As far as transit services go, subway stations are caught amidst a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, it’s far more important for the MTA’s offerings to ensure that tracks, its signal system and the rolling stock are in top shape than it is to gussy up its subway stations. On the other hand, though, subway station appearance sets a tone for the level of care the authority gives its outward-looking infrastructure. Decrepit stations with rats and garbage indicates a level of inattention to passenger environment.
Today, the Straphangers Campaign released their assessment of subway station conditions, and the report attempts to quantify what we see on a daily basis. Their team observed 250 station platform at 120 randomly selected stops. That figure, they say, represents 28 percent of the system’s 909 platforms. During the survey, conducted last year, they found some good, some bad and some ugly.
As they highlight it, the good is a bare qualifier. Every station they saw had garbage cans present, and somehow, only one of the 250 suffered from overflowing trash cans. Furthermore, only six percent had visible garbage bags lying about. The bad included rats in 15 out of 139 underground stations — a figure that seemed low to me — missing tile, exposed wiring and cracked floors and staircase. The ugly though was ugly. Nearly 80 percent of stations had substantial peeling paint while 53 percent suffered from water damage.
Yet, despite these findings, I am inclined to think that the Straphangers over-rate the state of the stations. It’s the subtle things that matter. Sure, every station may have a trash can or two, but as I’ve noted in the past, at 7th Ave. on the Culver Line for instance, the last garbage can is a few hundred feet from the end of the platform. Thus, garbage piles up far from the trash receptacle.
Meanwhile, while recently renovated stations alleviate the underground blight, those that haven’t gone under the knife in decades, if ever, look worse for the wear. In the Bronx along the IRT lines, in Brooklyn both above and below ground, throughout Queens, stations are literally falling apart. Walls are bare, floors are grimy, benches are just flat-out gross. Franklin St. in Tribeca might look great, but the 149th St.-Grand Concourse subway station has needed a substantial amount of work for at least two decades, if not longer.
It’s hard to maintain over 468 subway stations, many of which suffer from decades of deferred maintenance. It’s costly and time-consuming to keep up with the seemingly unattainable State of Good Repair, and painting over leaky walls and cracked ceilings is akin to putting make-up on a pig. But between rats and water damager, dark corners and garbage bags, the city’s stations need some help. This report is just another voice calling out for better repairs.