Subway Car Cleanliness Has Declined

M Train
According to the 2009 Subway Shmutz report, the M has the lowest percentage of clean cars. Resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit.

Throughout the year, the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign releases multiple reports involving the state of some aspect of the MTA’s system. This time, it is the release of the 11th annual “Subway Shmutz” report which rates the cleanliness of NYC Subway Cars. Before I analyze the report, let me post a press release from the NYPIRG about the report:

The number of clean subway cars declined since 2008, according to the eleventh annual “subway shmutz” survey released today by the Straphangers Campaign.

Campaign surveyors rated 50% of subway cars as “clean” in a survey conducted in the fall 2009, which was a statistical decline from 57% of cars rated clean in a survey conducted in the fall of 2008.

The worst performing line in our survey was the M, with the smallest number of clean cars at 32%. The best performing lines in our survey were the 6 and C with 65% of cars rated clean, up from 41% for both lines in 2008.

Eleven of the 22 subway lines — fully half — grew worse, while five lines improved and six lines stayed the same.

The 2009 budget contained cuts in cleaning staff, with car cleaners going down from 1,181 with 155 supervisors in 2008 to 1,138 with 146 supervisors in 2009. The 2010 budget for car cleaners is 1,030 cleaners and 123 supervisors.

“It’s as clear as the grime on a subway car floor: MTA Transit cuts in cleaners has meant dirtier cars,” said Gene Russianoff, campaign attorney for the Straphangers Campaign. “And more cuts to come means more dirt for subway riders.”

The car cleanliness survey is based on 2,200 observations of subway cars by the Straphangers Campaign between September 3 and November 24, 2009.

Cars were rated on 22 lines for cleanliness of floors and seats, following MTA New York City Transit’s official standards for measuring car cleanliness. Cars were rated as clean if they were “basically dirt free” or had “light dirt” (“occasional ‘ground-in’ spots but generally clean”).

Cars were rated not clean if they were “moderately” dirty (“dingy floor, one or two sticky dry spots”) or “heavily” dirty (“Heavy dirt; any opened or spilled food, hazardous (e.g. rolling bottles), or malodorous conditions, sticky wet spots, any seats unusable due to unclean conditions”).

The survey did not rate litter. Since 1997, the Campaign has conducted ten largely similar studies for similar periods. (See attached methodology.)

Other key findings of the survey include:

* The eleven subway lines that experienced statistically significant deterioration were the 1, 4, 5, 7, B, D, F, G, J, M and V.

* Five subway lines showed statistically significant improvement: 6, C, N, Q and R.

* Six lines remained statistically unchanged: 2, 3, A, E, L and W.

* The most deteriorated line in our survey was the D, which fell from 80% in 2008 to 38% in 2009.

* The most improved line in our survey was the N, going from 29% clean cars in 2008 to 63% in 2009.

* The survey found major disparities in cleanliness among the lines, ranging from a low of 32% clean cars on the M line to a high of 65% on the 6 and C lines.

“How will subway cleanliness fare in an age of shrinking resources? We will do another survey next fall, compare and find out,” said Cate Contino, the coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign who directed the survey.

MTA New York City Transit conducts its own semi-annual subway car cleanliness survey, which did not report its results on a line-by-line basis until this reporting period. Transit’s survey showed improvement in subway car overall cleanliness for the second half of 2009. The number of clean car floors and seats (those with no or light dirt) “in service” improved from 91% in the second half of 2008 to 95% in the second half of 2009.

The average percentage of clean cars in the Campaign’s 2009 survey was 50% compared to New York City Transit’s 95%. The trend in the two surveys are also far apart: Transit’s survey showed overall improvement and the Campaign’s showed deterioration.

The Campaign acknowledged the different findings, but said that it was not able to point to factors that come to these results.

The car cleanliness surveys by Transit and the Straphangers Campaign’s survey use similar although not identical methodology. For example, the Campaign rates throughout the day and night and on weekends. New York City Transit rates on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The Campaign credited New York City Transit for recently providing the public with results broken down on a line-by-line basis. (See MTA New York City Transit Committee Agenda, February 2010, Passenger Environment Survey, page 194. The document can be found at by clicking on “Board Materials.”)

The Campaign urged transit officials to:

* Closely monitor the impact of reductions in resources to cleaning subway cars, as well as to station and track cleaning.
* Expand the use of ‘hand-held’ computers in their own survey to provide more timely information. New York City Transit has been piloting the use of hand held computers and plans to expand in the next few years.

The survey findings can also be found on the Internet at

Now here are three .pdf files containing the key information from the report:

Table One: Percentage of clean cars by line

Table Two: Best to Worst percentage of clean cars by line

Table Three: Methodology

I took the time to read the report when it first came out & it came as no surprise that cleanliness has declined. It is no surprise that the MTA’s budget woes play a role in this as they had to cut back on cleaners. However I must stress that the cut of cleaners is not the reason for the decline in cleanliness.

The real issue are the disgusting riders who think the entire subway system is their personal trash receptacle. How many times have you seen people scarfing down on a meal & just leave their garbage behind as if it is no big deal? I have lost count of how many times I have seen this. I recall years ago when I saw someone purposely leave a once bitten slice of pizza on the seat as they exited. They got up to get off & thought about it for a second & decided it was easier to leave it there even though there were trash receptacles on the platform.

What really needs to happen is the outright banning of food in the system. It is one thing to snack on a piece of gum or candy which is something I do from time to time & properly dispose of the trash when I get off. It is something completely different to scarf down full food whether it be pizza, soup, chicken, etc…. I would completely support the banning of food in the system as it is something that would benefit all of us in the long run.

Too many riders are quick to blame the MTA for the lack of cleanliness due to a lack of cleaners or effort on the ones they have. Yet they completely ignore how the trash got there in the first place. The MTA does not have people out there throwing trash throughout the system! The problem clearly starts & ends with the filthy pigs who clearly don’t give a damn about the system. Yet when the delays mount up due to trash causing issues with equipment, these same pigs are the first to trash the MTA & its operations. These riders make me sick!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Nice post!

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