Transporting Fabrics.
March 14, 2019 6:43 AM   Subscribe

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Public Transit Seat Covers of the World. It can’t be easy creating a good textile for public transit. Bus, train, and subway seats must do far more than look attractive. They have to stay fresh-looking as thousands of people sit on them daily, all the while trying to deter or mask the attentions of vandals. With all these boxes to tick, it’s no wonder that so many of the fabrics used on public transit are, quite frankly, pretty damned weird.
posted by Capt. Renault (52 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have a small ottoman at home, the lid upholstered in 70s bus seat cover. It's made by a friend of my parents', when he worked at the local bus manufacturer. It got double takes from people my own age and older when it was displayed (it lives under the stairs now, unfortunately), but people could not always say just why the pattern on the fabric seemed familiar.
posted by Harald74 at 6:52 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


That was surprisingly enjoyable! And I was already fully expecting to like it.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:59 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


This approach gave us the seat covers of Warsaw trams, covered with eye-straining, detailed images of the city’s onetime fortifications against a crimson plush evoking some biblical rain of blood.

The seat covers in question are pretty awesome, IMO.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:04 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]


I appreciate interesting designs, camouflage of wear and tear, and so forth. But for me personally, the most important factor in public transit seat designs is: can I tell at a glance whether they are WET.

Very very important.

It's actually a problem for me with the stone benches inside the DC Metro stations... they have a dappled stone look which I'm sure make them less attractive targets for graffiti, BUT, it can be hard to tell if you're about to sit in a damp patch of who knows what.

(No one knows what.)
posted by theatro at 7:20 AM on March 14 [14 favorites]


I was just thinking how many of these would disguise blood, vomit, or other bodily fluids. I’d much rather sit on some stupid tag. I’m guessing this is why Seattle has gone with thin blue vinyl.

How amazing it must be to live in a civilized utopia where your public transit is upholstered in plush luxuriously colored fabrics!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:36 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


The Chicago CTA has been phasing out fabric seats and replacing them with plastic, which seems to me to be the most sensible possible decision. Fabric seats on public transit are intrinsically disgusting.
posted by merriment at 7:37 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


Why fabric?

Sorry - but, having just had the chance to ride the metro in Montreal over the last couple days - the seats were molded plastic. I mean - yes, I can understand for say long-distance trains, but for inner-city transit systems, fabric seems to be a bad choice.
posted by jkaczor at 7:38 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


I really try not to look too hard at the bus seats.
posted by octothorpe at 7:44 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Why fabric?

Sorry - but, having just had the chance to ride the metro in Montreal over the last couple days - the seats were molded plastic. I mean - yes, I can understand for say long-distance trains, but for inner-city transit systems, fabric seems to be a bad choice.


Ever worn shorts and sat on a plastic seat in the height of summer?
posted by srboisvert at 7:50 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Older 105N Warsaw trams have metal seats and the lack of give is really, really uncomfortable especially for journeys longer than a few minutes - Warsaw trams have some routes that let you ride for an hour. Upholstery is a comfort thing. The seats are surprisingly smell-free and knife-proof.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 8:14 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Comfort shouldn't be the main objective here. I dont understand why fabric would ever be used. They're just sponges for germs and countless other disgusting things. I'd never sit on a fabric seat on a subway. Making them hard plastic or metal is the only logical way to keep them sanitary.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:18 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


The first link already alludes to a certain popularity of the design that BVG uses in Berlin. It does not mention that they sold 500 pairs of 180 € sneakers featuring the pattern last year, and that these doubled as an annual pass for 2018. They sold out quickly, probably not only because a regular pass is four times the price.

(Apparently the price comparison is a little tricky, because the shoes were valid only on BVG vehicles—i.e., only on the metro, buses, trams and ferries, but not on the suburban and regional trains—rather than the entire integrated transport network. It’s interesting that the transport association was fine with this; they are usually strict about operators recognising each other’s tickets, and particularly about not selling operator-specific tickets.)
posted by wachhundfisch at 8:21 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Relevant.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:24 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


The Berlin metro picture stresses me out...maybe it's less in-your-face when the train car is full of people and much of the upholstery is covered by people sitting on it?
posted by asnider at 8:25 AM on March 14


Ever worn shorts and sat on a plastic seat in the height of summer?

