Why Public Transportation Seat Cover Patterns Are So Ugly

by SharonKurheg

If you travel via public transportation in the United States, chances are you’ll encounter 2 types of seats – either a hard plastic sort of material or a padded seat covered by a cloth seat cover. If the seat is padded, chances are the design on the seat cover will be, well, pretty hideous. Like these, which were in L.A. for a time:

In Europe, Asia, and other regions of the world, chances are you’ll encounter the padded seat cover more often than its plastic counterpart. But the designs on them, although all different, will still all be pretty ugly.

London Tube

Loud. Garish. Colorful. Ugly as sin. Make you want to hurl if you stare at them for too long. All of those and more have been used to describe seat covers you may encounter on trains, subways, buses, etc. all around the world.

Buses in Wellington & Auckland, NZ

We’ve already discussed why airports have carpeting, each with its own, distinct pattern. We’ve also gone into why most plane seats are blue. But are either of those why public transportation seats can be so crazily patterned that they make you want to puke? (or to buy a shirt with the same pattern as Melbourne, Australia’s train seats?)



It turns out they’re purposely designed in a specific way, using complex algorithms so that our eyes are distracted from the filth, grime and graffiti that can be found on them. The crazier the pattern, the more your brain pays attention to it.

In other words, they look like that so your brain tells your eyes to focus on the colors and patterns more than the stains, rips, worn patches and dirt. It’s an illusion. And it actually works pretty well. Look at what was in these bus seats in Poland! (actually, don’t watch if you ever want to sit on public transportation and not be grossed out)

The reasoning for the upholstery on public transportation notwithstanding, some of the patterns are pretty clever:

  • There are 4 London landmarks hidden in the Tube’s seat patterns (the London Eye, St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge and Big Ben)
  • The design on Melbourne’s train seats (see the “shirt” photo above) has letters that spell out CONNEX, which is the name of the train operator there

There are literally hundreds of patterns out there and, of course, someone is “collecting” them. Check out idontgiveaseat on Instagram for a few hundred examples.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


derek August 16, 2022 - 7:41 pm

Of the photos, the London pattern is the best looking, in my opinion. Hotel carpeting have a similar pattern, usually a busy pattern of various shades of brown.

Maybe hard plastic or metal is the best. It can be hosed down if there’s urine.

DaninMCI August 17, 2022 - 6:52 am

Most casinos took out cloth padded seats at slot machines years ago because people who didn’t want to leave “their machine” because it was “about to pay off” would sit there and just piss themselves. I can’t imagine public transport is any better. It’s so gross.


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