Earlier this year, BART announced it would completely redesign its fleet by 2017, but the rapid transit system has a few projects to finish before that great day. For one, there’s the issue of the bacteria-infested wool seats. In 2011, BART began a project to replace most of the wool seats with cleaner vinyl ones and remove the carpeting from cars. But as anyone riding BART can attest, those gross wool ones are still in the system and continue to be thriving homes of microbiotic life…but for how much longer?Mission Local checked in with BART spokesperson James Allison to find out if and when all the old seats will be replaced.
Mission Local: A few years ago BART promised that if riders like the new seats, 200 out of 669 cars will have vinyl seats. Currently, how many of the total cars have vinyl seats?
James Allison: There are currently 439 cars complete with vinyl seats and seats for the remaining 230 cars on order. BART continues to replace the old wool seats with easier-to-clean, wipeable vinyl covers and all seats will be converted by the end of the year, marking the end of wool seats systemwide. BART crews also continue to rip out old carpets and replace them with new easier-to-clean flooring. Flooring is scheduled to be replaced on all cars by next summer.
ML: Is the transition to vinyl seats going as planned or was there a delay since you started this project three years ago?
JA: There was a delay of several months because the company that supplies the seats had some sort of manufacturing issue and couldn’t keep up with the demand.
ML: The switch is supposed to save money since the seats are easier to clean than dry-cleaning. How much money is being saved?
JA: The easier-to-clean seats save $40,000 a month. The wool seats need to be removed, cushion and all. They are then sent to be dry-cleaned. The vinyl seats can simply be wiped down; no need to remove them and send them to a third party.
ML: Why does BART have carpets at all?
JA: The plan is to remove all carpet because it is easier to maintain and a majority of our customers tell us they prefer the non-carpeted floor. It’s important to remember that when BART began service in 1972, the concept was to provide mass transit that would rival the airline experience—hence the cloth seats and carpeted floor. Now, more than 40 years later, our ridership has grown exponentially. Some of the things that made sense in 1972 when we were carrying tens of thousands a day are no longer the best option.
ML: Do busier train lines have a certain priority for the new seats? How is it determined which lines get more vinyl seats?
JA: No, it’s completely random on which line the cars will run and varies day by day. The cars are not assigned to specific lines; instead they go to the maintenance yards each night and the next morning they are reassembled into new trains. Therefore, the car you ride from Richmond to Fremont today could be running from Pittsburg to SFO tomorrow. It all depends on how the trains are assembled.
ML: Does the plan for the new designed cars impede the switch to the vinyl seats?
JA: The fleet of the future, which are scheduled to be in service in 2017, has no impact on the switch to vinyl seats in our current fleet.
ML: How have patrons responded to the new seats?
Allison: The overwhelming response has been positive. Seven thousand people took surveys on the new car design and 84 percent rated the vinyl seats excellent to good. (Survey information can be found here.)
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