By Tamara Best
The results are in for the 11th annual Subway Shmutz Survey, and for commuters in Middle Village, Ridgewood and Glendale, the news isn’t so good. The most widely used subway in the area, the M line, has been named the dirtiest line of all 22 citywide.
The survey, conducted by the watchdog group the Straphangers Campaign, measures the cleanliness of city subway lines based on 2,200 observations between September and November 2009.
The 6 line, which operates in Manhattan and the Bronx, and the C line, running from Manhattan to Brooklyn, were named the best with a rating of 65 percent for cleanliness.
Lines were rated based on MTA official standards. They were named “clean” if subway cars contained ‘light’ dirt or were ‘basically dirt free’-- generally clean overall.
“Moderately” dirty lines had dingy floors and/or one or two sticky dry spots, while “heavily” dirty cars contained spilled food, sticky wet spots and left some seating unusable. The survey did not take litter into consideration.
Commuters waiting for the M train at local stations had mixed reviews for the state of the line on Tuesday morning.
“It tends to be dirtier headed into Manhattan but to me on the Queens side it is pretty clean,” said Michael Phillips, who was waiting for a Queens-bound train.
Another traveler, Michael Ortiz, said he disagrees with the rating. “I don’t believe it’s the dirtiest train line. I’ve ridden it my whole life and there are lines that are much worse like the D train. There’s usually graffiti but that’s about it,” he said.
Diana Kinscherf, who was waiting for a Manhattan-bound train and rides the M line twice a week, described it as “pretty dirty,” with coffee cups and newspapers all over.
There is some good news about the M line. Straphangers reports that 90 percent of M line trains arrive with more regularity, higher than the average of 87 percent. The line also breaks down less with commuters more likely to get a seat.
At the end of the month, the M and V lines will merge, retaining the M line designation.
The new route will run between Forest Hills and Metropolitan Avenue, with service to midtown Manhattan instead of downtown.
Of the 22 subway lines in New York City, more than half run through Queens. In addition to the M line, the E, F, and V service Rego Park and Forest Hills, the L goes through Ridgewood and the E, F, R and V operate in Forest Hills. No lines run through Maspeth. The F and V lines were also cited for having significant deterioration from last year. Overall, fifty percent of cars were dubbed clean, down from 57 percent in fall 2008, while half grew worse according to the survey.
Gene Russianoff, campaign attorney for the Straphangers Campaign said a reduction in
the budget has decreased the MTA’s cleaning staff, resulting in more dirt in the subway.
"It’s as clear as the grime on a subway car floor: an MTA Transit cut in cleaners has meant dirtier cars,” he said. “And more cuts mean more dirt for subway riders.”
In 2009, there were 1,138 cleaners and 146 supervisors, a decline from 1,181 cleaners and 155 cleaners in 2008. The 2010 budget calls for a further decrease with 1,030 cleaners and 123 supervisors.
“We saw a pretty distinct decline between 2008 and 2009,” said Cate Contino with Straphangers. “We will do the survey again next year and see what happens.”
The MTA also conducted their own semi-annual survey, citing that the overall cleanliness of cars improved over the second half of 2009, according to a report published in February 2010.
However, the MTA and Straphangers differed on its assessment of the percentage of clean cars and overall improvement. MTA cited that an average 95 percent of cars are clean, in comparison to 50 percent cited by the Straphangers Campaign.
MTA surveys are conducted only on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. while the Straphangers’ surveys are random throughout the day and night and on weekends.
The MTA released the following statement in response to the survey’s findings:
With the current budget challenges being faced by MTA New York City Transit, we acknowledge that some subway car floors may not be as clean as our customers expect or deserve. However, we will monitor conditions and shift forces as necessary. We also take the opportunity to remind customers to pitch in and help keep the subway as clean as possible by utilizing proper refuse receptacles.
Despite a harsh review for the M line by the Straphangers Campaign, experienced commuters say it’s all a matter of perspective and subway experience. “All of the lines are dirty,” acknowledged seasoned rider Samantha Villafane. “It’s New York City— you have to get used to the dirt.”