Streams

City's Subways Are Getting Filthier, Says Advocacy Group

Thursday, May 05, 2011

WNYC
Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue subway station generates electricity using photovoltaic cells. Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue subway station generates electricity using photovoltaic cells. (Andrea Silenzi)

The city's subway are getting dirtier, according to a straphangers' advocacy group.

The latest Shmutz Survey conducted by the Straphangers Campaign found only 47 percent of subway cars were clean when researchers rode the trains over two months last fall compared with 51 percent the year before.

The MTA is fighting back: it disputes the findings and questions the report's methodology.

Straphangers said the R train was dirtiest, with only 27 percent of the cars appearing clean. The No. 7 train, the cleanest line, was found to have clean cars only 68 percent of the time.

"I think they're dirtier because there are fewer personnel cleaning the subways today," said spokesman Gene Russianoff, who noted the MTA helped cover a budget deficit last year by laying off 108 car cleaners — a 10 percent reduction. "Fewer elbows, less elbow grease."

The MTA also cut the number of car cleanings in half. A train used to be cleaned each time it finished a one-way trip to the end of the line; now trains are cleaned at the end of a round trip.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the authority disagreed strongly with the report, "which does not accurately measure NYC Transit's ability to clean subway cars." He said the agency is now more flexible in shifting cleaners to trains that need them most, which has led to a "minimal impact" on overall car cleanliness.

The MTA criticized the Straphangers' report for rating car cleanliness while trains are in motion and can't be cleaned, making its ratings more of a measure of passenger behavior than authority effectiveness.

The MTA rates the cleanliness of its subway cars when trains are stationary. It's unclear whether the trains are examined before or after a cleaning crew goes through. However, the authority gives itself a grade of 94 percent subway car cleanliness. That would seem to indicate trains are graded once they've been cleaned. 

Russianoff stood by Straphangers' methods: "I think the riding public would find our numbers credible," he said. "To paraphrase Groucho Marx, 'Who do you believe, the Transit Authority or your own eyes?'"

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