May
21

Disappearing Soon: Even more trash cans

By

Earlier this past fall, the MTA announced an experiment in counter-intuitive thinking. To combat trash, the authority announced a two-month, two-station removal of trash cans. A few months into the pilot, the MTA found less trash and no increase of litter at the targeted stations, but the authority isn’t yet to ready to draw concrete conclusions. Instead, as amNew York reported this morning, Transit will expand this program to include more stations and a better public outreach campaign.

According to Transit president Tom Prendergast, the isolated stations do not provide the MTA with enough information on how people are adjusting their trash-related habits. “Two doesn’t give you enough for a sample,” he said. “We’re going to expand it.”

Various stakeholders, though, clearly do not have particularly high hopes for New Yorkers’ abilities to keep things clean. Marc Beja had more:

MTA board member Andrew Albert said he hasn’t been briefed on the new plan, but thinks it might work in lesser-traveled stations. “If it’s really scant usage in the trash cans and apparently no litter around, then that may be a good candidate at the pilot,” Albert said, though he is doubtful straphangers will hold onto their garbage instead of tossing it on the floor.

“That means taking newspapers and used coffee cups and taking them out of the station and searching for another trash can,” Albert said. “I don’t see people doing that.”

An MTA spokesman wouldn’t discuss details of the plan last week, saying they haven’t been finalized…One tweak being made for the MTA program’s expansion — expected as early as this summer — is notifying riders. When the pilot started in October, the MTA quietly removed the bins without telling straphangers. “We need to explain to people what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Prendergast said.

Meanwhile, predictably enough, union officials called upon the MTA to spend more money on their employees who half-heartedly clean stations instead of combating the root of the letter problem. “We’re spending money to change people’s ways?” Derrick Echevarria, the head of the TWU’s Stations Division, said. “Let’s spend money to clean the stations.” Why not both? Or neither? I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument for why the MTA should be in the garbage-removal business as much as they currently are.

As amNY noted, the PATH system, Transit’s counterpart, has no garbage cans and barely any litter. The Port Authority removed trash receptacles under the guise of security, but an initial period of aggressively combating litter has led to a much cleaner system. If Transit is serious about combating litter, rats and the costs associated with keeping the system free from garbage, enforcement will at some point become a necessity.



33 Responses to “Disappearing Soon: Even more trash cans”

  1. SEAN says:

    When the pilot started in October, the MTA quietly removed the bins without telling straphangers. “We need to explain to people what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Prendergast said.

    Just remove them & say it’s an unknown terrorist thret. The average person won’t question it even if it’s a bold face lie.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Meh, I don’t like the strategy of authority figures treating the public like turds. Tell people what and why. With something like this, once they see the positive results, they’ll probably agree.

      • SEAN says:

        I don’t blame you, but if you watch the stupidity or what passes for news & you’ll understand my comment above.

        • John says:

          I know this is really pessimistic, but I agree with Bolwerk. Not because the MTA shouldn’t “treat the public like turds,” but because we could all use a little shaming here. The public at large treats this system like shit. The other day I got on the 7 and put my hands around a freshly expelled wad of snot. At least three times this month I’ve seen people on various buses and subways clipping their fingernails, and just last week I had a nice moment of passive aggression when some guy on the L train tried to leave his empty coffee cup on the floor of the car rather than throw it out. He thanked me as if I was “reminding” him that he “forgot” to bring his trash with him.

          I don’t know that the removal of garbage cans will do anything, but the MTA has to get creative here. Riders in general don’t get it. Last week there was a track fire on the L at 6 Av, and we were severely inconvenienced for over an hour. In frustration, I saw many people cursing the MTA, but the icing on the cake for me was someone who, in frustration, screamed and left the Union Square station, but not before throwing his McDonald’s bag onto the tracks (a garbage can was definitely within 20 feet of him). People don’t get it, and they don’t care to get it, and there are too many of us that have this sense of entitlement, since, for all intents and purposes, we are forced to use this system and are at its mercy. And ultimately, if the public can’t treat this system with respect, the MTA should spell it out for us. I would love to see one of those signs that get passed around from time to time that look like official MTA signs spelling out courteous behavior. They can and should be actually distributed by the MTA.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I don’t even think most of the public would disagree with the policy, if it were explained to them.

            Also, many people don’t deliberately treat the system like shit. They throw trash into a full receptacle, and since it’s full the trash falls out and…and you know the rest.

            • R. Graham says:

              But there are many of jerks who toss a bag of McDonald’s onto the tracks. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Either real enforcement of the littering policy or banning food all together in combination with can removals and most of you already know where I stand on this one.

              • Bolwerk says:

                People who will litter anyway are mostly another issue. I agree – just fine the crap out of them, without or without the food ban. At least that would pay for cleanup.

                As it stands now, at least some of our litter problem exists with some people not even doing something wrong.

