Some gentle suggestions for Metro and a poll: how do you feel about those rail and bus seats?

Good post on Brigham Yen’s blog today about a visitor from San Francisco getting his first taste of the Metro system.

Metro's sharp-looking seats -- in my view! Photo by Brigham Yen.

The visitor has mostly positive things to say, but was puzzled by the unlocked turnstiles (join the crowd!) and had mild complaints about lighting in the subway cars and the material used on subway seats.

Brigham echoes a few of those points. My one counterpoint: I like the materials used on seats on Metro’s buses and trains, which I think adds a nice splash of  color and makes the buses and trains more welcoming.

Brigham, of course, includes a photo of a big ol’ splotch of nasty used gum on one of the seats. Good eye! 🙂

Your thoughts? Take the poll!


Categories: Feedback, Polls

34 replies

  1. I’m very satisfied w/ the seat covers on Metro rail/buses, generaly good for distances traveled there. BART here has been doing surveys/studies for thier new cars but suspect they will be similar to Metro’s. Congratulations to the expanding metro system. When visiting LA, I seldom drive, renting cars for day use only. I suspect the light rail trains can be switche to different lines through the maintanace facility.

  2. Carter,

    I’d like to know how often do the Siemens trains on the Gold Line and Green Line actually do inter-operate with each other.

    To my knowledge, there’s not a direct connection between the Gold Line and the Green Line, therefore the only way the Siemens car set that is used for the Green Line can be transported to the Gold Line route is to physically carry the railcar onto a truck or something.

    Furthermore, most of the rail cars used on say, the Blue Line are standalone Nippon Sharyo railcars from the late 1980s. Such train set cannot say, be used interoperably with the Red Line. If they cannot be used interoperably, why not just paint the Blue Line…Blue?

  3. A reminder to all that the current Subway cars were designed in the late 1980’s, so of course they look dated.

  4. Why can’t the “upholstery” of the seats MATCH the “color” of the light-rail line of the train they are on? (Blue for Blue line, red for red line, etc.)? Or would that make too much sense?

    • John,

      Light rail and subway vehicles, I believe, can be used interchangeably on any of the lines in their respective systems. Creating color schemes for trains to match their lines would limit flexibility. Just think if the Siemens trains used on the Gold and Green Lines had been given gold and green seats. Many of those trains are going to be used on the Expo Line. Would you then support changing the seat colors all the time and the additional expense to Metro?

      Carter Rubin
      Contributor, The Source

  5. @Y Fukuzawa

    I assume from the video that the blue seats were the old ones and the brown seats are the new ones that are being replaced with. Heck the old blue seats in that video seem much more comfortable than the seats on the LA Metro.

  6. I don’t know if Brigham ever remembers riding the old RTD (the predecessor transit agency to Metro in Los Angeles county), but the old RTS-model buses circa mid 1980s had the plastic seats in the back of the bus.

    They were the most vandalized and least desirable seats to sit in.

    The multicolored upholstery is actually a pretty good vandalism deterrent. Take them out and you’re guaranteed to have Sharpie tags in every seat.

    Plus, if we had the funds to change out all of our train and bus seats, I would much rather have that money go towards later and more frequent transit service.

  7. Interesting. I have rode the BART system and their seats are actually cushioned which was nice. I know the rides on MTA system are not long enough today to really warrant cushioned seats, but it was something that was relaxing when I arrived in SF. My trip was from door to door was the Redline, to Blueline, to Green; connected at LAX, my flight, Touchdown at SFO, and then the skytrain, to BART. me and my butt enjoyed the BART seats upon arrival.. The return was wher I noticed that MTA seats are kinda hard. Plastic I think is a bad idea. I remember buses having hard plastic seats. Not comfy at all.

  8. Folks I have talked to on the orange line wished that there were armrests on the seats as some people tend to take two seat spots when the bus is quite crowded.

  9. Plastic has its drawbacks too, it’s easily vandalized and once etching occurs whatever is in the etching can be difficult to clean. Plastic seats are hard and expensive to replace, while the seat cushions used now are actually easily replaceable/washable inserts on top of a plastic seat.

    I think this post has the wrong question, I think the better question is, “should metro increase maintenance of seat inserts? If yes, how should it be funded?”

  10. I don’t know what sort of budget Metro puts into upkeep on the fabric, but I’m going to vote for plastic. Easier to clean = better user experience.

  11. After having personally read the Bay Citizens report on all the nasties in BART’s cushion fabric seats.

    I can’t help but feel a little grossed out sitting in these seats. Obviously metros seats don’t have the large padding like BART’s seats which most likely makes the them easier to clean but I would feel more comfortable with some scratch resilient plastic seats.

  12. @Mospaeda

    Even if you consider the expenditure view, which is quite absurd anyway as LA is not the only city in the world that has outside expenditures or an expanding transit system and projects going on, 30% is still quite low end compared to other world standards.

