wrong track

Why The Subway Stinks: ‘Soiled Car’ Reports Soar

An MTA worker had to clean up a train littered with trash.
An MTA worker had to clean up a train littered with trash. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

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No. 6 train riders were warned via Twitter last Thursday to expect “longer than usual wait times.” The culprit: a “soiled train car” at a Bronx station.

It was among the latest in a barrage of service advisories employing euphemistic language that can signal delays — and particularly unpleasant commutes.

According to internal documents obtained by THE CITY, 1,623 reports of soiled cars slowed service and disgusted straphangers in the first eight months of the year. That’s already more than the 1,504 incidents recorded in all of 2017.

“I have seen it all — urine, feces,” said Jose Clemente, 51, who was riding the No. 2 train from the Third Avenue-149th Street station in The Bronx. “I have seen blood on the train.”

Not all of the soiled car reports involve bodily fluids.

A March 4 report blamed “a big coffee spill on the floor” for slowed service on the No. 5 train out of the Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College station. On April 3, another No. 5 was taken out of service at The Bronx’ Eastchester-Dyre Avenue station because a car had “beer all over the seats and the floor.”

An MTA spokesperson said soiled cars accounted for 1% of all subway delays from January 2018 through July 2019. Not all soiled car reports translated to delays, the spokesperson added.

Fast Track to Increases

Last year, the number of incidents hit 2,058. At the current pace of 6.6 soiled car reports daily, the figure is on track to reach about 2,200 by the end of the year.

“It seems like it gets worse every day,” said Jonathan Richards, 62, who was commuting from 34th Street-Penn Station to The Bronx.

The soiled car reports obtained by THE CITY detail, sometimes in graphic terms, the reasons for delays. Others had more printable sections:

• A May 15 report noted “customers are running out of car #2371” because of a “strong odor” on a northbound No. 1 train at 34th Street-Penn Station. A conductor “deemed the train unsafe for service,” the report says, and took it out of service.

• A March 3 report said Manhattan-bound 4 train service was delayed because an “unruly customer” at the line’s Woodlawn terminal had gone to the bathroom in one of the train cars.

• On June 28, a report said police had to remove a “partially exposed” man who urinated on an E train at the World Trade Center station, then refused to leave.

“It’s a safety issue for our conductors, for our cleaners, for the public,” said Nelson Rivera, administrative vice president for Transport Workers Union Local 100. “These cars are disgusting, and a lot of cleaner jobs have been cut over time, too.”

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

Rivera said car cleaners are often understaffed to deal with the filth they encounter at subway terminals, where they are equipped with buckets, mops and disinfectants. Transit workers also have to investigate reports of soiled cars, and determine whether to isolate them, or take the entire train out of service for cleaning.

“We carry so many people, and when we isolate a car, that’s one less car that can be used,” Rivera said.

Signs of a Bigger Challenge

Some of the reports examined by THE CITY mention homeless people, but a majority do not.

Still, advocates for the homeless said the increase in soiled car reports underscores the crucial need for faster access to housing for those using the subway for shelter.

“Very basic needs are not being met, like access to public restrooms,” Giselle Routhier, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, told THE CITY. “It is a failure of the system to meet peoples’ needs.”

In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot program to steer homeless people who’ve been flagged for violating MTA rules at Manhattan stations into programs that can eventually lead to housing. In July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the MTA board to come up with a plan to get the homeless out of the subway and into housing.

Routhier said big fixes are needed.

“We need supportive housing more quickly,” she said.

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