Umm... how short are your shorts? (I am not "outfit-shaming", just - mine always cover to the edge of a seat when I sitting)

Do your buses/trains not have AC? (That is of course a fallacy... even if they do, they are inevitably broken or not working well enough to cool things off)
posted by jkaczor at 8:34 AM on March 14


Plastic and metal seats are slide-y. Since most public transit I've ever ridden has no seat belts, I'd like something to help keep my tush in place, thanks.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:36 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


I loved seeing these different textiles, almost all of them were lovely. So much so it was weird when they article acts as if the seats being ugly were somehow self-evident.

"Comfort shouldn't be the main objective here. I don't understand why fabric would ever be used. They're just sponges for germs and countless other disgusting things. I'd never sit on a fabric seat on a subway. Making them hard plastic or metal is the only logical way to keep them sanitary."

Not everyone is so scared of germs, I'd rather sit on a relatively comfortable cushy seat on a subway and risk the same germ exposure as everywhere else in public than sit on an uncomfortable, bone-grinding, plastic seat featuring unknowable stickiness and and the awful noises of people scraping against plastic seats as they rattle in what has become an even more torturous echo chamber.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:56 AM on March 14 [16 favorites]


jkaczor: "Do your buses/trains not have AC? (That is of course a fallacy... even if they do, they are inevitably broken or not working well enough to cool things off)"

The AC on our busses is often set at arctic.
posted by octothorpe at 9:06 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Literally any fabric is fine in my opinion because fabric means that I will more or less stay where I sit; the eye-tormenting patterns (apart from the surprisingly tasteful Paduan design) are a mere bonus. Plastic/metal metro seats are one thing, because (at least as a regular commuter) you can mostly anticipate the turns, and jerks are somewhat/sort of limited. But plastic seats on a bus, at least the horrid flimsy non-bench style ones that are currently being tested here in Pittsburgh, basically render the bus non-accessible for me unless I stand. These are molded individual seats, almost all forward-facing (similar to the "cosmic spaghetti" pictured in the article). My behind just fits and I'm average-to-overweight right now, not obese. My feet don't fully rest on the ground when I'm not perched on the edge of the seat (and I'm the female average, 5'4"). And the angle of inclination for the seat back requires me to both tilt at what feels like (although I know it is not) 45 degrees with no neck support. All of this, combined with the slick plastic and the incredible jerkiness of the bus and the fast stops, mean that I slide half off the shitty things every time the driver brakes and both my lumbar region and neck are tense and aching after ~two hours of this per day. I can't imagine what this does for people with physical disabilities more severe than my own intermittently-healed herniated disks, or who are much larger/shorter than whatever average was used to advise the design.

And the evidence suggests that generally, it's non-porous surfaces including plastics that allow viruses and bacteria to survive in a viable state for longer. Fabric seats are certainly dirty but they're not more likely to actually infect us with anything than, say, gripping the poles or straps and then not washing our hands.
posted by notquitemaryann at 9:11 AM on March 14 [10 favorites]


When BART was conceived the designers imagined it as a comfortable conveyance for suburban Mad Men making their way into the City for work. A seat for everyone (as well as a parking space). The seat covers were wool as was the carpeting (!!) on the floors. The covers started out brown with a gold carpet and then changed to blue in later years. The covers were removable and were sent out regularly for dry cleaning. We didn't change the material until the mid 2000's. We took out the carpet and replaced the flooring with vinyl. Then we replaced the seat covers with vinyl as well.

Our new Fleet of the Future cars have solid foam silicon seats and vinyl floor that are easy to clean. And despite persistent rumors, the seats are not Seattle Seahawks colors (scroll to the last question).
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:11 AM on March 14 [9 favorites]


Toronto: Dull red. Blue for handicapped seats. I rarely see graffiti on them; not sure if that's because they're diligent about cleaning them, or because Torontonians are boring. Wet spots are generally visible, meeting theatro's criterion.
posted by clawsoon at 9:30 AM on March 14


Umm... how short are your shorts? (I am not "outfit-shaming", just - mine always cover to the edge of a seat when I sitting)

Women's shorts typically hit at mid-thigh while standing, and if you're a short woman (I'm 5'2) then that's a good few inches of bare leg on the plastic. I also second the problem of sliding out of the seat because my legs aren't long enough to keep me anchored.

Anyway, it can't be any more unsanitary than any other seat I sit in. Restaurant seats, office chairs, meeting room chairs, car seats, plane seats.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:30 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


Umm... how short are your shorts?

Who wears short shorts? Srboisvert wears short shorts!

