Home Straphangers Campaign Straphangers: Platform conditions better now than last year

Straphangers: Platform conditions better now than last year

by Benjamin Kabak

Pillars at Bryant Park have seen better days (Via Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram)

As I wait for the subway at various stations and at various times, I often take a close look at my surroundings. I’m not looking for shady characters or suspicious packages. Rather, I look to see how the stations appear. With dirty or missing tiles, trash and the occasional pigeon, the platforms are often not much to look at. We have rats; we have garbage; we have things we’d rather not know about. But just how bad are they?

Yesterday, the Straphangers Campaign released its second annual State of the Subway Platform report, and there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that we still have subway platforms. No, wait. That’s not it. The good news is that subway platform conditions haven’t really degraded much since last year’s survey and that rat sightings may be down. The bad news is that subway platforms are still pretty gross.

“We applaud transit managers and workers for improving conditions at many stations,” Jason Chin-Fatt, a field organizer with the Straphangers who ran the survey said. “But there’s still room for further progress. There’s no reason, for example, that riders should have a one in ten chance of seeing a rat while waiting for a train.”

The survey — which took place at 251 stations between the end of May and the beginning of August last year — found that water damage and graffiti are on the rise while rat sightings have declined. There were fewer garbage bags on station platforms, and the Straphangers found fewer staircases in disrepair, less exposed wiring, a reduction in floor cracks, and better lighting. I believe that is a testament to the MTA’s component-based repair project which aims to fix the worst elements at stations rather than subjecting them to timely and costly rehabs.

While Transit conducts its own survey of stations, the Straphangers say they assess different variables. They did however offer up some ways in which their responses differ from the MTA’s assessment:

  • Our finding — that, in the summer of 2012, 98% of the observed platforms had a garbage can and that only 1% of these were overflowing — is similar to the relevant PES measure. For the first half of 2012, NYC Transit found 98% of “trash receptacles usable in stations;” and
  • NYC Transit PES found 100% of the stations had none or only “light” “graffiti conditions” in the first half of 2012. The Straphangers Campaign survey found substantial graffiti at 27% of all the platforms observed in the summer of 2012, which was worse than in 2011 (20%).

All of this is well and good, but let me pose a question: How do you feel about the station platforms? I don’t feel too good about them, and I know I’m not alone. A friend of mine recently spoke about how dirty he felt platforms had become over the last few years, and during the James Vacca-hosted complaint-fest earlier this week, a few City Council members expressed similar views.

When I look around station platforms, I see a state of neglect and disarray. Now, of course, it’s better today than it was two decades ago, but stations that were rehabbed ten years ago are showing their age. Meanwhile, those stations that haven’t been overhauled looked terrible. They’re dark, dingy and evidently unclean. Even those with a trash can or two are replete with litter.

I’ve always wondered if we should care. Station environments are only skin deep. I’d prefer to have new rolling stock, modern signals and speedier trains before stations get their dues. But at the same time, stations set the tone for the subway system. If stations look nicer, customers are more likely to treat the subways with respect. For now though the state of the platforms is good enough for the Straphangers. Perhaps we’re settling for too little though.

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John-2 March 8, 2013 - 12:34 am

The MTA really should consider doing high-pressure steam cleaning of platforms, support columns and station walls as part of Fastrack. Do the type of work that can’t be done when the lines are in service.

g March 8, 2013 - 7:21 am

Tying in some meaningful platform and station maintenance to Fastrack would be a good idea. Cleaning platforms/stairs/mezz floors and walls, fixing lighting and electrical issues, some limited tile repair, and repainting surfaces. The CTA in Chicago had a crew hitting every station in the system over the last year and a half or so to do this same thing.

Chris C March 8, 2013 - 9:14 am

But they are already doing a lot of that under Fastrack.

From the recent A line


And the NQR


Stations painted and lights repaired etc

pete March 8, 2013 - 10:46 pm

They already do that every month at every station at 2 AM. They soap they use is garbage and push brooms are the only way to scrub anything. The result is barely better than when they started.

Someone March 8, 2013 - 7:47 am

There’s graffiti at 27% of stations? Show me.

TP March 8, 2013 - 8:59 am

Are riders permitted to clean the stations ourselves? I want to. It’s so damn gross at my stop, and it just needs a mop and bucket. It’s clear it’s not even getting that. What’s the difference in process between station cleaning and car cleaning? The subway cars are so nice and clean. They do a great job of that. But the stations are vile.

