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News Release

For release: For info, contact: Gene Russianoff
March 11, 2004, 10:30 a.m. or Neysa Pranger at (212) 349-6460

Subway Cars Are Cleaner, Annual "Shmutz" Survey Finds
Cars on C Line the Dirtiest; 3 and 5 Lines the Cleanest

The number of clean subway cars increased in the last year, according to the sixth 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 2003 and January 2004.

Campaign surveyors rated 66% of subway cars as "clean" compared to 59% of cars rated clean in a survey in 2002-2003. This continued a trend, with the percentage of clean cars going from 32% in the campaign's 1999-2000 survey, to 47% in 2000-2001, 59% in 2002-2003 and 66% in the current survey. The percentage of clean cars has more than doubled since 1999-2000.

Cars on ten subway lines saw significant improvement since last year's survey (3, 4, 5, 6, B, C, D, J/Z, Q and R), while cars on only three lines grew worse (7, G, and W). Cars on the remaining nine lines were largely unchanged (1/9, 2, A, E, F, L, M, N and V). (See table one.)

The worst performing line was the C, which had the smallest number of clean cars at 48%. The C also performed worst in last year's survey, although its performance improved from 31% last year to 48% in this survey. The best performing lines were the 3 and 5, with 89% of those cars rated clean. (See table two.)

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. Since 1997, the campaign has conducted five largely similar studies for similar periods. (See methodology.)

"Transit officials deserve credit for making subway cars cleaner and doing it with less resources," said Neysa Pranger, Straphangers Campaign coordinator who directed the survey.

The campaign had attributed improved cleanliness found in our surveys in 1999-2000, 2000-2001, and 2002-2003 to New York City Transit's decision to restore cleaning staff that had been cut in the mid-1990's.

Pranger noted that in 2003, New York City Transit adopted a "cleaner deployment savings" program, cutting $8.9 million in 2003 and $8.4 million in 2004. At the time, transit officials said these savings would be achieved through better scheduling and not staff reductions.

Further cleaning cuts are being implemented in 2004. New York City Transit plans to save $1.6 million by not filling vacancies in subway car cleaning staff. The 2004 budget includes another $2.1 million cut in station cleaners.

"We will continue to monitor the effect of the new round of cuts in cleaning staff." said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the campaign.

Other key findings of the survey included:

  • The most improved line was the R, going from 37% clean cars in the campaign's 2002-2003 survey to 69% in the current survey.
  • The most deteriorated line was the 7, going from 78% clean cars in 2002-2003 survey to 54% in this current survey.
  • System-wide, the current survey found that 22% were "extraordinarily" clean, 43% were clean, 15% were dirty, and 20% were "heavily" dirty. (See chart one.)
  • MTA New York City Transit's own cleanliness survey shows a modest improvement in subway car cleanliness for the most recently available period. The number of clean car floors and seats (those with no or light dirt) "measured throughout the day while in service" improved from 76% in the fourth quarter of 2002 to 83% in the fourth quarter of 2003.

The campaign urged transit officials to:

  • set higher goals for cleanliness. New York City Transit's current goal is to have 80% of its cars at least "moderately clean." "That's a low level of performance," said Russianoff, "since a 'moderately clean' car can have a dingy floor with one or two sticky dry spots." The campaign has urged officials to set a goal of having 95% or more if its cars have either no or "light" interior dirt.
  • produce more timely information on cleanliness. The MTA does not publish the results of its cleanliness ratings by line, even though it maintains such information for internal use. Russianoff said "Transit officials should use 'hand-held' computers in their own passenger environmental survey. This would provide more timely information. These 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. The campaign credited the MTA for providing several performance measures on its website, such as regularity of service and urged the MTA to add the results of its cleanliness surveys to www.mta.info.

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


shmutz survey news release | methodology | chart 1: breakdown of subway car cleanliness
table 1: percentage of clean cars by line | table 2: worst to best--percentage of clean cars by line

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