My husband, a long-time NYC resident, has this to say about subways:
"Leather straps probably went out in the 1920's.  When I moved to NYC in 1969 the oldest cars in the transit fleet were the R10's on the IND lines.  They still had wicker seats and the straps were metal handles with spring mechanisms that riders grabbed and held just as they did when the leather straps were in use.  All other cars in the system had metal "straps" that were simply stainless steel tubing in a simple loop.  I'd say in the mid 1990s the newer cars came only with metal rails overhead instead of the straps.  Clearly, without the spring mechanisms there was nothing that would break and probably more importantly the rails are much easier to clean than the dozens of separate handles hanging from the ceiling of the cars.  The advantage of the individual straps was that if a strap was empty it meant there was a place in which you were entitled to stand whereas the railing are a bit more chaotic in determining were the riders stand.  Also, with individual straps (handles) each rider could swing at an angle that was most comfortable as the car swayed and turned.   The rails are "one size fits all" and for shorter or taller riders are probably less comfortable.
Susan Rosenberg
In a message dated 7/7/2009 11:10:41 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, [log in to unmask] writes:
It has been a few years since I rode the subway and I find there are no
straps, and hence no real "straphangers." Does anyone know when the last
straps were retired? Were they removed for a particular reason or merely
omitted as newer cars replaced those with straps?