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News Release

Embargoed for release: For info, contact: Gene Russianoff
May 15, 2006, 10:30 a.m. or Neysa Pranger at (212) 349-6460

Subway Cars Are Dirtier, 15 of 22 Lines Worsen, Annual “Shmutz” Survey Finds
Cars on E and M Lines the Dirtiest; 4 Line the Cleanest

The number of clean subway cars decreased for the second year in a row, according to the eighth 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 2, 2005 and January 5, 2006.

Campaign surveyors rated 47% of subway cars as “clean” down from 61% of cars rated clean in a survey released in the spring 2005. This continued to reverse an earlier trend of improvement found between 2000 and 2004, with the percentage of clean cars going from 32% in the campaign’s 2000 survey, to 47% in 2001, to 59% in 2003, to 66% in the 2004 survey.

Cars on 15 of 22 subway lines saw significant deterioration since last year’s survey (2, 7, A, B, C, D, E, G, J/Z, L ,M, N, R, V and W), while cars on only three lines grew better (1, 3 and 4). Cars on the remaining four lines were largely unchanged (5, 6, F and Q.) (See attached table one.)

The worst performing lines were the E and M, with the smallest number of clean cars at 2% and 4%, respectively (see table two). The E and M performed next-to-worst in last year’s survey, with 35% of their cars rated clean; only the 1 line at 14% had a poorer performance. The best performing line was the 4, with 94% of those cars rated clean, up from 71% last year.

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 seven largely similar studies for similar periods. (See attached methodology.)

"Subway cars are growing dirtier,” said Gene Russianoff, campaign staff attorney, noting the group’s finding that subway car cleanliness dropped the last two years in a row.

“There’s no excuse for the great disparities in car cleanliness we found,” 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 were implemented in 200, according to the New York City Transit budget, with plans to save $1.6 million by not filling vacancies in subway car cleaning staff.
Following the campaign’s April 2005 report findings members, New York City Transit said: “This year’s Straphanger survey rating the cleanliness of MTA New York City Transit’s subway car interiors noted a decrease in the number of clean cars compared with last year’s survey. New York City Transit’s own Passenger Environment Survey (PES) also noted an increase in the number of cars with soiled floors and seats, though not as pronounced. 'We are not pleased with the cleanliness figures generated either by the Straphangers or our own internal audit,’ said New York City Transit President Lawrence G. Reuter.”

The New York City Transit budget indicated that a new cleaning initiative would not increase subway car cleaning. The 2006 budget says: “Transit’s program will improve appearance and safety. It will offer increased general station and track cleaning, provide additional refuse collection from stations and track (to reduce fires) and repair water intrusion in its tunnels. The costs of these programs are $12.8 million in 2006 and $15.0 million in 2007 and beyond.”
Transit officials have also blamed increases in trash in the subways to increases in ridership.

“Transit officials need to do more to keeping subway car clean,” said Gene Russianoff, noting that survey did not rate litter but “grime” which often builds up without the fault of riders. “If the MTA takes in more fares with more riders, it must do a better job cleaning subway cars.”

Other key findings of the survey included:

  • The most deteriorated line was the E, which fell from 35% to 2%.
  • The most improved line was the 1 line going from 14% clean cars in the campaign’s 2005 survey to 76% in the current survey.
  • MTA New York City Transit’s own cleanliness survey shows a small decline 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” worsened from 81% in the second half of 2004 to 79% in the first half of 2005.

The campaign urged transit officials to:

  • devote more resources to cleaning subway cars, as they are now applying to station and track cleaning;
  • produce more detailed and 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 environment survey. This would provide more timely information.” It is the campaign’s understanding that such a pilot computer program is underway.
  • post the results of its surveys where riders can see them. The campaign credited the MTA for providing several system-wide performance measures on its website, such as regularity of service, and urged the MTA to add the results of its line-by-line cleanliness surveys to www.mta.info.

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

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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
Entire Report as PDF

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