But, also, more seriously, what Autumnheart said.
posted by asnider at 9:33 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I was out seeing a few different groups of friends in London on Sunday. It's a little short of an hour on the Northern line from High Barnet to Clapham Common. The train from Bath to London takes 1:30. You better believe I want soft seats on the tube, too.
posted by ambrosen at 9:38 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I love the London Eye/St Paul's dome motif on the blue London Underground moquette pictured as the header for the article, I have to say.
posted by ambrosen at 9:42 AM on March 14


Comfort shouldn't be the main objective here. I dont understand why fabric would ever be used.

Because actual comfort is more important than superstitious germophobia?
posted by howfar at 9:48 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


howfar: Because actual comfort is more important than superstitious germophobia?

An equivalent statement: Physical comfort (for some subset of the population) is more important than mental comfort (for some subset of the population).
posted by clawsoon at 9:58 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


Why fabric?

Yeah I'm sorry all the justifications do not prevent it from being a disgusting choice for mass transit. God those old BART benches.

I quite like the new DC metro cars, and the seats are a prime reason.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:03 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, the Erie-Lackawanna commuter trains from the NJ suburbs to Hoboken were still running trains from the 1920s that had wicker seats.
posted by octothorpe at 10:03 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Because actual comfort is more important than superstitious germophobia?

But as theatro mentioned upthread - wet/sticky is not always visible with fabric - in either case - the germs don't really mentally bother me - but I personally have sat in a wet fabric seat on more than one occasion and that was very unpleasant - not like the yuckiness stops after you get up.

From longevity, maintenance and taxpayer-funded transit perspectives, hard plastic, solid foam or vinyl coverings can make very logical fiscal sense. But, yeah - I can see the sliding for slighter/shorter people and shorts/skirts perspectives as well.

Myself - I just assume that if I am using public transit, it will not be a comfortable experience - it will be overcrowded during rush hour, seats will be cold/hot and hard - or faded fabric of unknown provenance - AC will be broken (or set to 'arctic') - it just goes with the territory and "is what it is", a cheap, reliable alternative that meets the needs of "most" everyone.
posted by jkaczor at 10:08 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Literally butt-ugly...
posted by jim in austin at 11:02 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


"Myself - I just assume that if I am using public transit, it will not be a comfortable experience - it will be overcrowded during rush hour, seats will be cold/hot and hard - or faded fabric of unknown provenance - AC will be broken (or set to 'arctic') - it just goes with the territory and "is what it is", a cheap, reliable alternative that meets the needs of "most" everyone."

That's a huge problem itself. For us to continue living the quality of life we all enjoy, public transportation will need to become a widespread thing to the point where it's unusual for someone to drive themselves alone to work and back home everyday in a private car. For that to ever happen, people can't just write public transportation off as an inherently unpleasant experience and accept it, and if it's overcrowded then the service is underfunded.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:26 AM on March 14 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure if this fairly recent and related Metafilter post has been linked to already, but it's a good one to check out too: London’s Rich History of Transit Textiles. There's an excellent followup comment by the post's author, Bella Donna, that talks more about transit textiles in different cities.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:59 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


I think why I rankle at "comfort isn't important" is that, for a lot of people, an hour or more each way on public transport is a daily trip. To dismiss the importance of comfort for people who either choose or, far more often, must use public transport, seems to neglect the importance of dignity. Because being made to use hard wipe clean seats is undignified, as well as uncomfortable. It's what we do with children, and to impose it on public transport feels like a signal that people like us can't be trusted with nice things. To me, it's a signal that any service that is readily available to everyone, including the marginalised, ought to be basic and utilitarian, "because you know what those people are like".

If comfortable seats get dirty, transit providers should spend the money to clean them. Surely we can expect them to have some respect for their customers?
posted by howfar at 12:13 PM on March 14 [11 favorites]


Ever worn shorts and sat on a plastic seat in the height of summer?***

+1 here for plastic seats that you can tell are wet or yucky. A textured seat would keep slipperiness to a minimum, and there are great gel pads that are comfortable on a horse's back or a human's tush. Surely we could have easy to clean as well as comfortable?

For those in shorts on a hot day, why not have a paper cover that the rider can put down on the seat? You pick it up when you enter into the transport, and if you don't put it in the trash when you depart, large men come and beat you up because you are a stinking litterbug.

