The architects of an MTA pilot program intended to "improve customer experience" by removing trash cans from some subway stations never actually bothered to ask customers whether they were, in fact, pleased with its effects before expanding, an audit from the state comptroller shows.
Initially launched in 2011, the MTA has since sent occasional dispatches lauding the success of a counterintuitive pilot program, which removes trash cans from subway stations in an effort to cut down on the amount of trash...in subway stations. Did removing the trash cans cut down on litter? No. Did it cut down on the number of rats seen prowling at straphangers' feet? Unclear. The only thing the pilot proved conclusively was that when denied the opportunity to throw away their trash, most people will just hang on to it and throw it away above ground. Good for us!
But would straphangers choose holding onto their gum and coffee cups in exchange for being spared the sight of the occasional overflowing trash bag? The MTA didn't ask that question, though it did expand the pilot in 2012 to eight stations with the assurance that customers would be surveyed. Only, those surveys were never taken. According to the audit:
In fact, customer input was not used to evaluate either Phase I or Phase II. Because customer experience (the totality of a customer’s engagement with a provider) is often assessed through customer perceptions, the absence of customer feedback limited Transit’s ability to determine if the Pilot Program sufficiently achieved the stated goal of improving customer experience.
Rodent activity was found to be reduced at only one pilot station, and showed no change at nine other stations. The audit also posited that the MTA didn't count exposed trash bags—its entire purported raison d'être. Rather, it counted the number of bags it filled with litter—to be stored on platforms or storage rooms. This is not the same as counting the number of exposed bags.
“There’s no doubt that removing garbage cans from subway stations saved work and possibly some money for the MTA,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement. “It’s not clear that it met MTA’s goals of improving straphangers’ experience and making stations cleaner and there’s no evidence it reduced the number of rats in subway stations. After four years the best one can say about this experiment is that it’s inconclusive, except for the fact that riders have a harder time finding a trash can.”
The MTA begs to differ. The following was sent to Gothamist by MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg:
We wholeheartedly disagree with the Comptroller’s opinion. The three phases of the trash can removal pilot were effectively evaluated and the results support the originally stated goal to improve the customer experience in stations. The less trash generated in the stations, the fewer the bags to be stored, collected and potentially exposed to customers. This also decreased the rodent population providing a better customer experience. Additionally, the significant reduction in trash reduced the need for trash pickups in the pilot stations, which also freed up personnel for deployment at other stations.
The results have shown a 66% reduction in the number of bags collected at Phase 1 and Phase 2 stations, and a 36% reduction in the number of bags collected at Phase 3 stations. Given these results, we have every intention of continuing the pilot and will evaluate it based on the criteria we have already established.