The title says my question exactly. Also if another mode of general transportation were invented for a landlocked city, what would it be? Below are the specific fantasy species that I am dealing with.

Note that these are not all of my species, but they are examples of all the different structures and heights represented among those species. All heights are in feet and inches.

The Vashnaag

They are winged humanoids. Basically they have wings connected their shoulder blades and tail feathers coming off their tailbone, and their structure is different and the second link give you a decent quick idea of what they look like. This is the stuff I've been going off of for their structure:

Bone structure / Modified bone structure / Muscle structure

I think they'll be an average height of 6'2" but if anyone has a reason for them to be shorter that they can back up with logic I would love to hear that argument.

Something you might ask about the vashnaag is why don't they just fly? Just like we don't want to walk everywhere they don't always want to fly everywhere.
(E.g. It might be raining and they don't want to get wet or zapped by lightning.)


A general category representing all the typical characteristics of elves and divided into subcategories based on average height of the various elf populations.

Tall Elves have and average height of 6'

Small Elves have and average height of 4'

Tiny Elves have and average height of 2' (these may not end up in my world)


Last I read our average height is 5'3.5" for women and 5'9" for men, so roughly 5'5" overall.

So Far...

I've come up with different seat types set up in different seating sections, which would work but would severely limit friend groups of multiple species sitting together.

Another option would be to have the subways and trains magically equipped so that each species could change a seat to a different prototype and then adjust the height to fit them specifically. This would definitely work, but I am interested in how an outcome could be accomplished without magic.

If there is any other information that I can provide I would be happy to do it.


6 Answers 6


Take a look at how subways and trains and the like are already adapted for people of varying sizes and shapes.

Some people stand, some people sit. In some trains, some people sleep.

People range in height from maybe a foot and a half (small child) to 7'. All your averages are for adults. But train cars have to also allow children to sit comfortably and safely.

Some people have luggage.

Some people have canes or walkers.

Some people are in wheelchairs.

How do our current trains allow all these different people to sit or stand? Obviously there's no magic to change the seats.

Well, we have different shapes of seats. Some allow you to hang off the back or sit sideways if needed. Some are against the side of the train and don't allow that. Every train will have places for wheelchairs, generally with clamps that grab the wheels so a sudden jerk isn't dangerous.

For people who prefer to stand up, there are poles in the middle of the car, away from seats, poles near seats, and straps or bars way up high for people who are tall enough.

I've also seen seats that change. For example, a seat with the back against the wall (or it can be perpendicular to the wall), that flips up to create space for a wheelchair or someone's walker/suitcase/stroller, etc.

The descriptions you've given of your various people all seem to me like people who would fit just fine in a modern subway or other kind of train. The winged folks might not do great in a crush of other types of people, but if they are a large part of the population, crowd dynamics will adjust to accommodate them (just like they do for people in strollers, for example).

I don't see any reason for junking a perfectly good transportation system, or for spending a lot of money to create something else. It takes a lot of money to build trains (the tracks and stations mostly) and it can take years or decades to create a train system (my county is almost at the end of this process and it's been years...but it still has a long ways to go in terms of connecting to other systems and getting all the stations built and running, etc).

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    $\begingroup$ Very good analysis of existing public transport. If you add the relatively simple feature of adapting in the height of the chairs seats (like many sports equipment in gyms have), you can cater to all these different species with almost the same cost as modern transport options. $\endgroup$
    – Elmy
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 7:20

We really need to look at this question from two perspectives; energy and comfort.

Let's start with energy.

The reason why we have trains, buses, subways et al and we're not all flying around in hover cars is simple - energy. The transport options we have are effective but also energy efficient so it's unlikely that we'll build something 'new'because whether you're an elf, a hawkman, a unicorn or whatever, getting around will still involve the same kinds of infrastructure and methods, so if anything, we'd just modify what we have. Add to that limited space in which to build new infrastructure, and the choice becomes obvious.

Now, for comfort.

Take a look at a series of books called Sector General by James White. In them he describes the operation of a galactic hospital that caters to sentients of all shapes, sizes, etc. and it does a really good job of explaining the challenges of such. Some of my favourite elements of it is how they fill a cafeteria with chairs suited to all these different species but there's never one suited to you around, so you grab something completely different and just make do. No-one in sector general is ever comfortable sitting down to a meeting, but they're all just used to it.

