Home MTA Absurdity Cleaning the system would cost $100 million

Cleaning the system would cost $100 million

by Benjamin Kabak

As I left my parents’ house this evening and walked towards the 96th St. stop, one of the MTA’s Mobile Wash Units went zooming north up Broadway. “There goes a crew pretending to clean the subway,” I said to my friends, and we all commented on the utter lack of cleanliness in New York City’s subways.

Journey elsewhere, and the subways range in cleanliness from spotless — Washington, DC, and Singapore come to mind — to utterly filthy. While New York’s system is clean compared to, say, Rome’s or Madrid’s, it’s not going to win any awards. Mostly, the tracks and platforms are littered with trash, and the MTA’s efforts to take out the trash often result in a stream of garbage juice stinking up the stations. While now and then, MTA workers attempt to clean stations, that effort is about as effective as those street cleaners the Department of Sanitation employs.

Today, Pete Donohue of The Daily News explores the cleanliness of the subways. It would take, he says, $100 million to maintain “an acceptable level of cleanliness” throughout the subway system. While Donohue doesn’t quite lay out what that level would be, it would represent a vast improvement over the current state of our stations.

He reports:

NYC Transit would have to hire an additional 1,575 cleaners, and spend nearly $230,000 per hub, to reach and maintain an acceptable level of cleanliness across the entire system, according to an agency analysis.

“That’s a lot of money,” William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said. “In today’s climate, that’s an awful lot of money.”

The total cost would be about $100 million, which NYC Transit can ill afford as it faces down a large 2009 deficit and tries to stave off service cuts.

As the MTA is wont to do lately, the officials quoted point to the line manager program as indicative of the success of cleaning efforts. The L and 7 stations now report heavy litter just 10 percent of the time, down from 33 percent prior to the start of the line manager program.

But that overlooks the real cause of the increased cleanliness. The stations along these two lines are enjoying substantially more cleaners than the rest of the system. Two hundred and twenty five MTA cleaners are assigned to the 45 7 and L stations. In other words, 26 percent of the cleaning crew is assigned to just under 10 percent of those stations. Of course, they’ll wind up cleaner.

In the end, this is another case of the MTA’s simply not having the money. There’s no way they can come up with $100 million right now to fund a cleaning program. It’s too bad; we could really use a tidier subway system.

Graphic courtesy of The Daily News.

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Peter September 30, 2008 - 8:13 am

Yes, it costs a lot of money to have NYCT bring in all that garbage and trash, especially all those throwaway tabloids. into the system. Why, if the expense of importing all that garba – – I’m sorry. What? What’s that you say? Huhh? OHHH. . . You meant it isn’t the SUBWAY that’s dirty, it’s the PEOPLE WHO RIDE IT. The ones who complain about how expensive it is. So, to make it clean, it would either take a hundred million dollars, or, just maybe it could be cleaner AND a hundred million could be SAVED if NYCT didn”t have to move a f&#king mountain of unnecessary GARBAGE every single day.

Nah. I’ll just drop my AM NY and starbucks cup and cheezdoodle bag here. After all, that litter can is nearly six feet away.

eric September 30, 2008 - 10:29 am

Even when the MTA had 600 million minimum dollar surpluses in each of the past 7 years they were cutting cleaners jobs. They would rather have a dirty system than have to pay people to clean it!!!

Use the E train as a perfect example. The E train used to have cleaners on both ends of the line to clean the trains for the next trip but they cut the jobs and now only have cleaners at Jamaica so the trains do a full round trip on one of the busiest lines without getting cleaned.

The station cleaners used to have 2 people assigned to clean 3 stations now they have to do those same 3 stations but with only 1 person.

jeremy September 30, 2008 - 10:49 am

Quick comment: The Madrid subway system is definitely cleaner than New York’s. Madrid is constantly expanding and investing in their system. It is the second-largest subway system in Europe and is almost as clean and reliable as the systems in Munich or Berlin.

Easily, Madrid surpasses both Rome and New York in cleanliness, reliability, and function.

josh September 30, 2008 - 11:04 am

I have lived along the “L” train for the past 5 years, and I have definitely noticed the stations i use are mostly clear of litter and stickers, etc. as of late. the cleaning blitz sure has made a difference. But aside from the absence of litter, the stations are still filthy. Not just the leaky walls, but the station platform is caked with the aforementioned garbage juice and who knows what else. I watched a crew power wash my station one sunday morning, and i notice that the some areas are sometimes bleached to death, but there must be something that can be done to actually clean the stations better.

Dolomite September 30, 2008 - 11:48 am

Maybe if New Yorkers didn’t complain about spending an extra five cents on everything while continuing to shell out tons of $$$ for ridiculously overpriced goods, the subway system would actually be maintained and run properly.

bfha November 1, 2016 - 8:12 pm

Why not just levy a tax on all purchases in NYC that pays for station cleaning and also provide clean public restrooms inside those station?

herenthere September 30, 2008 - 6:49 pm

Why not place a hefty fine for the people who throw trash out? Oh, right, we don’t have enough transit cops to do that. Plus, they don’t exactly care.

Jay Dub October 1, 2008 - 10:05 am

Enforcement?…get real. Their aren’t enough cops to cover NYCT’s ridership. Plus, the slobs look over each shoulder before dropping their chicken bones on subway platforms. DC’s subways are clean because the citizenry respects the system. Civilized people do not need cops looking over their shoulder. NYorkers are animals…John Rocker may have been correct.

Alex Engel September 30, 2008 - 11:52 pm

How is Madrid’s system dirty? Literally all the trains are power-washed every night.

Rome, on the other hand…

It could be worse – SEPTA comes to mind.

Adam October 1, 2008 - 10:13 pm

I moved to NYC four years ago and I still see the SAME trash as I did back then. The batteries on the tracks at Bryant Park (B/D/F/V) comes to mind. And that’s one of the cleaner stations.

Honestly, ONE person could at least moderately clean a single station over a couple of days. I’m not saying spotless by any means. Just get the big stuff. Do that over and over, and you’d make a measurable impact in a year or two. I don’t understand why everything has to be a megamillion dollar project.

Hell, enlist volunteers like they do with the highways.

Todd October 2, 2008 - 12:43 pm

People are slobs. Plus, if you see someone littering, you’re not allowed to say anything because you’ll get cursed out and told that “You’ve got a lot of nerve” (that’s a real quote from a guy I called out for leaving his paper on the ground).

I’m all for stepped up enforcement. Start jailing people for littering and watch how clean the subway will be.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » NYCT head Roberts aiming for cleaner stations October 7, 2008 - 2:02 am

[…] 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 […]

Meredith February 21, 2011 - 9:47 pm

I know I’m a bit late here, but I wanted to mention a couple of things. First of all, as a lifelong DC resident who has also lived in Tokyo briefly, I can say that Tokyo’s subways are far, far cleaner than DC’s!

But also, I have been to NYC quite extensively (used to date someone there), and I have never had any reason to complain about the subways there. Spic-and-span subways are not the most important thing for a city to focus on. Safety is far more important than cleanliness, in my book. I don’t mind if somebody discards their trash on the train. I’d actually rather have eating be allowed on the train even if every single person who eats discards their trash. (DC does not allow food/drink on metro, and they WILL ticket you.)

The only waste that I don’t want to see on a subway is bodily waste. Other than that, I’m fine with it. Having such a prissy system like we do in DC – the subway cars are carpeted, for pete’s sake – isn’t ideal to me.


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