The subways, the Straphangers Campaign would like you to know, are not that clean. While the number shows improvement, only 50 percent of all subway cars are clean, according to the advocacy group’s 2007 Subway Smutz survey. The MTA, meanwhile, counters that 87 percent of all subway cars are clean. Who do you believe?
To assess the cleanliness of subway cars, Straphangers trained 45 people to survey 100 subway cars on each of the 22 subway lines. They used a similar scale to the one employed internally by the MTA, but as the MTA notes, the Straphangers perform their surveys during the a.m. and p.m. rush hours as well as evenings, overnights and weekends while the MTA conducts its surveys between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. The MTA would have us believe that subway cars are a lot messier during those overnight and weekend time periods.
According to the Straphangers’ findings, the L and 7, the two pilot lines for the line manager program were the cleanest, clocking in with cleanliness levels of 88 percent and 78 percent, respectively. The E and the Q with 29 percent of their cars rated as clean tied for last. A full table complete with comparisons between now and the most recent survey from 2005 is available on the Straphangers’ website.
The campaign used the survey results to urge the MTA to implement the following procedures:
- Devote more resources to cleaning subway cars, as they are now applying to station and track cleaning.
- Produce more detailed and timely information on cleanliness. The MTA does not publish the results of its cleanliness ratings by line, even though it maintains such information internally.
- Post the results of its surveys where riders can see them.
In defense of their rolling stock, the MTA noted the discrepancies between the Straphangers’ numbers and their internal surveys. Using New York City Transit’s Passenger Environment Survey, the MTA noted a few key differences:
As examples of contradictions in survey results, the E train continues to be the Straphangers’ worst performing line (29%), while the L train is their best performing line (88%). In contrast, the M train is the worst performing PES line (70%) while the 3 train is the best performing line (97%). Although the Straphangers use the same standards as PES, the overall results demonstrate that these indicators are not comparable, given that the PES result was 87% versus 50% for the Straphangers.
The agency also promoted the seemingly positive effects of the line manager program. “We are pleased to note that the Straphangers Campaign has recognized our efforts along the 7 and L, the two lines that have been the focus of a shift in management philosophy that places a high priority on the customer concerns of cleanliness by making certain that cars are cleaned at both terminals,” the agency’s press release said.
In my view, subway cars are, by and large, dingy but clean enough. The 3 train and the E I find to be the dirtiest, but otherwise, for the most part, I can’t complain. Outside of shutting down the system entirely, and cleaning everything at once, the MTA has managed to keep its train cars relatively clean. The stations are another matter entirely.