Another Reason Not To Ride The Subway

Orange bags of garbage are piled high in a subway car. The MTA has been using passenger cars to transport garbage between stations late at night.

THE COMMUTE: The nice clean train you are riding on today could have been hauling garbage last night.  That’s what straphangers recently learned after a transit worker tipped off the Daily News last week. Bags of smelly garbage collected by track workers were placed aboard a passenger transit car for two stops between 59th Street and 42


Street on the Number 6 line because there was inadequate storage space at 59


Street, according to the MTA.

The agency stated that this practice, which routinely occurs, was “not agency practice,” is against MTA policy, and was done without the knowledge of a senior manager.  They stated that the supervisor responsible will be disciplined, but declined to indicate how.  It is not known if the MTA had been previously aware of passengers sharing their trains with garbage, but Marvin Holland of TWU Local 100 has seen it before, agrees it is a health risk and has remained silent about it. The question is why, if the union cares so much about the passengers as they claim whenever the MTA wants to cut service.

A few things about this story do not quite jive. Charles Seaton, an MTA spokesman, said that the bags of garbage should have been carried to the street for pickup by an MTA truck instead of being taken by train for storage at 42nd Street, where it would have been picked up by the refuse train.  One of the commenters to the April 14


article in the Daily News, supposedly an MTA employee, took the side of the supervisor stating “alot of times the garbage trucks that are suppose to come pick this debris up, never shows and employees are left stuck on the street with bags of garbage.”  The larger question is, why aren’t refuse trains hauling all the trash from the stations, and why is the MTA employing trucks anyway for this purpose?”

The MTA also has vacuum trains that make regular rounds vacuuming the tracks. So why is trash from the tracks being placed in bags anyway and how long do these bags remain on the station or alongside the tracks before being picked up? The MTA blames the passengers for the trash which causes a rat problem, but are they not partially responsible if the trash is not picked up in a timely manner or if the bags leak as some have alleged?

Six years ago, when I used to occasionally ride the Queens Boulevard line from Woodside to Elmhurst at around noontime to eat lunch, we got delayed on three occasions for 20 minutes by the refuse train right ahead of us, which would stop for three or four minutes at each of the five stations we would ride past to get to our destination.  As far as I know, these trains are only supposed to operate late at night when the subway runs every 20 minutes, not during the day when they would delay significant numbers of passengers. I am now starting to wonder if what I saw is also against MTA policy, and what other decisions operations people routinely make that the MTA does not know about or does not want to know about.

If you tell someone to bring the garbage to the street, but do not provide a truck for him like you promise, and leave him standing there in the cold or rain waiting for one, it is easy to see why an employee would do what is easiest for him even if it is against the rules.  There is a parallel to the employees who were caught last January fudging data on signal inspections. If you require more signals to be inspected than is possible within the time constraints given, rather than face disciplinary actions for not completing the job, it is easier to make up the data hoping no one catches on. Employees will always do what is easiest for them when given an impossible task.

I hope that the Number 6 train is thoroughly cleansed before our mayor takes his next subway ride on it. It would be a crime if he had to smell what the rest of us do when we ride the trains.

Have you ever seen anything “suspicious” that made you wonder if the practice was officially sanctioned by the MTA or someone was just acting on their own? Remember, as the MTA says, “If you see something, say something,” although I doubt if this is what they had in mind.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).


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