How I learned to love those disgusting BART seats

courtesy of Elisabeth Goldstein

So BART has started the process of procuring a new fleet of rail cars (you can read all about it here), which raises the obvious question: Should we get rid of the scrofulous fabric seats?

Let’s face it, when a blue seat cover turns black due to an accumulation of head cheese and discarded skin mites, it is objectively disgusting. But if you put disgust and comfort in a cage and make them fight to the death, which one wins? In my case, I think comfort might actually emerge the victor.

Sure, plastic seats stay cleaner. But consider my old subway commute from Park Slope in Brooklyn to New York Magazine in Manhattan: 45 jolting, unpadded minutes. Or, come to think of it, consider Muni: The seats have less bacterial ooze, but they are pretty hard on the tuchus. Whereas on BART, I sit back, pull out my magazine, and I’m pretty darn content for the duration.

Also, I’m of the opinion that we first-world city-dwellers are entirely too lily-livered when it comes to communion with our microbial brethren. Yes, the fabric of those seats is swarming with invisible vermin, but let there be no discrimination against vermin in these pages. I’m entirely incautious about what I touch on public transportation – in part because of my research on the hygiene hypothesis (here’s a great introduction, and – ahem – something I wrote). Now, I have to admit that there really is no science that says that greater exposure to germs on the train will make us healthier – but science does suggest that perhaps we should stop trying to keep ourselves sterile, and start building stronger immune systems.

I know I’m not going to convince all you Howard Hughes types out there. So tell me what you think. My ideal seat would be something that is soft, but also smooth and scrubbable. Does such a material exist? And what would you prefer? I’d like to know.

P.S. When it comes to the floor though, fabric surfaces are completely ridiculous. What the – why?

P.P.S. Public input on vehicle design will take place sometime in 2011 if you want to help make the decision