Riders will create a garbage can wherever they can. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)
When I interviewed New York City Transit President Howard Roberts in the fall, he spoke at length about his desire for cleaner stations. Roberts talked about the various plans in the works to beef up the maintenance crews around the system. Ah, to be in October. Those were simpler times.
Today, facing financial constraints and extreme internal budget-tightening, New York City Transit has been faced with a maintenance reality. The agency no longer has the money to support expanding the cleaning programs and in fact has had to cut back. Stations are, as Heather Haddon reported this morning, dirtier, and Transit’s cleaning staff is down by 100 workers. She reports:
Because of budget constraints, the MTA has curtailed station cleaning, with Transit officials acknowledging they are down by about 100 workers. The agency has also slashed overtime for cleaners, and workers say they simply can’t keep up with the mounting trash…
In recent years, the cleaning department has struggled to keep up with the surge in ridership. In 1993, the MTA employed 1.5 station cleaners per million riders. By 2007, the ratio had slipped to 1 cleaner for every million, according to Transit figures…
In a survey last year, the Straphangers Campaign found that the L and No. 7 made big improvements and were the system’s cleanest. A 2008 Transit report found that track fires also declined on the lines.
But running the pilot sapped precious manpower, which has fallen in the last several years as cleaner jobs went unfilled to save money, [union leader Marvin] Holland said. A hiring freeze implemented earlier this year has compounded the problem. Cleaners are now often scurrying to hit as many as five locations in one shift, whereas in the past they would usually just do two. And now stations only have cleaners on-site for an average of four hours a day, according to the Transit report.
The subways have never been known for their cleanliness. Oblivious or discourtesy straphangers treat every available surface as a garbage can. Food is left to rot on station platforms, and the worst offenders clip their nails onto the floors of train stations and cars.
Roberts though wants to add more cleaners. He says he can’t though because of the budgetary constraints and a worse-than-expected outlook. He hoped that internal belt-tightening would allow him reallocate resources for cleaning, but that is an optimistic prediction today.
In the end, the people who suffer most are, well, those same riders. More trash leads to more rodents. More trash leads to more track fires. More trash leads to a more unpleasant commute. Sadly, it sounds as though we may need to get used to that idea.