New York Ignores Best Practices for Cleaning

MTA Chair Pat Foye and Interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg, have announced that the subway will close overnight in order to improve subway cleaning. For the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, the subway will close between 1 and 5 every night for disinfection. Ben Kabak has covered this to some extent; I’m going to focus on best industry practices, which do not require a shutdown. There are some good practices in Taipei, which has regular nighttime shutdowns but sterilizes trains during the daytime as well. It appears that the real rub is not cleaning but homelessness – the city and the state are both trying to get homeless people off the subway and onto the street.

How to disinfect a subway system

Alex Garcia of Taipei Urbanism shared with me what the Taipei MRT plans on doing in response to the virus, depending on how much it affects the system. As soon as there are any domestic cases within Taiwan, the plan says,

a. Sterilize equipment in each station that passengers might frequently come into contact with. (Sterilize once every 8 hours)
b. Carriages: Cleaning and sterilization before the daily operational departure and again when the carriage returns back to the terminal each day.
c. Place hand sanitizer devices at the information counter of the station for public use.

Moreover, if an emergency is declared, then the frequency of cleaning is to increase:

a. Station :
1. Sterilize equipment that passengers might frequently come into contact with at each station. (Sterilize once every 4 hours)
2. Daily disinfection of public station facilities: After operational hours the whole station, including passenger traffic flow areas and facilities, will be disinfected.
b. Carriage :
1. Sterilize equipment that passengers might frequently come in contact with. Sterilize once every 8 hours when the carriage returns to the terminal station.
2. Daily wipe down of entire carriages with disinfectant before each day’s first departure.
3. Once notified by the health authority about any confirmed or suspected case that have traveled on the MRT, intensify the cleaning and disinfection along the route taken by the passenger within 2 hours.

Moreover, the Taipei plan calls for providing all frontline workers with protective equipment, including masks, goggles, and hand sanitizer, as soon as any domestic case of the virus is detected. Moreover, all staff are subject to temperature checks at the start of the day, to prevent sick workers from infecting healthy ones. This way, infection levels among workers can be kept to a minimum, allowing service to proceed without interruption.

It is noteworthy that the frequent cleaning regimen operates during the daytime, and not just overnight. Sterilizing trains every 8 hours means working around their service schedules, disinfecting them during off-peak periods with lower frequency. Taipei has not cut weekday service frequency, only weekend frequency, and the weekday peak-to-base ratio is low, about 1.5 on the Green Line.

With these measures in place, and similar vigilance across Taiwanese society, the country has gone 6 days without any new case of the virus. There is no lockdown and never was one, and Taipei MRT ridership only fell 15-16% on weekdays.

What New York is doing

Foye and Feinberg announced that the subway would close overnight between 1 and 5 am so that trains could be disinfected once per day. Is daily disinfection sufficient? Almost certainly not, given the spread of the virus around the city. Does it take four hours? Of course not, cleaning can be done in minutes. And must it be done at night? Again no, New York has cut so much service that there’s a large fleet of spare trains, making rotating equipment between service and cleaning easy. It’s likely that it is possible to sterilize trains every roundtrip while they wait at the terminal.

The goal here is not about cleanliness. The subway is dirty and getting worse as cleaning staff get sick and can’t come to work, but a program designed to improve the system would look profoundly different. It would equip subway workers with protective gear, especially the cleaners; it would keep running service; it would look for ways to eliminate fomites like the push turnstiles; it would disinfect trains and stations at short intervals.

The homelessness issue

There are serious concerns with homelessness in New York, as in many other cities. This is aided by sensationalist reporting that blames homeless people for any number of problems, playing to middle-class prejudices about visible poverty. As Ben notes, NYPD swept the subway with cops but not social workers. Hotels are empty all over the city, but there is no attempt at using them for either centralized quarantine or extra shelter space. There are existing shelters, but they are unsafe and people who have been unsheltered for a while know this and avoid them for a reason.