    The top five transit agencies in the world (Tokyo Metro, Hong Kong MTR, Taipei MTR, Osaka Metro) all have a farebox recovery ratio over 100% all share the same thing in common in that they all run on distance fares.

    The top three US cities that have farebox ratios over 60% also have form of zone/distance fare system: Philly’s PATCO, SF’s BART, and the DC Metro.

    It doesn’t take an analyst to see which ones are able to recuperate their operational costs more (distance fares) as opposes to tax dependency (flat fares).

    • I think everyone at Metro would like to see an improved farebox ratio. But the ratio here is actually in the ballpark with other large transit agencies, albeit lower than many. One reason worth considering is that as a large agency, Metro is a “safety net” provider for many low-income riders and the agency offers passes that I think can fairly be described as very reasonable to very low priced in some circumstances. I don’t mean that as an excuse and I think Frank raises good points. But it should be part of the conversation.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  13. The Red Line seat cushions do add a nice touch of color, but a close look at any of them reveals quite a bit of wear and tear which is unsightly to say the least. I’m surely not the only one who has come across a few severely hygeine-challenged riders on metro trains, which definitely gives me second thoughts about sitting down on any of those seats.

  14. @ Frank M

    You also have to look at the expenditures as well

    10% of Metros budget is dedicated for Highway and Street Projects, another 10% percent is directed for Regional Transit Assistance like support for the other Municipal operators and 18% for The Building of the new rail projects. If you just looked at the expeditures to keep the transit system in a state of good repair the farebox covers a value close to what Steve mentioned.

  15. Thanks Steve.

    According to FY2011 budget page 22, fares only cover 8.8% of the budget resources. That’s seems awfully pitiful compared to London whose fares make up close to 50% of its budgetary resources on a zone based model.

    Sure going to distance fares isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely something LA Metro needs to study closely on.

    We cannot continue to be dependent on grants, subsidies, federal, state and local taxes forever.

  16. Hi Steve,

    I was basing on wikipedia’s information on LACMTA’s funding resources.

    Granted since there’s no source on that link, but it’s the only data that I can work off of to see what the tax-to-farebox revenue is to keep LACMTA running.

    Using the data shown there, Metro’s funding is mainly 86% taxes and 4% from other revenue (I presume, ads and TransitTV and the like), and less than 10% from the fare box.

    Fares alone hardly make up the total cost of running LA Metro. With tax dependency brunting such a high percentage of operational costs of Metro, it affects things like comfy seats. And with increased Congressional budget cuts who knows what’ll be cut next.

  17. BART has fabric seats on their trains. A SFSU lab supervisor did a study of the fabric…the news was not good:

    Fecal and skin-borne bacteria resistant to antibiotics were found in a seat on a train headed from Daly City to Dublin/Pleasanton. Further testing on the skin-borne bacteria showed characteristics of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the drug-resistant bacterium that causes potentially lethal infections, although Ms. Franklin cautioned that the MRSA findings were preliminary.

    High concentrations of at least nine bacteria strains and several types of mold were found on the seat. Even after Ms. Franklin cleaned the cushion with an alcohol wipe, potentially harmful bacteria were found growing in the fabric.

    Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, played down the threat of infection from harmful bacteria on a BART seat. “I suspect it’s not a very big problem,” Dr. Swartzberg said. “That said, if there’s another way to do it, where you can clean it better, then you should do it.”

    He said the cloth seats most likely allowed bacteria to flourish because they were more difficult to clean and disinfect.

    • Interesting story. The one thing I think worth remembering is that we all come into contact on a frequent basis with all sorts of things in public that could be harboring germs.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  18. While I enjoy the cushy cloth, plastic would be easier to keep clean. I mean, who knows what’s been sitting there?!

    I remember once, someone had “decorated” the cushion with yellow mustard, mimicking the design on the upholstery: it was almost impossible to spot and several were stained.

  19. To me it’s more about the lack of seat padding than what the surface material is.

  20. If it’s a choice between the current seats and hard plastic, I’d definitely go for these. I agree pretty much with what Jessica said above. Plus, I could be wrong, but I thought the “upholstery” on these seats was designed to be easily (and relatively cheaply) removed and replaced.

  21. @IT Guy

    Probably because plastic is a cheaper material and that’s all that Metro can afford on an 9:1 tax-to-farebox recovery ratio.

    If Metro would go 5:5 tax-to-farebox ratio through the distance model, they might be able to afford better, cushioned seats as those in Asia.

  22. Needs a 4th choice: I hate them; they’re uncomfortable.

    Trains in Asia uses soft, cushioned seats. Why can’t we have seats like them?

  23. The interior of the Red/Purple Line Subway cars including lighting are awful. The are like a dull beige/yellow, which is scary. They need to be updated to be more like the new LRV cars on the Gold Line inside!

  24. I definitely like the cloth seats- they DO add a splash of color. Also, I think they provide a naturally artistic deterrent from even more tagging. If the seats were entirely plastic, they’d be carved and markered from top to bottom and everywhere in between.