At Nevins St., low-hanging rafters are often used as makeshift trash cans. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)
As a route down Second Ave. has remained the city’s seemingly unattainable subway line expansion project for over eight decades, so too has subway cleanliness been considered an illusion. The New York City subways — open 24 hours and covering hundreds of stations in five boroughs — are just dirty and always will be no matter how many times MTA officials say they want to change that state of underground being.
Well, no, really, for real, this time it’s going to happen. At least, that’s what Transit’s senior vice president for subways told the New York City Transit Riders Council yesterday afternoon. Heather Haddon has the report:
“We’ve got to ensure that those stations are getting cleaned,” Carmen Bianco, NYC Transit’s senior vice president for subways, told the New York City Transit Riders Council. “We are going to maintain them at a higher level going forward.”
As amNewYork previously reported, transit has increasingly left cleaning shifts unfilled to save on overtime when workers callout. Dozens of shifts for day-to-day cleaning and deeper scrub downs have been skipped at major hubs like Herald Square, Times Square and 14th Street, transit documents show. “I’ve noticed lately the stations I’m in are noticeably trashier,” Sharon King Hoge, a riders council member.
Bianco said he recently happened upon a station that wasn’t cleaned for 18 hours on the weekend after shifts were missed. “We’re talking about the bottles, the paper … That’s not a standard I want to live to,” Bianco said. “We’ve got to be able to cover that job.”
As an approach to station cleanliness, Bianco, as Michael Grynbaum noted earlier this week, will help oversee a reshuffling of personnel assigned to clean stations. With the line manager program nearly on the way out, cleaners will be under the purview of one division in charge of station appearances. “Daily cleaning will be the responsibility of almost 1,000 station cleaners who were previously assigned to the operating groups,” NYC Transit head Tom Prendergast wrote in a memo.
Still, haven’t we heard it all before? In 2008, then-Transit President Howard Roberts pledged to clean the stations before he ran into budget cuts that saw numerous cleaning shifts unfilled. The stations, anecdotally, remain as messy as they ever are.
If Transit is serious about keeping stations cleaner, I see three distinct approaches ranging from the easy to the extreme.
- Change the messaging — Currently, Transit announcements tell people to put their trash in the “trash receptacles” and urge people to “can it for a green planet.” While the sentiments are positive ones, those messages go well beyond the problem. Receptacle is an unnecessary 10-cent word, and an appeal to environmentalism doesn’t jibe with cleanliness. Just tell people, in no uncertain terms, that trash should go in the trash cans. The simpler, the better when it comes to messaging.
- More in-station trash cans — I realize adding more trash cans to train stations will result in more work for an already over-taxed cleaning staff, but this move would go a long way toward making stations more pleasant. I ride the B train from 7th Ave. in Brooklyn every morning. That station features an entrance toward the front of the train with trash cans at the bottom of the stairs and a very long platform with no other garbage cans. By the time I get to the back of the train, I’ve passed numerous discarded coffee cups and newspapers lying on the ground. When the nearest trash can is the equivalent of a city block away, it’s no wonder people start to litter.
- Enforce litter laws or ban food entirely from the subway — It’s an extreme proposal to a quality-of-life problem, but it has worked elsewhere. The D.C. Metro earned some bad publicity when a young girl was ticketed for eating on an escalator, but the draconian enforcement efforts go the point across. D.C. trains and stations are far cleaner than ours in New York, and although the stations are routinely cleaned as the system shuts down at night, during the rush hours, the platforms just aren’t nearly as messy as ours.
Until boorish subway riding culture changes, trash will always be a problem in New York City. The MTA can’t shut down the system to clean it, and so we’re left with millions of people at all hours of the day leaving garbage behind. A concerted effort may make marginal in-roads in keeping platforms litter-free, but only the most drastic of behavioral attacks will lead to real changes.