Last week, I journeyed down to Lower Manhattan for a session with Howard Roberts. The New York City Transit President graciously agreed to an interview, and we touched on all sorts of topics. Over the next few days, I’ll delve into the conversations he and I had. Today, we start with the trash.
The day before my meeting, clean subway stations were all the rage. The Daily News had just released its findings about the cleanliness of the subway system, and the paper reported that it would take a $100 million investment to ensure a clean subway system. On the surface, it seems like a daunting figure, but New York City Transit is committed to a cleaning program.
The agency is trying to determine what it really takes to clean stations, cars and the track bed. Those in charge want to present what Roberts called “a station that is clean and in a state of reasonable preparedness.” No will deny that the system has a long way to go to reach that point, but it remains a manageable priority.
“Wherever I can find a few extra cleaners, we’ll put them” into dirty stations, Roberts said. “We’ll get one station up at a time and go from there.”
Roberts hopes that the line manager system will allow him more flexibility and opportunity to insert cleaners into the system. The MTA knows that they don’t have enough money in the capital program to rehabilitate the stations that need it; they know they don’t have enough people to fix and clean everything. But New York City Transit, as an agency, has a budget over $5 billion. In that regard, a $100 million investment in cleanliness is a two percent drop in the bucket.
Through the new general manager program — one that Roberts hopes will better bring rider demands to the attention of the people at the MTA who can fulfill those desires — line general managers will be evaluated on a set of standards. Included in those standards will be station cleanliness. As the general managers grow to understand their lines, it will ideally become easier to assign the resources to the stations that need it. Perhaps we’ll see cleaner stations sooner rather than later.
Before leaving the issue of cleanliness behind, I brought up a familiar refrain. What can the MTA or the police do to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and throw out their trash in the appropriate bins? The vast majority of riders tune out the PSAs, and I mentioned an approach similar to the one in use in DC in which cops ticket people for eating on the system. Roberts knows that this is a hot-button issue that could easily erupt.
“At this point in time, we are looking at the all possibilities,” he said. “But there would be a large public response” to any attempts to change the rules.
It’s all about practicality and knowledge at New York City Transit right now. The agency knows the stations could be cleaner, and the people in charge want to do something about it within the constraints of the budget. There’s hope yet for a cleaner system.