          • Matthias says:

            someone who, in frustration, screamed and left the Union Square station, but not before throwing his McDonald’s bag onto the tracks

            What does he think causes track fires?

            • AG says:

              Matthias – the sad and scary thing is most have no idea that causes track fires… and some don’t care.

  2. Andrew Smith says:

    In trying to evaluate the trash can removal, what — if anything — are they doing to estimate how inconvenienced non-littering riders feel about having to carry their waste around with them rather than being able to throw it away?

    I don’t use trash cans in the subways all that often, but I do use them. If the MTA got rid of them all, it would sometimes inconvenience me. I might well be willing to accept that inconvenience if I got much cleaner stations in return but I don’t really know how to balance those two factors for myself let alone the entire system.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Why should they estimate that? Let people carry their waste. People SHOULD take responsibility for their own waste. The MTA should be a transit agency, not a garbage hauler.

      At the very least, the MTA is taking taking responsibility away from people by just offering to handle people’s waste – which is exactly what having a trash receptacle does, whether that receptacle is empty or full.

      • R. Graham says:

        Well said!

        And not to mention they don’t include the real cost of handling that waste of ours in the fare structure.

        Maybe they should start adding some surcharges in the fare. Trash removal surcharge. I’m not even talking about the cleaners but the handling of the volume of trash bags and dumpsters is costly. The diesel work engines that carry those dumpsters as well. The fuel used…Oh man I can keep going on and on.

        • Andrew Smith says:

          SHOULD? In all caps? I didn’t realize there was a moral issue at stake here. Was this revealed in the Bible or some other Holy Text?

          Generally speaking, when any customer-serving agency considers changes, it should attempt to predict and quantify all the impacts and only implement the changes after finding reasonably solid net benefit.

          Perhaps the benefit of lower cost and cleaner stations (if no garbage cans make stations cleaner rather than dirtier) will outweigh the inconvenience of no trash cans. But you can’t know unless you actually bother to measure the inconvenience of no trash cans.

          • R. Graham says:

            If my job is to provide you with transit and I choose to focus exclusively on that instead of providing you with an empty trash can, how is that an inconvenience to you?

            I know your reply was meant for Bolwerk but I couldn’t help but to inject a response here. How and why is it that me telling people that I’m not in the trash business, but am in the transit business and to take responsibility for your own waste some sort of moral issue like telling you which religion you should follow? In all honesty this stuff costs money. If they don’t want to provide a can who are we to complain?

            Now I see why my views have moved away from a lot of liberal ideals. There is a bad perception that government, agencies and the likes are supposed to handle the people’s business. This being the smallest of issues yes but what’s wrong with people taking responsibility for themselves with TRASH? Do we really need to have that handled for us like we need government to manage our retirement dollars? I seriously don’t even feel like the trash collection train jobs should even exist. That’s such a waste of my fare dollars that could easily go towards restoring the serivces that were cut in 2010.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Uh, littering actually is something of a moral issue – I didn’t realize on religion could deal with morality! – but, more to the point, it’s a behavioral one.

            So we should study the obvious, trying to predict every outcome? If you think that, you’re probably just putting your faith in some flawed Evening News model of human behavior. But hey, some bureaucrat somewhere will thank you and be back to us in 8 months.

            I know how we can measure the impact of the proposal: try it. If it doesn’t work, it’s easy enough to put the trash cans back.

      • Nathanael says:

        You need SOME public trash cans. When people are out in public, they have to throw things away occasionally; nobody is going to pack all their trash all the way home!

        It would make sense to me to have a concentration of trash cans at the major hubs — most people change trains at these hubs — and no trash cans at the minor stations. Decent people (as opposed to litterbugs, which are another issue) can wait a few stations to get to a trash can.

        As for litterbugs, yes there should be enforcement and fines — but also a marketing campaign would probably help. Nearly everyone used to throw away trash in state and national parks ALL THE TIME. Why did they stop? A massive anti-littering campaign. “Pack in – pack out”, among other things.

        We need a similar campaign. “Litter causes track fires.” “Litter attracts rats.” “Keep LITTERbugs out of the subway”. If the general public starts shaming litterbugs in the subway, more of them will behave themselves or go elsewhere to litter.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I don’t see why public trash cans can’t be made available on the surface, where a BID can at least kind of work to maintain them.

          I can see keeping them in transfer stations making sense, but it still means the MTA has to collect the garbage.

  3. UESider says:

    I’d be willing to bet that people who litter could care less about the affect of their action, i.e. a dirtier station/system – they’re behaving out of emotion, e.g. the frustration cited on the L @ 6th Ave – that person wasnt thinking about cleanliness

    I vote for pulling most trash cans, except in locations you know you need them, e.g. Times Square area and maybe a few others. Closely monitor the results and restore cans where trash is an issue but push to change people’s behavior as much as possible thru public service cans (above ground as well as below)

    • R. Graham says:

      But if you’re going to site your example of the person being frustrated and acting out of emotion, what’s the point of restoring the cans because there will always be a litterer who acts out of emotion and disposes of trash on the floors and tracks?

