wrong track

Soiled Subways: It’s a Dirty Job, But Nobody’s Here to Do It

An MTA worker cleans up a soiled subway car at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island.
An MTA worker cleans up a soiled subway car at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

Sign up for THE CITY Scoop, our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.

Even as the number of reports about “soiled” subway cars piled up last year, the MTA scrapped dozens of workers charged with cleaning up the mess.

The MTA last year cut 66 slots for car cleaners who scrub subway trains at the end of a line, an agency spokesperson said. According to its July budget update, the MTA plans more cost-saving “terminal car cleaning adjustment” through 2023 as part of a host of efforts to get a firmer financial footing.

“There is a big operating deficit right now and that has consequences,” said Rachael Fauss of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group. “Even with the MTA reorganization plan, there’s going to be a need for more cuts which will be felt.”

On Monday, THE CITY revealed the subway system is on pace to surpass last year’s mark of 2,058 reports of cars befouled by everything from spilled beer to human waste. Some 1,623 reports about subway cars with soiled interiors were logged between January and August this year — more than the 1,504 reports for all of 2017.

“This is day in and day out,” said Nelson Rivera, administrative vice president for Transport Workers Union Local 100.

At Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue, he added, “you can get one cleaner for a whole train on the midnight shift, and you can’t keep up. There’s just no way.”

Rivera said the number of subway car cleaner jobs has decreased from 1,049 in 2016 to 968 this year — all while soiled car incidents have surged.

“I think the government can do better to curtail this menace among the people,” said Adesegun Gbadebo, 49, who was catching a No. 2 train in the Bronx.

Out of Service

Thousands of internal incidents reports obtained by THE CITY detail how the spills can slow subway service or force crews to switch trains or isolate cars because cleaners aren’t available to mop up the mess.

On Aug. 26, one report says, a G train was taken out of service at the line’s Brooklyn terminal during the morning rush hour because “Train Dispatcher reported no cleaners on duty at Church Avenue.”

Another report, from Jan. 10, says service on the No. 3 line was delayed around 10:15 p.m. because a train “was soiled with excessive human waste and no car equipment personnel were available to clean the car.”

“They’ve been cutting all around… they’ve cut out midnight shifts at the terminals,” Rivera said.

Subway cleaners are in increasingly short supply.
Subway cleaners are in increasingly short supply. Photo: Jason Scott Jones/THE CITY

According to the union, some of the terminals where there are no longer any car cleaners during overnight hours include:

• 168th Street in Manhattan on the C

• Jamaica-179th Street in Queens on the F

• Norwood-205th Street in The Bronx on the D

Christopher McKniff, an MTA spokesperson, said car-cleaner staffing at subway terminals is determined by where the workers “can make the most impact.” Workers can shift locations when necessary, he added. Soiled subway cars can also be isolated until they being cleaned at a terminal.

“Through our protocols and procedures, we are maximizing the resources that are available to us,” McKniff said, adding that 1% of subway delays from January 2018 to July 2019 could be pinned on “soiled cars.”

The Human Toll

Riding some of those cars are people who use them as living quarters — an issue some say requires more than mops and brooms.

Patrick Lynch, the head of the Police Benevolent Association, told THE CITY that it’s a problem “dumped in police officers’ laps because there is no real desire to solve it.”

“Cops, transit workers and straphangers are stuck trying to cope with the rising chaos underground, while our leaders above ground just pretend it isn’t happening,” Lynch said.

A City Hall spokesperson said the cleanliness of subway cars is an MTA matter, but noted outreach workers provide daily services to those who use the transit system for shelter.

“This administration has dedicated millions of dollars to transit system outreach efforts, and will continue to work hand in hand with the NYPD to engage New Yorkers in need 24/7/365 on subway trains, platforms and terminals,” said Avery Cohen, a City Hall spokesperson.

Giselle Routhier, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, said mounting reports of soiled subways cars highlight the need to create permanent housing for some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

“You’ve got to invest in solutions,” she said.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.