BART plans to make its cushions cushier

Many BART riders said they can’t help but wince at rows of browning seats in some grimy trains. Jim Maitz, for instance, opted to stand for his ride from Millbrae to San Francisco on Thursday afternoon, though plenty of seats were available.

BART officials, however, say riders won’t have to be disgusted much longer.

On Thursday, BART directors finalized a two-year plan to replace all the seats and flooring in about half of its 669-car fleet, spokesman Linton Johnson said. About 300 cars will undergo interior renovations by October and another 100 next year, he said.

As many as 360,000 riders pile into BART trains each workday. Many seats, riders said Thursday, are sweat-soaked and foul-smelling. BART officials said that its been several years since many of the train’s seat covers have been replaced.

That thought is disturbing, said Maitz, a 43-year-old Millbrae resident.

“Is that what that smell is?” he said. “That’s just nasty. And I’ve seen drunk guys peeing in these trains.”

Maitz said he is relieved to hear of BART’s plans to replace the seats, saying he takes the train daily because it’s more convenient than trudging through Peninsula traffic.

The idea of new seats came after BART spent the last two years installing new floors for 80 of its trains, replacing mucky rugs with a less-absorbent, plastic composite material.

“We were testing out the new type of flooring and people seemed to love it,” Johnson said. “So when we approved this year’s fiscal budget, we approved money to replace the flooring in 200 cars.”

In order to lay down the flooring, the seats had to be ripped out. “So we figured we might as well replace the seats, as well,” Johnson said.

The new seats will have the same wool covers and foam cushions passengers are used to, but they will be brand new, officials said. BART directors will pay Belmont-based National Transit Interiors Inc. $2.7 million to replace the seats.

Johnson said BART typically replaces about 320 seats each week but decided to more than double its efforts in recent years following rider complaints and rejuvenated revenues.

After BART ticket sales dipped from 2001 through 2005, agency officials said it would either have to cut back on train service or on cleaning. Riders surveyed in 2004 opted for service, and tidiness on trains took a hit, Johnson said.

“Nowrevenues are coming back, and we’re able to both improve our cleanliness and keep up with our service,” he said.

maldax@examiner.com

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