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Embargoed for release:
Monday, March 17, 2003                       
For info, contact:
Gene Russianoff or Neysa Pranger at (212) 349-6460

Subway Cars Are Cleaner, Annual "Shmutz" Survey Finds
Cars on C Line the Dirtiest; L Line the Cleanest

The number of clean subway cars increased in the last two years, according to the fifth annual "subway shmutz" survey by the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, released today.
The survey was conducted on 2,200 subway cars on 22 subway lines between October 2002 and January 2003.

Campaign surveyors rated 59% of subway cars as "clean" compared to 47% of cars rated clean in a survey in 2000-2001 and 32% of cars in the campaign’s 1999-2000 survey. (See tables one and two.)

Cars on nine subway lines saw significant improvement (1/9, 2, 4, 6, A, F, G, L and Q), while cars on only two lines grew worse (C and M). Cars on nine lines were largely unchanged (3, 5, 7, B, D, E, J/Z, N, and R.) Two lines —the V and W —started after the campaign’s 2000-2001 survey.

"Transit officials have made real progress in the war on subway grime," said Neysa Pranger, Straphangers Campaign coordinator who directed the survey.

Cars were rated 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.") The survey did not rate litter. The campaign conducted three largely similar studies for similar periods in 1997, 1998 and 1999-2000. (See attached methodology.)

The campaign attributed improved cleanliness to New York City Transit’s decision to devote more resources to cleaning subway cars.

In 1999, New York City Transit restored car cleaners that had been cut in 1995, along with assigning WEP participants to subway cleaning duties. These moves came in response to public opinion and to the campaign’s earlier Shmutz surveys.

As part of New York City Transit’s current "program to eliminate the gap" (PEG) program, the agency plans "cleaner deployment savings" which are projected to save $8.9 million in 2003 and $8.4 million in 2004. The agency has said these savings will be achieved through improved scheduling and will not result in a reduction in staffing.

"We will be watching carefully to see if subway cars grow cleaner or dirtier in a time of budget cuts," said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the campaign.

Other key findings of the survey included:

  • The worst performing line was the C, which had the smallest number of clean cars at 31%.

  • The best performing line was the L, with 85% of its cars rated clean.
  • The most improved line was the G, going from 22% clean cars in the campaign’s 2000-2001 survey to 79% in the current survey.
  • The most deteriorated line was the C, going from 60% clean cars in 2000-2001 survey to 31% in the current survey.
  • MTA New York City Transit’s own survey shows a slight deterioration in subway car cleanliness in the last year. For example, the number of clean car floors and seats (those with no or light dirt) "measured throughout the day while in service" declined from 87% in the fourth quarter of 2001 to 76% in the fourth quarter of 2002, according to New York City Transit’s survey.
  • The Straphangers Campaign survey has a different overall finding from New York City Transit’s survey. While 59% of cars had no or light dirt in the campaign’s survey, New York City Transit’s survey found that 76% of subway cars had no or light dirt. Both surveys have similar methodologies, although the time periods in which they were conducted do not completely overlap.

The campaign recommended that transit officials:

  • set a high goal for cleanliness. According to New York City Transit’s own most recent survey, 24% of its subway cars have moderate or heavy dirt. "That’s still an unacceptable performance," said Pranger, since a "moderately" dirty car can have "a dingy floor and one or two sticky dry spots." The campaign urged officials to set a goal that 95% or more of its cars have either no or "light" dirt.
  • produce more timely information on cleanliness. Transit officials should move to use "hand-held" computers in conducting their own passenger environmental survey. This would give them more timely information. Hand-held computers have been used effectively to monitor conditions in city parks more in "real time."
  • post the results of its surveys where riders can see them. A bill is pending in the state legislature to require posting of performance statistics at subway stations. Transit officials have also pledged to place more operational information on the MTA’s web site.

This survey was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a leader in supporting assessment of public services.

methodology  |  table 1  |  table 2  |  chart 1

www.straphangers.org | www.nypirg.org