New York is a big, expensive, high-inequality city. It has visible poverty, including homelessness. It could offer homeless people housing – empty hotels would do, employing hotel workers to do work that is already done at shelters by overtaxed volunteers. The problem is that many aggrieved people want medieval displays of police power against people who it is okay to be violent toward; they do not want to solve problems. This issue is not unique to New York: in San Francisco, sanisette installations ran into the problem that one stall had people defecating on the floor, leading the city to decide to staff every sanisette 24/7, turning what was designed as a self-cleaning system for high-cost cities for €14,400 a year per unit into a $700,000/year money sink. American cities spend millions in enforcement to avoid spending pennies on social work.

Who is being empowered?

The broader question is whether the subway is dirty because of homeless people or because of inadequate cleaning, poor training for cleaners, lack of protective equipment, etc. The vast majority of dirt one sees on trains has pretty obvious origins in ordinary if antisocial riders: spilled drinks, gum stuck to the floor, overflowing trash cans, wrappers thrown on the tracks. However, it is convenient to blame homeless people for this – they can’t politically fight back, and many law-and-order voters and political operatives relish the sight of a cop dragging someone off the train.

This leads to the question, who is being empowered by blame? Any explanation of why things don’t work empowers someone, and explanations are easier to accept if they empower local political forces that the mainstream pays attention to. For example, if I say costs are high because of union pensions, then this automatically empowers the Manhattan Institute and other anti-union forces in the city; and if I say costs are high because managers micromanage and humiliate workers too much, then this empowers the unions.

The upshot is that blaming flagging subway ridership on homeless people making riders uncomfortable empowers law-and-order voters and middle-class people who dislike seeing visible poverty, both of which are groups that even relatively liberal political operatives pay attention to. In contrast, blaming flagging ridership on technical issues with speed and frequency empowers technocrats, who are usually politically invisible, and when they’re not, this can lead to a clash of authority, as seen in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sidelining of Byford, leading to the latter’s resignation.

This cascades to cleaning. Taipei shows how one can clean trains and stations during service. New York should learn, but that means listening to people who are familiar with Taiwanese practices, and maybe synthesize with other clean Asian systems. Shutdowns that force essential workers onto slow buses and taxis are a terrible policy, but they’re a policy the current leadership does not need to talk to people in a foreign country to implement.

118 comments

  1. SB

    Is there anything in transit where New York (or anywhere in US) attempts to follow best practices?
    Otherwise every post about failures in NYC can be titled “New York Ignores Best Practices for X”

    • Herbert

      That’s a good question. I think unless the U.S. somehow by accident stumbles upon a best practice by itself, it is unlikely to learn them from elsewhere…

          • yuuka

            I always just reassure myself with the good old Churchill saying – “You can count on America to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.

  2. adirondacker12800

    empty hotels would do, employing hotel workers to do work that is already done at shelters

    Hotel workers don’t have the training to deal with people who live on the subway.

      • Herbert

        We live in a world where the perfect is often unavailable. It is to me abundantly clear that putting homeless people into people-less homes is a far better solution than draconian police state bovine manure…

      • adirondacker12800

        So does New York. It’s not people living on the subway. Or out of a shopping cart.

      • Benjamin Turon

        People who stay in hotels are often pigs, and most them are middle class, or filthy rich. They also often are smoking weed, stinking up the joint. After working 25 years in hotels — I hate people.

    • Stev

      No, but hotel workers know how to clean and maintain hotels. You hire social workers to take care of the social services needs.

        • Stev

          Needless snark aside, it’s quite simple. The City contracts with a social services agency, say Coalition for the Homeless or Volunteers of America, to provide comprehensive social services at the hotels. The City is already doing this with their Scattered Site program, and they are doing it with inmates who have been released from Rikers and being housed in – wait for it – hotels!!

          • adirondacker12800

            From Volunteers of America’s secret stash of social workers?
            People with.. interpersonal relationship problems? aren’t the the kind of inmate eligible for release.

          • Stev

            And you know this how?

