BART will spend nearly $2 million next year to replace some of its filthy cloth seats, according to a preliminary budget released Tuesday.
The vigorous push for new seats comes after The Bay Citizen discovered drug-resistant strains of fecal and skin-borne bacteria hitching a ride on one of BART’s plush blue seats in February.
BART board president Bob Franklin said cleanliness on the trains has worsened in recent years as the agency focused on “safety and reliability.” He said public pressure, including The Bay Citizen's article, contributed to the spending decisions in this year's budget.
“In our surveys, cleanliness has been coming up as well as train noise,” said Franklin. “We’re really investing more to address these issues.”
In a press release Tuesday, BART crowed that riders can "look forward to new seat covers and cushions."
BART will spend $1.8 million on a program that aims to replace each seat every three years. That includes the cloth cover and the foam padding inside. For many years, there was no schedule to replace cloth seats, which hold onto grime and germs with verifiable tenacity.
BART introduced the seat-replacement program last year, but it relied on federal stimulus funds, said BART spokesman Jim Allison. It will now be paid for out of a new $20 million capital projects fund that will be taken out BART's operating budget, reflecting the urgency of the issue.
BART, whose trains carry 330,000 people over 104 miles of track every day, projects a $611 million operating budget, with a surplus of $10 million to $28 million.
In recent weeks, the BART seats have grabbed national attention in response to The Bay Citizen's article — "Good Morning America" crews were filming BART seats on Tuesday for a show on bacteria in public places, according to an internal memo. The crew will be taking samples from the seats to test in a lab, the memo says.
Some other projects include rehabilitating escalators at a cost of $4.2 million and $1.5 million worth of changes to BART’s Oakland maintenance shop so that more rail grinding can be done in an effort to reduce train noise on the trains. There's also more money for car-cleaning in general.
Also on the table is $1.2 million that could be used to run trains one hour later on Friday nights as an experiment for six months. People riding the rails have long complained that BART trains don’t run late enough, leaving them stranded in San Francisco after a night on the town.
Franklin was upbeat about the preliminary budget, which will get a full hearing at Thursday’s board meeting.
“There are no service cuts and we’re not raising fares and we’re looking at cleaner trains, so I think BART has a good short-term outlook,” he said.
BART is doing well in the short term, especially in contrast to Muni and AC Transit, which are both facing big operating deficits in the upcoming year. But Franklin said that BART is facing a $7 billion shortfall when it comes to capital projects over the next 40 years.
One of those capital projects will be replacing BART’s fleet of train cars — and deciding whether to install cloth or plastic seats when the new cars roll out in 2017.