Home Straphangers Campaign Straphangers, MTA square off over ‘Shmutz’ Survey

Straphangers, MTA square off over ‘Shmutz’ Survey

by Benjamin Kabak

The subways are getting dirtier, the Straphangers Campaign said today in its annual Shmutz Survey, and the R train is the worst of all.

According to the rider advocacy group, the subways are dirty. With only 47 percent of in-service train cars marked as clean, the number of spot-free subway cars is down from 56 percent in the 2008 survey. The R train, with only 27 percent of cars earning a positive cleanliness rating, is the worst while the 7 train, with 68 percent of its cars considered clean, is the best. The MTA disputed these findings while the Straphangers defended them as the two sides who often fight for the same thing find themselves at odds.

In discussing the survey results, Straphangers head Gene Russianoff noted how budget cuts impacted the cleaning staff. Car cleaners are done from 1138 with 146 supervisors in 2009 to 1030 with 123 supervisors this year. “Last year, we predicted ‘more cuts to come means more dirt for subway riders.’ And sadly that’s turned out to be true,” he said.

The Straphangers Campaign conduct their survey on board trains in motion, and volunteers rate the subway lines for cleanliness of both the floors and the seats. The group uses Transit’s official standards for measuring car cleanliness and have offered up a note on methodology. The key findings are bulleted here:

  • The five subway lines that experienced statistically significant deterioration were the 6, B, E, L and R.
  • The most improved line in our survey was the M, going from 32% clean cars in 2009 to 61% in 2010. It was the one subway line that showed statistically significant improvement. The M was dramatically restructured in June of 2010, combining with the V line and losing 24 stations between downtown Manhattan and southern Brooklyn.
  • Fourteen lines remained statistically unchanged: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, A, C, D, F, G, J, N and Q.)
  • The most deteriorated line in our survey was the B, which fell from 61% in 2009 to 37% in 2010.
  • The survey found major disparities in cleanliness among the lines, ranging from a low of 27% clean cars on the R line to a high of 68% on the 7.

While commuters certainly know that the subways are dirtier, the MTA took umbrage with the Straphangers’ methods. In an excellent piece on Transportation Nation, Jim O’Grady explored the dispute between the MTA and Straphangers. He writes:

Kevin Ortiz, an NYC MTA spokesman, said the authority disagreed strongly with the report, “which does not accurately measure NYC Transit’s ability to clean subway cars.” He said the agency is now more flexible in shifting cleaners to trains that need them most, which has led to a “minimal impact” on overall car cleanliness.

The Authority has been engaged in aggressive public relations campaign, with placards emblazoned in many subways and buses designed to promote the MTA’s efforts to offer better service. That ad campaign came in the wake of the deepest service cuts and biggest fare hikes in over a generation in the past year.

The NYC MTA criticized the Straphangers’ report for rating car cleanliness while trains are in motion and can’t be cleaned, making its ratings more a measure of passenger behavior than authority effectiveness. The NYC MTA rates the cleanliness of its subway cars when trains are stationary. It’s unclear whether the trains are examined before or after a cleaning crew goes through. However, the authority gives itself a grade of 94 percent subway car cleanliness. That would seem to indicate trains are graded once they’ve been cleaned.

The Straphangers, though, pushed back. “I think the riding public would find our numbers credible,” Russianoff said. “To paraphrase Groucho Marx, ‘Who do you believe, the Transit Authority or your own eyes?”

The MTA and the Straphangers both want the same thing. They want the authority to be in a fiscal position to offer the appropriate service levels to riders, and right now, station maintenance and cleanliness is suffering. Stations are dirty; trains are dirty. It doesn’t really matter how dirty they are. Rather, what matters is how the MTA can solve these problems. Right now, answers are few and far between.

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Gotham_Girl May 5, 2011 - 4:24 pm

I’ve been struck by how much dirtier stations are. I use the 3rd Ave./60th St. entrance to the N/Q/R and station has gotten filthy. The escalator down to the platform is out of service at least 1 morning out of 5. The cuts are having an impact on cleanliness.

ferryboi May 5, 2011 - 5:09 pm

Trains seem to be much cleaner, even the “R” of late. New cars over the past few years definitely helped, and the “R” just looks dirtier by comparison. As GG says above, it’s the stations that are suffering. They are as dirty and “shmutzy” as I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve been riding since the mid ’70s.

Tsuyoshi May 5, 2011 - 5:40 pm

I looked at the Straphangers’ survey and they give 53% for the 1, which is the line I live on. If they are asking me to believe my own eyes, I have to say this is way out of line with my actual experience, which is that the trains are rarely dirty.

The stations though… ugh. I would pay $4 a ride if it meant clean stations.

ferryboi May 5, 2011 - 6:30 pm

I never understood the survey results, even with the criteria they publish. The #1 is considered somewhat dirty while the #7 is the cleanest. How is that considering they both have the exact same equipment and seem very clean when I ride them both? Is it the difference between one or two newspapers left on seats or a spilled cup of coffee that makes the difference?

Both trains are clean, have no graffiti, and seem good as most lines.

Scott E May 6, 2011 - 9:50 am

They are the same make and model trains, true, but they are stored in different yards, maintained by different crews, and their passengers generally are from different demographics headed to different destinations. The 7 also spends more time above-ground, so weather and birds can play more of a role.


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