            I actually do know who the city is releasing from Rikers, because I work for one of the social service agencies who are contracted by the city to provide social services to released inmates being housed in hotels, and I can assure you that they are largely the same people who are homeless and living on the subway. Of the nearly 1,000 participants in our programs on Rikers Island who were released to the community in the first quarter of this year, over one-third self-report that they are homeless and/or have no reported address to return to; 10% of the releasees to the community self-report a mental health diagnosis. Mind you, this information is collected during incarceration when inmates are often reluctant to divulge personal information.

            Every social service agency knows how to ramp up their hiring to fill contractual needs – did you know that there are actually temp agencies that specialize in providing social services specialists, including LSCWs? So yes, they do have a “secret stash.”

          • RossB

            Yep. More social workers, fewer lawyers. And switch to the Metric system (Jeesh, how long has it been, 50 years now since the U. S. started converting — it’s not hard, people — even the English don’t use the English system anymore). This is pretty obvious stuff.

          • michaelrjames

            And switch to the Metric system (Jeesh, how long has it been, 50 years now since the U. S. started converting — it’s not hard, people — even the English don’t use the English system anymore).

            Other than the neanderthal brigade, the reasons given is the cost and the sheer scale of disruption in the transition. Isn’t now an excellent time to bring in such a change? Everything is disrupted anyway, and this would actually provide a boost to the economy as it employs people and … etc. Heck, ask Anthony Fauci’s advice–because he will have been using metric his entire professional life as the vast majority of anyone in any vaguely scientific field.
            But …. Trump.
            And … the same people who vote for him, march on the streets with their weapons, refuse to wear masks to stop a deadly disease, would be literally up in arms against adopting something so un-American. What next? Single-payer healthcare? Out of my cold dead arms…
            It’s kind of awesome to observe such a fantastic set of contradictions in a country.

          • Herbert

            And the left (or what passes for it) keeps hoping for the resentment to die out with the current generation holding it any day now…

            If the new young left can get its act together and not turn out like the old boomer left, there might be a slight chance some day…

            But it is once again a choice between Barbarism and Socialism. Which will you choose?

  3. Gok

    MTA really doesn’t need to look that far. Other North American transit systems have been much cleaner for a long time. Even PATH must know something.

    Taipei is a problematic cherry-pick comparison. Yes, MRT’s cleanliness is world class, but that’s not why Taiwan has few COVID cases. Taiwan has few cases because they rapidly imposed draconian travel restrictions. They started quarantining Wuhan travelers on January 5, 37 days before it was even named COVID-19. It’s unlikely anyone with the virus has even gotten onto a train. Moreover, MRT is a relatively brand new system, designed with modern sanitization strategies from the start. Surely there are other legacy rapid transit systems which have adopted modern cleaning techniques that would be a better model for MTA to look at.

    I’m surprised you’re so opposed to shutting down for cleaning 1am-5am, four days a week. In the past you’ve implied that you think 24/7 operation is a bad idea.

    • yuuka

      This, a thousand times this.

      The whole of Taiwan – not just Taipei – has been exemplary in their response to this entire mess. It helps that they don’t have to care about what Winnie the Pooh and his Ministry of Foreign Whining has to say. There’s also a sense of civic mindedness present in Taiwan that you can’t find in America.

      Speaking of America, I don’t think Alon’s beef is with shutting down for cleaning per se, but rather what I suspect is a long-internalized bias that America can never do anything right (I see where he comes from), so cleaning is only a bad excuse to him.

      • Herbert

        There’s just no good reason for a four hour shutdown.

        Just like I think Nuremberg subway could run a single track service on weekend nights easily (two of its three nights are automated anyway) but then it doesn’t even have night service on the trams and no night buses during the week…

      • Alon Levy

        *them.

        But also, objectively speaking, you do not need to shut down for cleaning. There are real innovations in cleaning management that do not require this, innovations that American managers are aware of, e.g. they teach JR East’s Shinkansen cleaning regime at Harvard Business School as an example of a successful turnaround.