In reality, something similar would happen in 'public' transport as well in your setting - you might cater for all these different species, but all that's really going to happen is people will just 'make do' with what's free on the train / plane / etc. Otherwise, they'll get their own private transportation.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer could be improved by adding how you make sure all species can make due. And by using demographics and culture to determine which chairs you need the most off. If angelics rarely ever use public transport for short distances because they'll fly those then you need only one or two seats while you might need to make 80% of a certain shape and size to maximise who can sit there. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 11:44

Locomotion is always a great field for worldbuilding considerations!

In my own world there are winged folk (Daine) and also modes of transport we'd recognise (trams, tricycles, feet, sedan chairs and so forth). They're a little taller than your Vashnaag, generally varying between six and seven feet in height. Some kinds are rather shorter. Men are similar to humans as far as height goes, so close enough there!

There are other peoples who are human enough in basic shape. There are some people who can't leave the water (so, moot as far as public transport goes!). Daine can't fly (that's not what wings are for, silly!), so public transport is a welcome respite for weary feet.

A typical Daine:

enter image description here

A typical railway locomotive (broad gauge at eight foot, for those who might be interested):

enter image description here

I would say that the answer to your query will very strongly depend on two things.

  • First is who runs the show? That is, who rules the kingdom, who's got the money, who hold the primary stake in your gumbo-pot city or realm?
  • Second is who came up with the idea first? Who designed and built the system?

Typical fantasy worlds (and many SF worlds as well) are human-centric. Elves are typically above such mundanities. Orcs are too evil to bother with. Halflings, quarterlings, winged people, taurs, skinchangers -- they're all typically pushed to the sides to give room to Men and their rulership.

Less typical are worlds where humans are not the majority or where they do not rule. In this kind of world, real consideration of other races will be more likely to take place. My world is of the latter kind: the Daine are in the majority by numbers and in many cases rule and in some places there is more of a gumbo-pot situation.

In these kinds of places, it is common for Daine to be accommodated. Higher ceilings, wider doors, broader hallways, chairs without high backs. Daine, long, long ago before Men ever came on the scene, invented the thaumology that makes the trams and railways go, but it was Men who applied that to a mode of locomotion. For the most part, both races can use the trams in comfort.

Here follow a couple paragraphs from a "day in the life" snippet that are the result of such ruminations:

...As he sat on the hard oaken bench crammed between one of the purple-clad clerics on one side and an overly talkative blaoman trader on the other, whose carefully wrapped cases marked with dreadful looking runes portending doom and blood-spilling to anyone who opened them, young Hefft Dragan wan Bynganfelds, newly admitted at university and not yet used to the crowds of a big city like Auntimoany, gazed with anxious dread mixed with insatiable curiosity at everything he saw around him...

He shifted uncomfortably on the thick wood seat. He envied the Daine girl reclining on the bench opposite him -- her wings of red and blue and green feathers took up a lot of space, and she was not at all afraid to claim the maximum amount of bench space possible. A couple books and a pencil box secured with a leather strap had been carelessly tossed on the bench beside her. She graciously left plenty of room for an old grandmother on her way home from the sausage monger’s to sit primly at the edge of the bench with her cloth sack full of aromatic meats and herbs on her lap. His eyes were drawn back to the girl across from him.

Her feet were bare and dusty and she wore only a pair of green but prettily embroidered knee-length britches, tied up with blue cords. A slim scabbard at her narrow waist hinted at a very wicked and very rare iron dagger. Round her neck was clearly a scarf of the blue and white of St. Wantham’s College, exactly like his own. What she lacked in clothing, she more than made up for in body paint and silver rings...


I don't think ergonomics are the primary concern here. The way I see it, the odd ones out are the Vashnaag since they're already capable of flight on their own. You're right that they won't necessarily want to fly everywhere, but since flying comes as naturally to them as walking does to us they would have significantly different expectations for public transport.

