New seats now in all trains


New seats now in all trains

         Times change. Turns out BART seats do too. We’ve now changed every seat on every train car –all 669 of them-  replacing the wool material with easy-to-clean vinyl.

         The last of the wool seats followed the wooly mammoth into extinction at exactly 10:50 a.m. on December 30, 2014. BART utility workers yanked out the grimy seat and replaced it with pristine vinyl under the watchful eyes of a few interested reporters and to the delight of tens of thousands of BART riders.

         That the vinyl seats are easier to clean seems obvious. Other benefits are less apparent but no less important. The vinyl seats provide a great return on investment. Outfitting a train car with vinyl seats costs about $9,000, about 58% of what it costs to install wool seats. And that’s just the installation cost.

         Cleaning the wool seats required sending them out for dry cleaning. BART spent about $6,000 on dry cleaning each month. The new vinyl seats are nice and clean after a wipe down with an inexpensive antibacterial wipe.

         The vinyl seats also last three times longer than wool seats. They’re money savers every way you look at them. So: why wool seats in the first place?

         Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. When BART first began service in 1972 it was hailed as mass transit system for the space-age: trains with cushy fabric seats and carpeted floors whisking suburbanites into and out of the city in luxury car comfort.

         It was all fine and dandy when BART was carrying a 100,000 people per week. Those days are long gone (BART’s average weekday ridership is now four times that per day).

         The concept of a living room on wheels really began to show signs of wear just as BART ridership climbed out of the depths of the Great Recession, registering six percent gains in 2011.

         The seats were subjected to a relentless assault grime, goop and just plain exhaustion despite the best efforts of BART car cleaners.

          The straw that broke the camel’s back came when an  enterprising reporter adapted an attention-getting news tactic: take a swab of something used by the public and put it under the microscope.

          The results of what were found on BART seats were what most reasonable people would expect: bacteria had found a comfortable home in the fabric. Scientists said the microrobes weren’t dangerous, just gross. That got everyone’s attention, including BART Board members and staffers.

     BART surveyed its riders and the results were impossible to ignore. The 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.

     The BART Board moved swiftly, launching a program to replace the wool with vinyl on 100 cars and committing to then assess the results. Once the vinyl proved both popular and practical, BART’s virtuoso Rolling Stock and Shops team moved ahead with replacing each and every seat.

      It was a difficult balancing act. Train cars had to be taken out of service for a day or more at a time, all while ensuring that enough cars were ready to roll for each morning’s commute.

      If anyone doubted that BART’s shop technicians weren’t up to the task, they were again reminded that the men and women working behind the scenes are among the best in the business.

      A tight knit crew of utility workers who called themselves “the A Team” methodically worked for almost three years to install the vinyl seats while helping ensure enough cars were available for service.

     As they finished the job in late 2014, there were cheers and maybe even a few tears. “It’s a bittersweet day,” remarked Utility Worker Raymond Fields. “We’re glad to finish the job for riders but we know we’ll all go our separate ways to begin new projects. I’ll miss the ‘A Team.’

     Alas, nothing lasts forever. And for the riders who once cringed while taking a seat on BART, that’s a good thing.

     So, now that the fabric seats have been relegated to the trash bin of history, what’s next? Finishing the removal of carpeting with easier-to-clean composite floors on about 80 cars to complete a flooring upgrade.

     Then it just gets better. BART’s completely new Fleet of the Future cars are expected to begin rolling on the tracks in 2015 for a test period of about two years. By the middle of the next decade, the old-airline style original fleet of BART cars is expected to be completely replaced, giving riders that “new car” feeling all over again.