    • Alon Levy

      I bring up Taipei because of its disinfection regimen for sterilizing trains while service is still running, during off-peak periods when frequency is almost as high as at rush hour.

      And I’m opposed to nighttime shutdowns in the specific context of New York, where 4-track mainlines make it easier to go around work zones given better ops and where river crossings by road are so scarce it’s uniquely hard to run a night bus replacement network.

      • yuuka

        Even if you had a JR-esque cleaning crew for each train to get a full top down shakeout in 10 minutes, your nicely laid plan goes out the window when you have to call in the police to deal with the slobbering drug addict slumped across an entire bench in car 7. MTR has a robot that can literally scamper along the entire train and slather everything with disinfectant, doesn’t mean that will necessarily work in NYC because of the above reason.

        As for night time shutdowns, because the 4-track mainlines aren’t paired by use, nor are there full separation between tracks, you still need flagging to make sure someone can get out of the way should they find themselves on an operational track somehow. That’s why Fastrack shut down all 4 tracks when they were working on a given mainline.

        • Alon Levy

          The trains fully clear when they reach the terminal. Maybe not at 3 in the morning, but for the most part they do (reference: I used to take trains to terminals like Flushing or Van Cortlandt Park).

          There is a fair amount of separation between the tracks – IIRC NYCT has begun experimenting with putting up temporary fencing between the tracks as an alternative to flagging.

      • Jonathan Stone

        Your argument about the Taiwanese *plan* for public-transportation sterilization would carry a lot more weight. if it has actually been put into practice and shown to work. Has it? Have similar plans been executed successfully in, say, South Korea?

        Which doesn’t take away the validity of your other points about cleaning frequency, or (absence of) need to shut down to clean.

  4. Herbert

    I think this is – in part at least – a puritanism thing. The Puritan response to “bad” in the world is to withdraw from the world and build a community where even once falling into “sin” is reason for being purged from the community. The modern – some would say “sane” – approach is of course harm reduction. People are taking drugs? Shit, they shouldn’t, but how can we reduce the human misery caused by that? People are homeless? Well, how can we help them? People don’t keep their environs cleanly? Well, that sucks, but we should probably hire cleaners and ensure they have the best possible working conditions.

    New York might be – in a positive sense – “un-American” but this puritanical attitude is present in NYC, too…

    • Alon Levy

      I feel weird calling this puritanism when here I associate this attitude with Bavaria more than with anything Protestant, but I was last in Munich in 2004 so maybe I’m just stereotyping and the state is pretty good at providing social services rather than moralizing the way Söder does about Merkel’s immigration policy.

      • Herbert

        Thankfully the Protestants who take their religion seriously are a dying breed in Germany. After all, it was those people who formed Hitler’s electoral base. Workers stayed largely loyal to SPD and KPD and Catholics largely stayed loyal to the Zentrum ( the sorta kinda but not actually predecessor to the CDU/CSU).

        The flip side is that the Catholic areas by and large stayed religious into our day and Bavaria is conservative largely due to that…

  5. Thomas Graves

    The lack of common sense in your post is stunning. You are mixing up different issues. Dealing with largely mentally-ill homeless in NY is one issue. It’s not being handled at all well, to say the least. Keeping subways clean & safe is another. The subway is not – and shouldn’t be – a homeless shelter, and what goes on in NY – the filth of homeless people defecating in cars and stations, would NEVER be tolerated in Taipei or any other Asian city, and you damn well know it. Any homeless person in Taipei or Singapore doing the kinds of things you see in Gotham would be dealt with – shall we say – immediately and severely? The stench and dirt of the NY subways IS at least partially caused by the hordes of homeless people. The homeless need to be helped appropriately, but the appropriate help is not housing them in the subway.

    • Alon Levy

      The dirt problem in New York is not human defecation. Human defecation makes for sensational news articles, but the dirt people see everyday – rats on tracks, gum stuck to the floor, spilled drinks, food residue, food wrappers, dusty floors – is not from that.