Rental jetpacks would be almost exactly like rental bicycles or public bicycle services for Vashnaag. That's not to say humans and elves wouldn't want to use jetpacks, but for them to learn to fly safely would probably require a lengthy training and acclimatisation period akin to getting a helicopter pilot's license. Vashnaag are already innately able to fly so their acclimatisation period would be much shorter, like learning how to balance on a bicycle. For them, jetpacks would provide the feeling of flying but without the reliance on their own power.

Why would Vashnaag ever want to use subways or regular ground-bound trains though? Probably socialisation(or other similar reasons). Trains would probably be better for this, and would need to be reconfigured to include social spaces like lounges or pubs.

Sky trains or shuttles are a compromise solution for if the Vashnaag insist on some variation of flight. They may have strong cultural links to travelling in the sky, or taboos against reliance on foot slogging, for instance. Shuttles are pretty self explanatory. Sky trains on the other hand, would conceptually be similar to "space elevators" or an enclosed version of launch rails for catapulting shuttles/missiles. The "tunnel walls" ideally should be transparent so that you can provide the illusion of flight. This would probably require near-future tech levels to implement, but the market appeal is pretty clear.


I skimmed through the bone and muscle structures. They look ok but even when you try to keep them humanoid and dont add a massive bone extrusion at the chest the wings are still missing the massive muscle they would need to flap them downwards. At minimum they would need something like the illiopsoas, in practice the strongest muscle(s) in the body and used primarily for keeping the body standing. They could be attached to the ribs and the shoulder area's to allow forces to be handled by the rotatorcuff. That means that the pectoral muscles need to be huge to take that force and prevent the arm/shoulder from being janked backwards each time you flap. That's still handwaving it but it without that massive chestbone but much more realistic. Making the angelic smaller will make it more realistic as the square cube law becomes less problematic (which is why things that fly stop at a certain size).

As for the question at hand. Only the angelics would need special seating. Children are well capable of sitting in adult chairs. For comfort you could have chairs of various sizes based on population density (30% are normal sized humanoids? Then about 30% is a normal chair).

The angelics would need a space for their tail feathers, so a gap needs to exist between the seating and backrest where the tailfeathers go. The seat needs to be high enough that most angelics wont have their tailfeathers on the ground. The backrest needs to be lower and only support the lower back so the wings can pass over it. A small space needs to be between the chairs so the tail and wings dont touch those of passengers behind it. These seats would still support most humanoids of sufficient size they wont fall into the tail-gap but be slightly less comfortable as it doesnt support the entire back, but it beats standing right?


When designing for comfort for mixed races and anatomies, you create a compromise to ensure the best comfort for everyone.

As mentioned, public transport in the real world already tackles this somewhat - by accomodating for different sizes and needs of different humans and various anatomical differences.

The train or plane will already accomodate humans of differing sizes with a relatively good comfort and safety. The only race in your setup that would require special accomodation, would be the Vashnaag in this case.

The Vashnaag would require seats that could accommodate their wings and their tails - there might be ways to do this simply by adding holes in the backrest of the seat that can accommodate the wings and tails of this race.

Consider a seat where the lower rear is removed (to accommodate the tail) and the middle of the backrest has an elongated hole (to slot the wings through without ruffling too many feathers). Properly shaped (and perhaps adjustable), the seat could reasonably and comfortably accommodate all three races. Alternatively to a hole to slot the wings through, create a seat with a narrow backrest that supports the spine and neck comfortably, something in the vein of the following:

enter image description here

Car seats, office chairs and some train seats already have some adjustable properties, like adjustable headrests in order to accommodate many different shapes and sizes comfortably. There are many ways to create adjustable pillows and comfort features, even without magic.

Another option might simply be some kind of bedding or mattress instead of a seat per se, much like the train "seats" in My Little Pony. enter image description here

Since most of the inhabitants in Equestria are quadrupedal, regular seats would be impractical and even unsafe for them. Allowing ponies to sit like dogs or lie down would with some reason be the safest and most comfortable for them. Bipedal species (eg. dragons like Spike) aren't directly excluded from using the seats - they too can sit or lie down.

Most dog owners also put their dogs in the rear of the car as it's the safest spot for the dog (possibly in a cage or behind a dog net/barrier for added safety), rather than having them sit in the seats for humans.


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