Los Angeles is famously designed for and dominated by automobiles. Though there is a public transportation system, it doesn't adequately cover the sprawling city—a problem that LA County is trying to rectify in time for the 2028 Olympics—though millions use the rails every month. (According to the Metro's Interactive Estimated Ridership Stats, the trains recorded 8,850,125 rides in June.) One additional indignity to those who do use public transportation here is that the Metro system still uses fabric seats.
According to the LA Times, those fabric seats can contain pests like bed bugs and are notoriously difficult to keep clean:
Unwitting passengers sit in a vast array of substances, including urine, feces, blood, lice, ants, soda, melted ice cream, secretions from leaking grocery bags and dribbles from burritos eaten on the go.
One rider said she stopped taking transit after lice spread from a seat to her waist-length hair (“a special treat,” she wrote). Another said on Metro’s blog that she sat in mustard, painstakingly squirted to mimic the yellow blotches on the upholstery.
Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero told the Times it was "still unclear" why the seats were fabric in the first place. Apparently, no one thought ahead to consider the hygiene implications.
Luckily, LA's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is finally preparing to swap out those seats, at least on some trains. The Red and Purple lines—which serve as major arteries that run respectively from Downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood and from UCLA to Koreatown—will be getting new seats in the next six years, as well as other much needed upgrades to flooring and lighting. These vinyl seats have been tested in various Red Line Metro cars since February. They will be patterned—the original fabric seats were patterned to discourage graffiti—and have "drainage holes to prevent liquids from pooling."
Obviously this won't solve all of the problems on the Metro, but it will eliminate one of the grossest things about the trains. “Fabric is like a housing development for germs,” the executive officer in charge of new seats told the Times. “It allows them to fester and breed.”
The bad news is there is not yet any concrete plan to upgrade from fabric to vinyl on any of LA's many busses across 170 routes or its four other rail systems. For now, I guess just don't sit down?
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