  4. UESider says:

    I’d be willing to bet that people who litter could care less about the affect of their action, i.e. a dirtier station/system – they’re behaving out of emotion, e.g. the frustration cited on the L @ 6th Ave – that person wasnt thinking about cleanliness

    I vote for pulling most trash cans, except in locations you know you need them, e.g. Times Square area and maybe a few others. Closely monitor the results and restore cans where trash is an issue but push to change people’s behavior as much as possible thru public service cans (above ground as well as below)

    You can spend millions trying to predict the outcome, make comparisons to PATH (whose riders end up in NYC and just might be simply using our street or MTA trash cans), and delaying any attempt at a solution.

  5. John Doe says:

    Bottom line just ban eating & drinking in the subway. It’s so easy & simple people, reading is fundamental. It does not have to be this complicated.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Yep. And let’s not neglect handcuffing 12-year-olds. (Why not? About half of American adults engage in bondage. What better way is there of providing teenagers with appropriate sex ed toward that goal?)

    • Nathanael says:

      Eating and drinking in the subway is necessary (the ADA *REQUIRES* that it be allowed, thanks to people with hypoglycemia, for instance) and harmless.

      Some of the worst litter in terms of causing track fires would be newspapers. Gonna ban them from the subway too?

      No, what you need is a continuous public anti-littering campaign. They work. Good thing to put in the “ad slots” on the subway…

  6. John Doe says:

    Agreed Alon Levy!!! I’m on board!!

  7. AG says:

    Enforcement – enforcement – enforcement. People who litter could care less how many trash cans there are. Unless you get serious about fining people.. it won’t work. It’s that simple.

    • Bolwerk says:

      That’s probably not the least bit true. There is definitely evidence that removing trash cans does make things cleaner. Why that is might be debatable, though.

      Maybe it’s diffusion of responsibility (from the self to others – I’m kind of abusing the term) – maybe it’s the broken windows effect. But not everything is about enforcement.

      • AG says:

        Comparing NY to other cities is not the same. Case in point. I know ppl visiting from California who littered on the street twice on there trip here. I asked them if they do it in California and they said “never”… but they do it here because they think it’s “ok”. And yes – enforcement does matter when the culture is one that is contrary. That’s like saying taking red lights down will stop people from speeding through an intersection. Even having red lights means nothing. Those same visitors were with me in broad daylight when a guy sitting at a light decided to just go through. When ppl don’t fear punishment they won’t stop. Simple as that. In many places ppl don’t jay-walk or litter because they know they risk fines and embarrassment of their fellow citizens speaking out against both offenses. That doesn’t exist as a culture in NYC.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Uh, there isn’t anything that unique about New York behavior-wise. New Yorkers are people just like anywhere else.

          And you’re wildly overstating the effectiveness of enforcement initiatives. The most effective way to prevent littering is by making it socially unacceptable, perhaps by finding ways to change social norms. Enforcement might be a small part of that, but generally the effect of over-reliance enforcement is to make people resent authority.

          • AG says:

            “Uh, there isn’t anything that unique about New York behavior-wise. New Yorkers are people just like anywhere else.”

            I’m sorry but most of the world would disagree with you.

            And making it socially unacceptable usually happens when there is a penalty attached. That’s why there are such things.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Penalties don’t make things socially unacceptable. If anything, they could have the opposite effect in some cases. What penalties do is impose a cost, which should act as a deterrent for sensible people.

              Making something socially unacceptable requires changing public norms, which is decidedly more difficult.

        • Nathanael says:

          Enforcement is important, but public shaming is even more important. And that means an ad campaign reminding people repeatedly why littering is disgusting and harmful.

          And yes, you’ll need some public trash cans available, because if there’s *nowhere* to throw trash out, people will litter even *if* they know it’s harmful and others will look down on them. But you don’t need trash cans *everywhere*, just at key hubs — which makes it easier to keep them clean, as you can employ permanent full-time staff to clean that single location.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Ads, schmads.

            IIRC Caro correctly, Robert Moses, in one of his more clever moves, hired young white males to pick up garbage at one of his boardwalks to publicly shame people into not littering.

  8. UESider says:

    The California visitor scenario is the broken window / graffiti effect – people think it’s just another piece of trash among plenty more

    People have a perception of NYC as being a dirty place, so that’s not too surprising for tourists

    I bet NY’ers would be very different – may still litter, but would likely give a different reason – most likely angst against the city itself

    But for the majority, my bet is, if you remove the trash cans from the platforms, the trash will find it’s way to a street corner trash can

    Key is not having to go too far to dump your trash – people won’t go across the street to throw something away and then cross back, but if you know there’s a can on the next corner, most will take it that far

    (hence, return trash cans where you see trouble spots, too far to go or just too much volume)

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