Driving the upholstery market | Specialty Fabrics Review

By Holly O’Dell
Specialty Fabrics Review
April 1st, 2013

When a news organization hired a university biology lab to examine the wool-covered seats within the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in the San Francisco, Calif., area, the results weren’t encouraging. Researchers found at least nine bacteria strains and several types of mold. The New York Times published the findings in a March 5, 2011, article, and although a clinical professor noted that the threat of infection was low, the damage had already been done.

Officials with the BART began to survey some of its 330,000 daily commuters to find their preferences for new seating, and three-fourths of them favored vinyl. The organization agreed, determining that vinyl cost less, lasted longer than other materials and was easier to keep clean. BART commissioned manufacturer OMNOVA Solutions Inc. to provide its PreVaill Transit™ vinyl upholstery line engineered with the PreFixx® protective finish for 100 cars as part of a pilot test. BART, which custom designed a pattern called “Wine, Wind and Water” to reflect the vibrancy of the Bay Area, plans to purchase new seat covers for another several hundred car sets after positive rider feedback.

“BART is just one very visible example of a trend we are seeing more in municipalities looking for ways to improve passenger satisfaction while reducing their maintenance costs,” says Patti Francis, director of marketing for Fairlawn, Ohio-based OMNOVA.

Whether they’re seeking vinyl-based solutions like the BART, traditional upholstery fabrics or new materials that promise ultra-protective attributes, mass transit operators are searching for ways to cost effectively—and attractively—produce new or refurbished upholstered seats for school and public buses, rail lines and motor coaches.

Hard-working seating
Fabrics used to upholster mass transit seats have to meet a variety of standards and codes, which can vary from project to project. Durability, which often includes abrasion resistance, is a common requirement. “People get in and out and in and out repeatedly, so we don’t look at anything less than 50,000 double rubs,” says Dan Cohen, vice president of sales and marketing for Chicago-based Freedman Seating Co., which produces passenger and driver seats for mass transit, demand-response transit and motor coaches. “There also needs to be adequate tensile and tension strength.”

Other important characteristics include cleanability, stain and soil resistance, flame resistance and low-smoke protection, moisture repellency, color fastness and antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

Types of seating material also vary. Plush moquettes (heavy, velvety synthetic fabrics) and flat-woven fabrics remain popular choices for mass transit seating. Rivera Bus & Coach Upholstery in Lancaster, Calif., mainly works with a polyester and wool combination. “The types of wool and polyester that we use have been put through many tests to make sure they’re up to standards with transportation requirements,” says Maritza Rivera, national sales agent, who estimates that clients shop around for new upholstery every six to eight years. “The fabrics also have to withstand at least 60 hours of UV exposure.”

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