Atlantic Cities

A Simpler Solution to NYC's Subway Garbage Problem

A Simpler Solution to NYC's Subway Garbage Problem
Flickr/johnnybelmont

It's great that New York City is trying out novel approaches to making its notoriously filthy and smelly subway system a little less, well, filthy and smelly. Experimentation is a crucial component to problem solving, after all, and far too few transit agencies are willing to take risks to find out what works. But this is perhaps the silliest idea I've ever run across as a way to reduce the accumulation of garbage. Via The New York Times:

... trash-weary officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are trying something new: in a counterintuitive plan, a pair of subway stops, one in Queens and one in Greenwich Village, have been entirely bin-free for the last two weeks.

 The idea is to reduce the load on the authority’s overtaxed garbage crew, which is struggling to complete its daily rounds of clearing out 40 tons of trash from the system.

But it also offers a novel experiment: will New Yorkers stop throwing things away in the subway if there is no place to put them?

A couple of things here: First, not giving subway passengers a place to throw away their garbage won't result in less garbage. The garbage will just end up someplace else, whether it's in city-owned trash bins on the street near subway exits, or just strewn all over the platform or inside train cars. The former may very well accomplish what MTA is after here, pushing the burden of collection on the city's Department of Sanitation, but the latter seems certain to lead to an even more overburdened MTA garbage staff.

Second, there's a perfectly logical way to reduce the actual amount of garbage subway passengers produce, a policy which would also have the added benefit of reducing bad odors, vermin and insects: Ban food and drink on the entire system. San Francisco and Washington, D.C. already do this, and their transit systems, while far from pristine, are a lot cleaner for it. Former MTA Chief Jay Walder flatly rejected a food and drink ban earlier this year, even after a food fight broke out on a Brooklyn train. At the time, Walder said he wasn't convinced such a ban would be enforceable, but perhaps his newly named successor, Joseph Lhota, will have a different view. Here in D.C., enforcement isn't only left to WMATA personnel: I've seen passengers successfully shame those who flout the law, thanks in part to the transit agency's thoughtful and amusing public awareness campaigns comparing the Metrorail system's cleanliness to, you guessed it, New York's.

Image courtesy Flickr user johnnybelmont

Keywords: New York, Food, Subways, Trash

Sommer Mathis is editor of The Atlantic Cities. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com. All posts »

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