding in a given car.

In more sparsely populated cars, 9.1 of male riders took up more than one seat. In cars so crowded as to prevent researchers from counting the total number of riders, only 2.9 percent of seated male riders splayed their legs.

The Hunter College study also concludes that MTA ads reminding riders that subway cars aren't dining cars are either completely effective or totally pointless. About 0.5 percent of male riders and 0.6 percent of female riders were observed eating on the subways.

The gender gap is far more pronounced when it comes to who sits and who rides defensively, according to the report, data for which was collected over the course of three weeks last fall and a month this spring on 21 different subway lines.

Male riders were, on average, 10 percent more likely to be standing than women. This could be explained if female riders tend to skew older in age, if their painful high heels are driving them to claim seats more ruthlessly than male riders, or if men are "consciously or unconsciously engaging in 'chivalrous' behavior," the study proposes.

Women straphangers were also more likely than men to choose more crowded over less crowded cars. According to the study data, as the number of passengers in a car rose from five or fewer to 28 or more, the proportion of female riders increased from 42.3 percent to 51.2 percent.

That could be a defensive measure, with reported sex crimes on the subways rising 19 percent last year. The more riders there are in a car, the more witnesses to acts of harassment like groping and public lewdness.

The study's finding did support what every New Yorker knows — the more crowded your car, the harder time you'll have getting off at your stop.

The incidence of "disorderly exits," in which new passengers start to board a car before all those exiting finish, nearly doubled from 10.7 percent to 20.3 percent when cars were "very crowded" as opposed to "not very crowded."

But subway riders are doing themselves a disservice by rushing to board their trains, the study points out. The behavior increases the time spent in each station, and that "dwell time" adds up to longer delays. 

"If the subways are to run more efficiently and attenuate the frustrations of riders due to delayed trains, then one priority should be to focus on reducing the incidence of disorderly exits," the study's authors argue.

Hunter College students have had subway etiquette on their minds since 1939, when they drafted a code asking commuters to, as the Times reported, "speak softly, refrain from pushing ... and in general, from being pointedly conspicuous."