The transformation, which will replace seats in 100 cars by the end of the month, is part of a pilot program to assess whether the new seats meet customer needs, BART General Manager Grace Crunican said this morning.
"We have responded to our customers' needs and requests and wants for some new seats and cleaner floors," Crunican said. "We are attempting to bring these seats in now to let the customers know that we care about what they think about."
The wool seats have been part of the fleet for 40 years, according to BART director Gail Murray, who noted that "they've got a lot of wear."
Their replacements were the result of the agency's "Fleet of the Future seat lab," an interactive research lab that sought public feedback on the agency's future fleet of train cars.
The agency plans to replace its entire fleet of 775 cars over the next 20 years, which is estimated to cost about $3 billion.
"We are trying to move into the future with new cars that reflect their needs as well," Crunican said. "This is the beginning of our fleet-of-the-future look."
Of those who participated in last summer's seat lab, 81 percent ranked cleanliness as "very important" and, when comparing vinyl, fabric and hard plastic seats, 62 percent rated the vinyl as their favorite, BART board President John McPartland said.
"The public has been very clear as far as what their priorities are for public transportation ... on-time, safe and clean service," McPartland said.
As it outfits another 100 cars with the vinyl seats, for a total of 200 made-over cars, BART plans to gather rider feedback on the conversion through on-car surveys, as well as through Twitter and Facebook and by phone.
McPartland said the public would have "ample opportunity" to comment, and the feedback will help the agency refine its selection for the new cars.
"We want to make sure that we got it right," BART director Bob Franklin said at the unveiling today.
Murray said the full-fleet replacement is important, especially because ridership increased by almost 9 percent this year.
"Our aging trains are showing a lot of wear and tear," Murray said.
BART debuted the seats today on a special four-car train completely outfitted with the vinyl seats. Cars that have the new seats bear a sticker on the car's exterior near the doors that reads "new seats on board".
The train made a quick round-trip journey between the 19th Street-Oakland and Montgomery stations. Though the train was mostly carrying BART officials, it picked up passengers along the way.