Home New York City Transit NYCT head Roberts aiming for cleaner stations

NYCT head Roberts aiming for cleaner stations

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Boris October 7, 2008 - 9:47 am

I’m against equating eating and littering on the subway. Back in 7th grade I lived in the Bronx and went to an after-school program in Manhattan twice a week. My only time to eat was while I was in transit. A “no eating on the subway” policy would’ve left me without dinner on those days. I used reusable containers and didn’t throw anything out.

People should be fined for littering, sure. But the slow speeds and great distances of our subway make an eating restriction very difficult to live with.

Kevin October 7, 2008 - 11:23 am

Fining people would help but it’s very difficult to catch people in the act unless they have a transit officer walking through a train more frequently rather than just poking their head at certain stations.

I wouldn’t mind a ban on food after stepping on the remains of a mostly-eaten plum on the F this morning while getting a seat.

Alon Levy October 8, 2008 - 2:17 am

I would mind a ban on food. So would anyone who’s ever been hungry while traveling from one neighborhood to another.

Singapore’s rapid transit is antiseptic. It’s also perfectly useless unless you live and work at neighborhood centers, which are with one exception not the main job or retail centers. I’d much rather New York spend its money focusing on more functional stations and track repairs than on aesthetics; if it has money just for cleaning, it should spend it on reducing the elevators’ stench, not reducing the sight of debris on the tracks.

B October 7, 2008 - 11:32 pm

people eating isn’t the problem. the problem is people being slobs.

anybody notice a greater number of rats/mice recently? everywhere – tracks, platforms, streets, parks.

86th st in bay ridge is pretty horrendous. rats coming out of the rusted garbage can on the platform on one end. and through the rusted door on the other end of the platform. beautiful.

R2 October 8, 2008 - 1:46 pm

Absolutely correct.

Picking up after oneself is a lesson too many have not learned.
When I was a kid in the 80’s (during which the streets and subways were appreciably dirtier), if I ever dared to just throw something out onto the platform or street, my mom would promptly scold me and make me pick up after myself.

Would go something like this:

Me: Who cares? It’s dirty anyway. Where am I gonna put it??
Mom: I do! Pick it up now! Wait until we get home.

So, lesson learned. Now if only more people could get slapped (physically AND with a ticket) for littering, the subways would be pristine.

What people fail to understand is that human activity (i.e. trash) gives rise to vermin: roaches, mice, rats, pigeons. We are their food source! If we suddenly disappeared, their populations would plummet (and much more so than the stock market, might I add)

herenthere October 17, 2008 - 9:24 pm

Maybe they should use the Vaktrak more often…Lex/53St E/V tracks are filthy-I think I spotted stagnant yellow/green water one time there.

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