You board an Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) bus after a 12-hour work shift, eager to sit down and relax your tired bones. Unfortunately, what looks like fresh skid marks stain many seats. Sometimes, it's a small brown spot; other times, splotches stretch the width of the seat until they drip into the creases. And the worst ones are wet—BARF...
This nastiness has plagued Orange County public bus riders for the past couple of years. Jim Hamrick has noticed the dirty seats on routes that travel Brookhurst Street, Harbor Boulevard, and "all over Orange County."
"I don't think you can really help it unless they steam clean them everyday," he said, "because you got people that ride them all day and spill stuff."
Devin Guerrero ("Like the tortilla," he cracked) has noticed the dirty seats over the past two years on his daily commute to and from work. "I'm sure they're clean when they start, but these things are running all day," he said. "I understand that there's people living on the streets, but they are always commuting. They're on the buses a lot, and they leave a lot of detritus behind."
"A lot of people just don't respect the bus as something that's available to everyone," he concluded.
It's gotten so bad that some riders place papers on top of seats before they sit down. And they're wondering why OCTA allows the stains to remain "I notice it a lot," said Tyler Stevens, who takes daily routes between Fullerton and SanTana. "And I know it's not that hard to scrub them down once a day, which doesn't seem like it's been happening."
That's kind of true, according to OCTA media relations officer Joel Zlotnik. He told the Weekly that 50,000 hours are spent cleaning the buses every year, and maintenance workers are paid an average of $20 an hour—that's basically $1,000,000 annually to clean OCTA's 500-plus buses. Zlotnik added workers inspect buses every night for cleanliness, and if they can't remove stains from seats, they usually replace the dirty seats with new ones. However, OCTA is currently phasing out old vehicles, a process that should be complete by April; as a result, the agency isn't replacing seats on condemned buses in order to save money.
Zlotnik encourages OCTA riders to report any problems on the buses by calling (714)636-7433, or to fill out a customer comment form online with as much details as possible (such as bus number, time, and location). "Every comment is investigated and we will respond to the person who has a concern," Zlotnik promised.
That said, documents obtained by the Weekly reveal OCTA's seat-cleaning policy barely goes beyond getting "wiped down with a damp towel." Get on the bus...and bring a can of Lysol.
The Weekly wanted to have the stains properly analyzed, but that would've required us to cut out a piece from a stained seat and a clean one for comparison. We like Zlotnik, so we ain't gonna do that. However, we did ask riders to play "Guess What The Stain Is!"
"Man, that's a question mark, that's like a rhetorical question," said Dee Jay, who was riding Route 37, which goes from Fountain Valley to La Habra. "It can be anywhere from vomit, crap, to just a stain from some gum."
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Hamrick believes that the stains on seats he was seeing are "just a lot of people spilling and wearing dirty clothes—a lot of homeless people ride the bus." However, Stevens thinks this is wishful thinking. "Honestly, I would like to say it's like spilled drinks and food," he said, "but it's probably urine and piss."
Guerrero smirked when asked to guess the source of OCTA's bus seat stain. "I've seen some people make some of those stains themselves," he said, "and I'll let that speak for itself."