Investigation over dirty cars in NYC subways

September 28, 2010 8:24:16 PM PDT
Perhaps you have noticed the subway cars have been dirtier lately. Eyewitness News had been told, it is because of budget cuts and workers laid-off. However, our undercover cameras found another problem: from the #4 Line in the Bronx, to the N Line in Queens, to the L in Brooklyn, we found subway cleaners more interested in reading the newspaper, chatting with fellow workers or texting on the phone than doing their jobs. Jobs for which are paid $23 an hour.

At the end of the D-line in the Bronx, cars come all the way from Coney Island and are in need of serious cleaning. There is trash and spilled soda, shoe-sticking filth, yet Eyewitness News observed a team of four cleaners one afternoon and found most of them doing very little. A lot of them stand around talking to each other or to the engineer, while one worker cleans a car or two on each train. It meant the majority of train cars on the D-Line would head back out, having to never been cleaned.

We found similar examples on the 4-Line, where it seems for some cleaners, reading takes priority. One worker sits in the air-conditioned car reading for about 6 minutes before getting up and leaving. The car left exactly how it arrived with papers on the seat, trash on the floor, and mud and dirt by the door.

"This is the last stop on this train"

We found one worker relaxing on the L line and we asked him about his workload:

Hoffer: How many cars do you guys have to clean?

Worker: Let's say like this, four of us, two each.

Hoffer: That's just two cars per cleaner per train.

Worker: Some people just slacks off.

He is not kidding: on the M-Line, we found two people who did it well. Tracking them for nearly an entire shift, we found them standing around talking, or sitting for long stretches in the cars. We watched as one cleaner did most of the work but since he was unable to hit every car, many remained in the same dirty condition as they headed back out. These two cleaners not the least bit concerned.

"This is totally unacceptable."

New York City's Comptroller, John Liu, says our investigation exposes a broader problem:

"It's the management they're clearly not on top of where the people are, what they're doing. Clearly the MTA needs to do a better job managing its resources."

So who is supervising the cleaners, that is the question we asked the head of New York City Transit:

Thomas Prendergast: "With the level of resources we have, we don't have one-on-one supervision for every employee."

Reporter: I don't think anyone expects one on one supervision but they expect that someone is monitoring the cleaners to make sure they're not just sitting in the cars.

Prendergast: "If they're sitting in the cars and the car is clean that's a different story."

Reporter: I wouldn't be here if the cars were clean and sitting in them, the cars are dirty and it begs the question where are the supervisors?

Prendergast: "Then we'll look at it, if you have cases where the train has not been cleaned and trash on floor and sitting down that's a management failure and I'll clearly state that and we will have to do things to control that."

There are more than 1,000 workers assigned to cleaning subway cars. In a recent survey of by the Straphanger organization, the M line got the worse rating. It just so happens that our undercover investigation also found the M line to have some of the top slackers.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/nycinvestigates


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