      Singapore would deal with anyone it considers not part of mainstream society very harshly, yes. This is why it didn’t pay attention to what was happening in migrant worker dorms, so despite all the glossy cleaning it is having a giant outbreak, concentrated among migrant workers, leading to a national infection rate that’s worse in than in most of Western Europe, while busybodies keep saying “the conditions here are better than in Bangladesh so they shouldn’t complain.” This is what that mentality leads to.

      (P.S. Taipei is not Singapore. Almost as if democracy actually produces better outcomes than authoritarianism or something.)

      • Herbert

        Is that part of the issue with the US?

        American “democracy” is a weird system that safely ignores large swaths of society without losing power…

        • john

          As an American, you pretty much nailed it: historically, democracy for all on paper but only for some in practice, with generations of hard work and battles to expand the boundaries of “some” ever closer to all. Still a long way to go, but we’ve gotten far enough now that “safely” ignoring large swaths of society is no longer feasible, which is partly why roughly half of white people here are feeling more insecure than their economic and social circumstances (objectively bad for many, but at worst no worse than what most minorities here have, and many still do, experience(d), with none of the additional discrimination b.s. that minorities face) might warrant. And that is partly why the Republican Party, which has bound its electoral fate to that half of white America, has internalized and amplified their insecurity on top of previously normal-ish political-party desires for power, and mutated into a pure power-retention machine, getting ever more desperate and open in its system-rigging. Meanwhile, the malign neglect many of our urban governments and large chunks of our urban communities have inflicted on homeless folks reminds us that “othering” and disdain for vulnerable strangers is not limited to one party–or religion/philosophy.
          I don’t know about Europe, but when you tear your gaze away from the noisy minority of attention-whore TV preachers and right-wing-political-activist circles, Christians in America are a very mixed bag of politics, beliefs, and behaviors, with plenty of believers on both sides (and the sidelines) of almost any issue, especially social justice issues. Unfortunately, the right-wingers have successfully commandeered most of the media attention and political power (thanks so f’ing much, Falwell, et. al.), and have almost completely succeeded in (falsely) branding themselves as the only public face of Christianity; and the hypocrisy, cruelty, and self-righteousness of a large conservative plurality (which approaches or achieves a majority in many rural communities, more so in regards to hot-button controversial issues like sexuality, less so with things like hunger/food insecurity or, increasingly, addiction, now that meth and opioids are making it harder to stereotype that as a problem of cities or individual sinners) undermines both the religion itself and social progress.

          Oops, this was supposed to be short…

          • Herbert

            In many ways the US is living in the days of Sulla and Marius. Gerontocratic politicians included as well as needless military adventurism…

    • yuuka

      It would be an interesting thought exercise to see what Taipei Metro or even JR managers would do if approached and asked to propose a solution to the NYC mental illness/homelessness crisis. At least I know what Singapore would do – armed police officers patrolling the system, ready to drag any miscreant off to the courts to face jail or a mental asylum under a compulsory treatment order.

      There’s also the East Asian aspect to consider, where such mental illness is considered very shameful for the family. In New York, tough, they’re left to harass the poor MTA workers trying to get their jobs done, so all they can really do is hope the homeless go away during the nightly shutdowns and then power wash the walls…

      • Herbert

        How does Europe approach mental health?

        Surely there are places which are good at it and others which are less so…

        At any rate, “housing first” is not only the approach to homelessness most likely to reduce the problem, it is also the cheapest…

      • John

        I don’t know about Japan, but Taipei does have homeless people–and there’s a fairly significant population living right around the perimeter of the Taipei Main Station building, sleeping under the awnings. Alon may have seen them when they were here. There are plenty of complaints on the internet, and occasionally a city council member makes a big show of trying to remove them, but for the most part they’re tolerated and left alone.

  6. Daniel

    Is there any real reason why the MTA still needs two people per train? If not, this seems like the easiest time in the next couple of decades to reduce that to one.

    • