Home U.S. Transit SystemsWMATA DC Metro carpets may go the way of the dodo

DC Metro carpets may go the way of the dodo

by Benjamin Kabak

The DC Metro carpets: So gross even a caveman wouldn’t sleep there. (Courtesy of flickr user AlbinoFlea)

After I graduated from college, I spent 10 months living and working in our Nation’s Capital. To commute to work each day, I rode D.C.’s Metro. Run by the WMATA, the D.C. Metro is the second largest subway system in the nation.

While clearly designed for suburban commuters – wait times spike right after 8 p.m. each night and some D.C. residents have declared war on the Metro – the Metro does a serviceable job of shuttling people through Washington, D.C. The D.C. Metro also has one of the most disgusting features of any subway system I have ever ridden on: carpets.

That’s right. These subway cars, trampled on by nearly 600,000 people daily, are carpeted. These carpets are of the industrial style. These aren’t plush Persian rugs; they are the carpets of your college dorm room days designed to absorb everything a college student can throw (or is that hurl?) on them and then some. But the carpets in the Metro wilt under the pressure. Just think about winter.

During the winter in New York, subway cars turn disgusting. Since the start of February, subway cars have been grimy, wet and gross as commuters track dirty snow into the subway. Now, imagine if all of that wet dirt were to be absorbed by orange carpets from the early 1970s. That’s what you get in the Washington subways. Trust me; it’s just as gross as it sounds.

But good news for the aesthetes among us: The WMATA may ditch the carpets. The new head of the WMATA John B. Catoe wants to remove the carpet and reconfigure the trains so that they conform to our NYC standards. D.C.’s NBC4 has more:

Metro’s General Manager John Catoe said the carpet is too costly and isn’t practical. He said he wants to get rid of it. Two months into the job, John B. Catoe Jr. said his outsider status has helped him spot a lot of places where the system could be made more efficient, and the floor covering is just the beginning. If he has his way, riders could soon see rail cars that look more like those in the New York City subway, with plenty of room to stand but fewer places to sit.

Catoe said he was surprised nobody had thought to remove the carpet before. After all, it is difficult to clean and needs to be replaced often, he said. The carpet was meant to add a bit of luxury to the transit system in the nation’s capital.

Catoe put it best in the article. “I can understand the thought process in the beginning: ‘This is America’s subway system — we’re going to provide carpet on the floor of the subway,'” he said. “Well, that’s like having carpet on the Mall. I mean come on, let’s be real. Nice to do. Real world tells you it’s expensive, it doesn’t look good — particularly when it snows and you bring a lot of salt in there — and it doesn’t smell very good after it gets wet.”

I railed often against those carpets when I was living in D.C. They certainly were rank during bad weather; they were generally ugly all the time. For all the criticism we level at the MTA, imagine carpeted subways. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

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Pia March 21, 2007 - 4:40 pm

Hmmm. DC carpets might be gross, but I kinda like them. Does “no carpets” mean just metal on the ground? When people step out of the snow and into a building, if they didn’t wipe their feet on the mat at the entrance, they start trudging in dirt and snow. And as people do that constantly, it turns into an icky black muddy mess – exactly what the entrances to the metro stations look like in the winter, causing so many people to slip and fall. That’s what the subway floors are going to look like instead? I’d rather the carpet absorb it all and be discolored than have me standing in snow and ice and dirt during my commute and slide around on slush as the subway car brakes.

Kim March 21, 2007 - 11:40 pm

One time coming home from an entirely too long of a day interning, I found two drunk college-ish students on the floor of my Metro car. One was totally face down. I was grossed out and well, since then, I’ve thought the carpets have got to go.

As long as they don’t mess with the “ok” cell service, I will not complain. They do need to fix their weekly paper passes, though. They stink, too.

Pondering a clean, but closed, subway « Second Ave. Sagas April 19, 2007 - 1:17 am

[…] clean; Moscos’s is clean; even the Metro in Washington, DC, has a reputation for cleanliness, nasty carpets and all. These systems are kept clean mostly because they shut down each […]

BG August 8, 2007 - 1:29 pm

I am sick and tired of the NYC Subway System! Today, the subway was closed because it rained!


I always ponder the fact that they can’t get the stench of stale urine out of the subway. The fact that they cant run in the rain is UNBELIEVEABLE!!!!!

pelham123 February 28, 2008 - 12:08 pm

i grew up in the district, rode the subway to catholic school everyday, but after 10 years in ny, those carpets do seem weird to me now. however, i will point out that the BART system in san francisco has the same trains as the district, carpets and all. however, in SF, there is a mild foul odor of dampness, which i blame on the carpets, but which the district doesn’t have. the dc subway does have a distinctive smell, but it isn’t ‘foul’


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