Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerIn a project that began in March 2012

World’s filthiest seats are gone: BART removes final cloth cover

Out with the stains, smells and sponginess of BART's cloth seats, and in with the much more inviting vinyl. As of today, that sentiment rings true for every train in the fleet.

More than two years after BART piloted vinyl in place of fabric on the seats of 100 train cars in 2012, the agency today will remove the last of the wool seats in its fleet. BART has been replacing wool seats on each of its 669 rail cars since March 2012 after the first batch of vinyl seats rolled out to positive reviews from riders. The vinyl seats are easier to clean and have a longer life expectancy than the cloth seats, lasting up to 10 years compared to just three years for wool seats, according to BART.

“Wool seats made a lot of sense in the early '70s [when BART began operating]. They were meant to provide an airline-type of experience,” said Jim Allison, a BART spokesman. “But now that we've seen ridership grow, we need to have a more robust, cleanable seating material that … keeps the cost down as well.”

It costs approximately $9,000 per car to change the seats from wool to vinyl, totaling more than $6 million for the entire fleet, Allison said. That might seem like a lot, but the monthly bill for dry cleaning the cloth seats was $6,000.

Riders have repeatedly spoken out in favor of the vinyl seats. In fact, a random survey of more than 1,200 customers in 2012 found that three-quarters preferred the vinyl covers and 93 percent rated them as excellent or very good.

At the Powell Street station Monday, several riders were quick to voice support for the vinyl seats and said they are glad the cloth coverings will be gone for good.

San Bruno resident Christina Larsen, 46, said she takes the train almost every time she travels to San Francisco and said the vinyl seats are better because they are cleaner.

“The other cloth ones seemed like they'd be more cozy, but when you're riding public transportation, there's a lot of people and cozy quickly becomes dirty,” Larsen said.

Another frequent rider, Kyle Gray of San Francisco, said he too believes the vinyl seats are a better alternative than cloth.

“They look like they're more functional and they can be easily cleaned,” said Gray, 31.

The new seats are part of a major makeover on BART trains that includes replacing the carpeting with a composite material similar to linoleum, Allison noted. That effort is expected to be complete by next summer.

“This will be the Band-Aid until we get the entire new fleet of the future,” said Allison, referring to an entire turnover of trains that will likely begin rolling out for passenger use in 2017.

All of the agency's trains are expected to be replaced with the new fleet by the mid-2020s, and there could be 1,000 train cars total by that point.

For now, BART will celebrate the completion of its transition to vinyl seats today at the BART Richmond Shop with a demonstration of the final wool seat being replaced with vinyl.

“[This] represents a real milestone in the transition from what was sort of a regional rail system used by a handful of commuters from the suburbs to a real mass transit system where hundreds of thousand of people are using it every day,” Allison said.

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