BART to replace wool seats with vinyl ones in coming months

The BART Board of Directors voted Thursday to replace the wool seats in 100 BART cars with vinyl ones over the next six to nine months.

In May, BART held interactive seat labs around the Bay Area, where riders were given a chance to try out different types of seats and select which material they preferred.

Funding for the new seats comes from BART’s general budget, according to BART Director Robert Raburn. The seats will be in cars spread randomly around the 669-car system, and after receiving more feedback from riders, the agency will look at continuing with the rest of the fleet, going back to wool seats or pursuing other options, according to Raburn.

BART is also slated to receive $851 million in federal funding to buy new cars; however, the U.S. House of Representatives  may pass a law slashing that amount by 34 percent. If these funds are cut, BART will be forced to keep its trains, which are the oldest in the nation — having not been replaced since the system was built in 1972 — up and running.

“We offered the public numerous seat options from train systems around the nation,” Raburn said. “Several different materials, seat styles and shapes were tested, then the vinyl was selected.”

Raburn said that over the past several months, BART has been under fire from a displeased public, complaining about the uncleanliness of the wool seats. In May, a study by San Francisco State University found several antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria on the BART seats. Even when cleaned using rubbing alcohol, several harmful strains of bacteria remained.

“There was a tremendous public outcry for this — we had to do something,” Raburn said. “The wool seats were very unclean.”

Several UC Berkeley students, including junior Chloe Lubinski, were pleased to hear about the board’s decision.

“This will be a welcome change — the seats on the BART are covered with stains and who knows what else,” Lubinski said.

The new seats, which are similar to those used on trains in Washington D.C.’s metro system, are more cost-effective because they require less maintenance. They require replacement about every 10 years while the current seats must be swapped out every three.