In the never-ending war pitting the MTA vs. rats and also endless amounts of garbage, the transit agency has spent the last few years engaged in a battle of reverse psychology. Since late 2011, the MTA has couterintuitively removed trash cans to combat trash, and now this program will expand to 29 stations. It’s somewhat controversial and often derided, but according to Transit, it’s getting results as the amount of garbage in the trash can-free stations has rapidly declined.
For years, the MTA has suffered from a trash problem. Some of it stems from the sheer volume of people who use the system; some of it stems from the fact that, for various reasons, the MTA hasn’t made a move to ban eating underground. No matter the cause though trash has mounted up in stations, and due to the logistics of a vast 24-hour system, it cannot be picked up timely or regularly. With trash that sits for days, rats abound, and station environments become generally unfriendly and dirty.
The pilot then is designed to appeal to common courtesy. Most people won’t discard their garbage if there’s no trash can and will instead carry it out of the system. A small percentage of riders will chuck their trash where they can — under seats, on platforms, in the tracks, in a small space between a pipe and a wall — but those folks are apt to do that even with trash cans present. Eliminating trash cans then will eliminate trash.
As you may have guessed from the news that the MTA is cutting out garbage cans at 29 more stations, the pilot is apparently working. “We’ve seen a change in customer behavior. Riders knew that there weren’t trash cans at those stations, so they took their trash somewhere else,” Joe Leader, Transit’s vice president of subways, said during a board committee meeting yesterday.
The MTA’s own numbers seem to bear witness to this reality. Since removing trash cans at ten stations over the past few years, the agency has seen trash collection reduced by 66 percent at those stations with a small increase — 3.2 percent — in bags collected litter thrown on the tracks. Track fires not increased, and the MTA say these stations are as clean as they were with garbage cans. Meanwhile, the reduced trash at these stations has allowed the MTA to allocate resource to collecting trash and cleaning other areas of the subway system.
Additionally, the trends over time have shown significant improvement as well. As more time has elapsed, litter has become less common at these stations. Garbage overnight has nearly disappeared, and the daytime levels of heavy litter are 11 percentage points better than average. By and large, straphangers are taking out what they’re bringing in. It’s the national parks philosophy hard at work.
To continue this program, the MTA will add an additional 29 stations along the J/Z and M lines to the program. To combat the potential for track fires, the agency plans to increase track cleaning frequencies, but garbage cans will essentially disappear from most of the BMT Nassau St., BMT Jamaica and BMT Myrtle Avenue Lines in an effort to further reduce collection costs. The MTA won’t spread this program to all 468 stations; it’s trying to better seal up existing garbage facilities to fight the rodent problem. But for now, trash cans will become more scarce underground, seemingly to better behavior by most.