« Report broken AC and get it fixed pronto -- or so claims the CTA | Main | They only come out at night -- carrying strange stuff »

Here's the dirt on those "fuzzy flocked seats"

Cta_seats A couple of weeks back, the folks at Gapers Block posed one of their famous open-ended questions in Fuel: "What's the grossest thing you've seen on the El or a bus?"

As you can imagine, that sparked lots of not-so-fond memories -- 75 of them at last count.

All the rancid recollections there sparked Paula to wonder there and in an email to me "who was the idiot was at the CTA who thought [it would be a good idea to change] the seats from hard molded plastic (easy to clean) seats to the fuzzy flocked seats (hides stuff until you sit in it) that we have now."

I asked a new CTA Insider that question. He told me in an email he's worked at the CTA for more than 20 years, the last 12 or so in management.

Click below for his answer.

"The idiot in question would be former Chairman Valerie Jarrett.  She was the one who started the program of installing the seat inserts.  The main reason was just for cosmetics -- in her opinion it looked nicer.  Other reasons included vandalism prevention -- the hard shell plastic seats were always being etched and the inserts are virtually vandal proof.  Also, CTA was the only system left with those hard plastic seats and the inserts were supposed to be more comfortable.

"What did she NOT consider? As you pointed out, sitting on a wet seat.  I personally have developed a habit of touching the seat before I sit on it. I would rather have to wash my hands than walk around in wet pants all day.  She didn't consider the maintenance time and energy it takes to replace an insert -- in some cases the entire seat (depending on factors such as location and car series) has to be taken apart to replace the goofy insert.

"The CTA is embarking on a new cleaning program for the inserts using a type of wet / dry vacuum system.  Each car will take about four to six hours to clean the inserts.  Once a good thorough cleaning is done, the amount of time will be cut down and they will be done on a regular basis."

So there you have it!


I wouldn't say the fabric inserts are vandal-proof either. I've seen them sliced and chunks of them ripped out. Bad idea, Val!

This confirms my long-held suspicion that Valerie Jarrett is the devil incarnate. We should have known it was her... "Alterer: Jive Rat" and "I Jeer Art Travel" are anagrams of her evil name.

"vandal-proof"? Apparently someone has never seen a small device called a "magic marker." I see those fuzzy seats drawn on all the time.

A few years back on a trip to Germany, I saw a TV documentary on the Berlin subway system. The Berlin subway system has fuzzy flocked seat covers, but -- to prevent vandalism -- there's an important difference from Chicago's. They change the patterns and colors frequently. The idea is to have wild patterns that make single-color grafitti/tagging from standing out on the seats, and since they change colors/patterns regularly, it's harder for a vandal to get on the train with the "right" color of marker. Berlin actually has somebody whose job it is to pick seat-cover patterns.

which train is that in the pic? that's to clean to belong to the CTA.

It's the longitudinal test car (3407-3408), which has since been returned to its original seating configuration.

I've been victimized by the fuzzy seats twice. The first time I sat in water, thank the gods, and from then on I developed the habit of touching the seat first before I sat down. This habit came in handy for the second incident, when I brushed a finger against the seat and found it wet. The seat was completely soaked in urine, and not just any urine, but pee that was definitely excreted by someone whose diet consisted solely of malt liquor, cigarette butts, and rotten food, because no amount of kleenex could get rid of the odor on my index finger. For the rest of my commute, until I arrived at home, my left hand remained firmly in my jacket pocket, not to emerge until I could wash my hands. But hey, at least I didn't sit down first.

Yet this was not my grossest CTA moment. Not even in the top three. And I've only lived in Chicago for four years.

RE Ian's comment -

Does anyone know if the CTA is still planning to go through with this new seating plan?

I hate, wait let me emphasize, HATE!!! the idea of sitting in this configuration every day.

I've been on train systems that were much better maintained, with fewer crazy nutrods flitting about, and I've still always found it to be uncomfortable.

The CTA is using longitudinal seating in its new rail cars, probably with a design the same as or similar to the one in the test cars.

However, as part of that order, they're also getting "Airport Express" cars for the planned O'Hare-Loop-Midway service. Because those aren't tipical mass transit cars, and hence you aren't trying to pack as many people as possible in, those special cars may not use the longitudinal seating because transverse is more comfortable. Unfortunately, though, I have no idea what seating configuration the Airport Express cars will have.

Speaking of breaches of etiquette, I scolded a guy today on the Clark/Division platform who was smoking near me (copping a sly fag, as some Scottish friends call it). I'm a very shy person, but I heard myself say, "Sir, there's no smoking on the platform. The rules are for everybody." He immediately tossed the cig on the tracks and said, "Thank you, sir." So not only did my scolding stop the smoking, but I got a thank-you from the offender. Cool. I'm on a roll now and hope to scold an L-riding eater next. Let's get scolding, people! (Do pick your targets carefully, though...this man was in a suit and had his Bible nearby; I figured he wouldn't kill me.)

I like the fuzzy seats. I was introduced to mass transit in Japan, where the seats in the subway cars were a (heavily-padded) bench along the walls. The L seats are just as comfortable, and really not that bad looking either.

As for transverse versus longitudinal, I think transverse is more comfortable if (and only if) you get both seats to yourself; with longitudinal it is easier to not impose yourself upon strangers (it is a LITTLE weird to sit right next to total strangers, initially. I prefer to stand unless it's rush hour.)

As for the L being dirty, I've been on a lot of clean cars in my two years of riding here. I'd say the dirty cars are the exception, not the rule. I've also been impressed with the busses. (Ever ride pace? THAT's dirty...)

Generally the CTA does a good job keeping their fleet in good condition, IMO. I'm just grateful that I can go anywhere in the city for $2.

My 2 cents...

The comments to this entry are closed.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Here's the dirt on those "fuzzy flocked seats":

» About those seats from Merge
A recent Fuel asked about gross things readers had seen on local transit. Today, the CTA Tattler follows up on who's to blame for one of the many complaints we heard: the El's replacement of molded plastic with upholstered seating.... [Read More]

» links for 2005-07-08 from Sweet ~/ Chicago
Wired News: “Netizens began gathering at the chilling weblog of accused kidnapper Joseph Duncan this week, turning the online journal into both a forum for their rage against the convicted sexual predator and a tribute to his victims.” (ta... [Read More]

Share news tips