Bed bug battle: SEPTA’s installing 900 plastic seats over the next few years

Cloth seating is much harder to keep clean.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

SEPTA is devoting more and more money each year to replacing its old buses and subway cars with brand new ones.

At least some of that money is dedicated to installing plastic seating — which might be a comfort to those who saw the viral video of bed bugs crawling all over a cloth seat on a Route 26 bus.

For about two or three years, per SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, SEPTA has been working to replace the upholstered benches on its entire bus fleet with plastic ones. So far, 500 buses are already equipped with the new seating, leaving 900 that will either be retrofitted replaced entirely with the new model.

That will happen over the next three to four years, Busch said. The transit authority’s 2019 budget for new vehicles is $75 million — and it’s set to increase to $83 million in 2020, and then plateau at $80 million annually for a bit after that.

The seating switch is happening on the El too — out of 218 total Market Frankford Line cars, 180 have already been outfitted in plastic. (The Broad Street Line and SEPTA’s network of trolleys are already equipped with plastic seats, so no change is necessary.)

What does this have to do with bed bugs? Generally speaking, insects of that type are really good at navigating fabric. They have a harder time climbing smooth surfaces. The new seats won’t solve the problem completely, Busch admitted, but they should help.

“It’s definitely better for a situation like that, where there may be bugs on the vehicle,” Busch told Billy Penn. They’re also more durable and more efficient to maintain, he said. Put simply: “They’re easier to clean.”

When word spread on Wednesday evening that a SEPTA bus on Route 26 was crawling with bed bugs, there was instant internet panic.

The original author of the post, a woman named Crystal Lopez, wrote on Facebook [sic]:

“this is disgusting this goes to show that septa is not clean you know how many people I’m sure took bed bugs home with them yesterday this is unacceptable I definitely made a complaint to the septa supervisor”

Busch noted that SEPTA responded as fast as possible and pulled both that Route 26 bus and another reportedly-infested bus on the R route out of service

“We certainly don’t want anybody to have an experience like this,” Busch said. “But it’s not an everyday thing, and we do move quickly when we see it.”

“Hopefully they get the picture that we do jump to respond to it,” he added. “And we do have an overall plan to address it.”

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Animals, SEPTA