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News Release

Embargoed for release: For info, contact: Gene Russianoff
Thursday, April 21, 2005, 10:30 a.m. or Neysa Pranger at (212) 349-6460

Subway Cars Are Dirtier for First Time in Five Years, Annual “Shmutz” Survey Finds
Cars on 1/9 Line the Dirtiest; N Line the Cleanest

The number of dirty subway cars increased in the last year, according to the seventh 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 September 19, 2004 and December 27, 2004.

Campaign surveyors rated 61% of subway cars as “clean” compared to 66% of cars rated clean in a survey in 2003-2004, representing a significant drop in service system-wide. This reverses four surveys, with the number of clean cars going from 32% in a 1999-2000 survey; 47% in the 2000-2001 survey; 59% in the 2002-2003 survey; and 66% in the 2003-2004 survey.

Cars on eight subway lines significantly declined (1/9, 3, 5, 6, B, E, M and V), while cars saw significant improvement on five lines (A, C, D, G and N). Cars on the remaining nine lines were largely unchanged (2, 4, 7, F, J/Z, L, Q, R and W). (See table 1, table 2 and methodology.)

The worst line was the 1/9, which had the smallest number of clean cars at 14%, down from 55% in our 2003-2004 survey. The best line was the N with 86% of cars rated clean.

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.

"The decline in cleanliness is a bad sign that the recent cuts in car cleaning staff have taken their toll,” said Neysa Pranger, Straphangers Campaign coordinator who directed the survey. The campaign had attributed past improved cleanliness to New York City Transit’s decision to devote more resources to cleaning subway cars in the late 1990’s.

But in recent years there have been cuts. In 2003, New York City Transit adopted a “cleaner deployment saving” program, cutting $8.9 million in 2003 and $8.4 million in 2004. Similarly, in 2005 NYCT is saving $2.5 million by not filling subway car cleaning vacancies.

"The fewer elbows, the less elbow grease,” said Gene Russianoff, campaign staff attorney. Other key findings of the survey included:

  • the most deteriorated line was the 1/9, going from 55% clean cars in 2003-2004 survey to 14% in the current survey.
  • the most improved lines were the A and D, which doubled in cleanliness. The A and D went from 54% clean cars in the campaign’s 2003 2004 survey to 81% in 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 83% in the second half of 2003 to 81% in the second half of 2004.

The campaign recommended that transit officials:

  • set a high goal for cleanliness. The campaign urged officials to set a goal that 95% or more of its cars have either no or “light” dirt. The campaign believes that a lower standard permits too many cars to have “occasional 'ground-in’ spots but generally clean,” the official standard for “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 in more “real time.”
  • post the results of its surveys where riders can see them. The campaign credited the MTA for providing performance on its web site. But the campaign urged the MTA to add line-by-line results of its cleanliness surveys on the web site, 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 | Table 1: Percentage of clean cars by line
Table 2: Worst to Best—Percentage of clean cars by line September-December 2004

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