In the BART seat-cover contest, it looks like the challenger is close to delivering a knock-out blow to the longstanding incumbent.
The transit agency reports that a recent on-board survey of passengers found an overwhelming preference for new vinyl seats over the established wool fabric ones. A total of 74 percent of respondents like the vinyl, while only 10 percent preferred the traditional fabric ones.
BART installed the vinyl seats on more than 50 cars as a pilot test and sent survey takers onto the trains that have new covers. They handed out self-administered one-page surveys at all times of the day on all lines, and received 1,200 completed responses.
The biggest reason for preferring vinyl was that it's cleaner and more hygenic. Among those who favored wool, their chief reason was that fabric is more comfortable and doesn't get hot in warm weather. Some also said they don't like vinyl because it's slippery and synthetic.
Vinyl's supporters also liked the fact that it's water repellent and considered it superior in the smell department. They also cited its durability.
"The new seats are 100% American made and are expected to last seven to 10 years compared to the 3-year life expectancy of the fabric seats," BART said in a news release. "The cost of installing vinyl seats in 200 cars is about $1.9 million, but in addition to being a hit with customers, the new seats will help BART reduce the $600,000 yearly dry cleaning costs required by the fabric seats."
BART said it will increase the number of cars with vinyl seats and continue to monitor public response. By the end of July, 100 cars are expected to have vinyl seats, increasing to 200 by early next year, BART said.
"If customer feedback continues to be positive, an additional 100 cars will be changed out." the agency said. "Customers can conduct their own 'tush test' by looking for a train car with the 'New Seats on Board' decal near the door. Cars with the new seats include posters that give customers directions on how to provide feedback."
A copy of the survey report is attached to this article.