This weekend the New York Times ran a report from The Bay Citizen on the unkempt state of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system's subway seats in San Francisco. The non-profit news org commissioned a local lab to determine just how skeezy a random cloth-covered seat was.
The results were not encouraging. According to the Times story:
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 [a lab supervisor] cautioned that the MRSA findings were preliminary.
Also found were numerous types of mold and "high concentrations" of nine bacteria strains, all of which came from swabbings of a BART seat cushion and a head rest. So, yeah, you may want to watch your hair. As it turns out, tests determined that the seats on Muni, the city's bus system, were considerably cleaner, with just two benign bacteria colonies turning up.
Last month TBD did its own extensive swabbing of the Washington Metro system, which was examined by an American University microbiology professor. We found that, to no great surprise, the "most colorful and furry" bacteria colonies tended to reside on escalator handrails, trashcans, exit fare buttons, and maps. But we also found that Metro surfaces aren't a whole lot dirtier than our own laptops.
The problem with BART seats is their porous cloth covering, which serves as an overly amiable host to all manner of germs. In that regard, we should consider ourselves lucky to have the hard, unforgiving seats that we do on Metro. Then again, as Greater Greater Washington points out, Metro is considering a cloth covering for the seats in some of their new rail cars. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've already been on a car with these.