Fabric seats may be comfortable — but they're also difficult to clean and costly. Consequently, BART is replacing the fabric seats in 15 percent of its cars with vinyl seat covers.
Tthe transit agency's board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to replace the familiar fabric seats with the easier-to-maintain vinyl seat covers in 100 cars.
“The fabric seats were considered a real attraction when BART began service in 1972, but we’re now carrying 370,000 riders each weekday and those seats are getting much more use," said BART General Manager Grace Crunican.
More hygienic, cheaper seats have become an attraction to commuters and BART operators respectively. The transit agency aims to give customers a chance to experience the new look and feel of seats as it moves toward replacing BART's cars with the "fleet of the future" — a set of new train cars designed by BMW Group DesignworksUSA.
BART spokesman Jim Allison said 62 percent of those who participated in preferred vinyl seats, saying they offer better cleanliness than fabric seats. BART staff then began searching for a product that would meet customers' expectations as well as the agency's standards for durability, safety and environmental properties.
Paul Oversier, BART's assistant general manager of operations, said the transit agency didn't use vinyl seat material in the past because it didn't meet smoke, fire and toxicity standards. But he said the technology for vinyl seats has improved dramatically and such seats are now fire-resistant and durable.
The new seats will be installed gradually between April and July next year by Sedia Inc. of Glendale, Wisc., who were awarded the $1.9 million contract by the BART board.
If BART riders like the new vinyl seats, the transit agency will have the option of expanding the fabric-for-vinyl switch by 100 cars, which could mean a swift upgrade for BART's 669 total cars.
Bay City News contributed to this report.