Tsuyoshi March 8, 2013 - 9:06 am

Of course we should care. The appearance of our subway stations is just as important as the appearance of our streets.

I have no idea why the city council thinks they should be complaining about station conditions when they don’t do anything about it. Attention, city council: raise taxes; hire people to clean the stations. It’s not much more complicated than that.

Eric Brasure March 8, 2013 - 10:23 am

Amen. Cleaner stations may not show up on any metric or economics reports, but they do have a psychological effect on riders.

John-2 March 8, 2013 - 9:56 am

…and speaking of fixing up stations, Cuomo says old South Ferry station to reopen in April.

With Lhota gone, Andrew is the go-to guy for all MTA post-Sandy good news, so I guess this is official.

TP March 8, 2013 - 10:06 am

With Lhota gone it’s probably easier for him to take credit for the good news and abdicate responsibly for the bad news. Best of both worlds for him!

John-2 March 8, 2013 - 11:25 am

Yep — The governor announces the H shuttle plan and the reopening of upper South Ferry. Tom Prendergast gets the dirty jobs, like explaining the over-half billion cost for rehabbing lower SF. That’s how it works when you’re looking to make your 2014 re-election into a launching pad for 2016.

Reopening upper SF really isn’t a shock, once it became clear enough of the public and SI politicians knew upper SF was still there, and 1 trains were running through it after Sandy — ones that was out, it wasn’t going to look good for the MTA to say it can’t be done. And it’s not like restoring parts to the gap fillers (which were still in stock to service Union Square) was akin to rebuilding Ground Zero, or even rebuilding lower SF, for that matter, since upper drained after Sandy and the lower did not.

As with rebuilding the track box and Cortlandt St. station shell through Ground Zero in less than a year after 9/11, it shows how quickly things can get done when they wre people in power who want those things to get done. The interesting thing will be to see if the new corridor between the new SF mezzanine and the old station ends up meeting ADA requirements, or if the MTA did get a waiver to reopen the station.

Patrick March 8, 2013 - 12:53 pm

I assume the MTA thought about Old SF day one after pumping the tunnels & applied for the waiver, probably just got the OK this week. That connecting passage would be interesting to see. I’m just sad my travel plans doesn’t involve the 1 train anymore so i can’t see the great SF Loop everyone likes 🙁

Someone March 8, 2013 - 10:39 am



How do they do it without the gap fillers and everything?

VLM March 8, 2013 - 10:40 am

I’m going to be brutally honest with you: You’re really annoying and very often wrong. You’re why people are complaining about the comments here and this is just another indication of it. Sorry if that hurts your feelings.

As Ben noted earlier in the week, the gap fillers are there, and crews have been working on this station for about six weeks. What is this “everything” you’re referring to?

Someone March 8, 2013 - 4:20 pm

~Entrances? (resolved)
~Non-ADA-accessibility (resolved)
~Connection to the N/R at Whitehall (resolved)
~The unbelievably short length and steep curve of the platform

TBM4 March 20, 2013 - 1:49 am

Are you a high schooler? Please don’t think you need to comment on every post and comment made on here. Or at least think one minute before posting something new. This is making the comments section much worse than it used to be.

BruceNY March 9, 2013 - 3:18 pm

I am glad this story came up. I find station conditions deplorable. I had a visitor from the U.K. here for the first time, and while his overall impression of NYC was overwhelmingly positive, he asked me in the Lexington/60th St. station: “Are all the stations in the system this dingey”. All I could say is “Well, believe it or not it was ten times worse 30 years ago”. Compared to just about any other subway system I’ve been in around the world, our stations are frighteningly filthy and dreary–even some of the recently renovated ones.

Peeling paint, every surface coated with soot & grime, rust colored stains on the walls, missing tiles–this is what people see.

When Fastrack was announced for the Broadway line, I was very happy to think that Lexington Ave. would finally get years of accumulated soot and grime washed away. But the following Monday morning, it appeared that the only work that had occurred was a fresh coat of black paint had been applied to the ceiling. The track bed still had plenty of trash.

And ceilings painted black is a particular pet peeve of mine. Obviously its sole purpose is to hide the dirt that the MTA doesn’t want to clean on a regular basis. It only makes stations appear darker and gloomier.
I know things are far better than they used to be (I remember), but why spend all that money to renovate stations only to let them deteriorate to the point that they look just as bad as the rest?


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