As part of its budget-paring efforts, New York City Transit has allowed its system’s cleanliness to slip. Fewer cleaners are available to tend to stations and subway cars, and work shifts that are empty due to sick days are often left unfilled so that the authority does not need to pay out overtime. As such, the trains have become dirtier, a new report issued today by the Straphangers Campaign says.
The annual report, entitled the Shmutz Survey, found that only 50 percent of all subway cars were considered “clean” in 2009. That total represents a seven-percent drop from 2008. “It’s as clear as the grime on a subway car floor: MTA Transit cuts in cleaners has meant dirtier cars,” Gene Russianoff, campaign attorney for the Straphangers, said. “And more cuts to come means more dirt for subway riders.”
For those along Sixth Ave. looking forward to impending M train service from Middle Village to Forest Hills, the news is even worse. Cars along the M were rated the dirtiest with only 32 percent checking out as clean. On the other hand, those in use along the C and 6 lines were the system’s cleanest. A whopping 65 percent of cars along those two lines were deemed clean.
But what exactly does it mean for a car to be clean? According to the Campaign, workers examined the cleanliness of train cars at various times during the day from September to November. The campaign checks the floors and seats but does not account for litter. A “clean” rating means that cars were, according to guidelines, “basically dirt free” or had “light dirt” (“occasional ‘ground-in’ spots but generally clean”). Cars are not clean if they are “moderately” dirty with a “dingy floor [or] one or two sticky dry spots” or “heavily” dirty with “any opened or spilled food, hazardous (e.g. rolling bottles), or malodorous conditions, sticky wet spots, any seats unusable due to unclean conditions.”
The Straphangers’ findings clash with Transit’s own internal metrics. While the Straphangers found a deterioration in cleanliness, Transit’s own data found that 95 percent of cars — up from 91 percent in 2008 — were clean. The two sides could not pinpoint why such a great discrepancy between the two figures existed, but the MTA has long disputed the Straphangers’ methodology.
No matter the differences, the Straphangers urged the MTA to monitor the reductions in resources available for subway car cleanliness, and Transit, in a statement, acknowledged how its own financial troubles have led to dirtier trains. “With the current budget challenges being faced by MTA New York City Transit, we acknowledge that some subway car floors may not be as clean as our customers expect or deserve,” the agency said. “However, we will monitor conditions and shift forces as necessary. We also take the opportunity to remind customers to pitch in and help keep the subway as clean as possible by utilizing proper refuse receptacles.”
The last point is one worth examining. It’s true that the declining numbers of available cleaners will inevitably lead to dirtier cars and stations, but the riders themselves are part of the problem. As I wrote in April, many riders treat the subway car floors as their own personal garbage cans. If people were more mindful of their garbage, if they carried out what they carried in and didn’t spill food or drinks on the floor — in fact, if eating weren’t allowed in the subways — the trains would simply be cleaners. Perhaps in an era of fewer cleaners, that’s the way to keep the trains tidy.