***Those of you that have to take summer transport in shorter shorts that don't protect your tender parts, it's pretty easy to carry a microfiber cloth folded up into a bag or pocket. Germaphobes, too.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:23 PM on March 14


Previously. Is this a duplicate? I am enjoying the comments, so this is a question and not sour grapes.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:39 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I’m on my phone and also in the middle of a deadline so I just don’t have time to figure it out. Either way, really appreciate the post OP.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:39 PM on March 14


Links are not the same, Bella Donna, but related.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:43 PM on March 14


I ride the train a lot, usually over an hour. I like padded fabric seats! They are comfortable! Sitting on hard seats for a long period of time is really, really unpleasant for me and makes my butt hurt. I also don't live in the US and have never, ever sat on a wet or sticky seat, so I guess in that regard I'm lucky.

Nobody is suggesting we switch the fabric bus seats out for plastic ones though right? It should be possible to have nice things.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:55 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Sounds like the grossness of seats varies a lot by city and maybe per transit line. For me, germs are not a thing I ever really think about. I feel like if I got too focused on them I’d be a nervous wreck. I don’t use paper toilet seat covers, I flush the toilet with my hand, I generally shake hands, pick up food that fell on the floor and eat it, etc. I rarely get sick and part of me associates that with just not worrying about it and letting myself get exposed to whatevs. Put me down for the fabric seats!
posted by freecellwizard at 3:57 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Have always been a fan of a good bus moquette.

I double geeeked out when I caught this bus when I was in Shinjuku.
posted by poseathon at 4:40 PM on March 14


Fabric seats are gross — they’ve tested them and found every fluid from snot to blood to barf. No thanks. Hoseable for me. Also sliding? I’ve never had that much space.
posted by dame at 4:45 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Theres also a slight difference between bus & BVG seats that are hard + fabric and the disgusting monstrosity that is squishy foam on BART.
posted by dame at 4:47 PM on March 14


Fabric seats are gross — they’ve tested them and found every fluid from snot to blood to barf.

Well the ones on the Tube aren't, not according to Snopes anyway. I'm not even sure anyone has analysed the dirt from tube seats, so maybe next time I'm one one, I'll take a few samples. I suspect most of the dirt would be (possibly toxic) dust from the tunnels and human skin cells.

Interesting post this, especially for what it says about different people's attitudes to public transport. Also I've just spent about an hour fruitlessly searching for the London bus seat fabric from about ten years ago that resolved itself into a pattern of red skulls if you stared at it too long.
posted by Fuchsoid at 5:57 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Here's an article about MSRA bacteria on BART, though not the one I was looking for. It notes that the hard MUNI seats were definitely more sanitary.
posted by dame at 7:05 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I can’t imagine any transit system has seats more disgusting than BART. Padded cloth seats and fricking carpet on what has to be the world’s grossest, dirtiest trains. Yuck.
posted by panama joe at 8:11 PM on March 14


Women's shorts typically hit at mid-thigh while standing, and if you're a short woman (I'm 5'2) then that's a good few inches of bare leg on the plastic. I also second the problem of sliding out of the seat because my legs aren't long enough to keep me anchored.

I am a woman that is mostly legs and those "mid-thigh" shorts are much shorter on me, so when I sit down it's almost my whole thigh that is exposed. This is a common summer problem for me so I generally just deal with it.

+1 for the fabric keeping me from sliding around, especially for when the seat is facing perpendicular to the direction the train is moving. I sat with a seat in between me and the person next to me, I'd like to keep it that way!
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:57 AM on March 15


Umm... how short are your shorts?

Who wears short shorts? Srboisvert wears short shorts!


I tend to wear about 7 inch shorts. I just sit up straight and have minimal ass which tends to result in an uncovered portion of my leg being on the seat. Which will result in sweat and suction if it is plastic.
posted by srboisvert at 4:55 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I think we're better than this whole short-shaming derail; "sun's out, buns out!" is a perfectly valid motto, particularly south of the Mason Dixon.

For the amount of money my region spends on subsidizing roads and motor transit, we could easily fund custom leather seats on public transportation that is free for everyone (with a drinks car and 24-hour service). The fact that we don't even attempt that says all you need to know about the state of public transit in the US.

The powers that be want us to expect it to be miserable.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:36 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]




This reminds me of the Portland, Oregon airport carpet fascination. After reading this I had to go revisit that story. Fun. This has been such a nice diversion from the politics mega-thread.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 12:14 AM on March 16


this thread came up just now at a meetup with bondcliff and HOLY SHIT YES
posted by cortex at 8:30 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


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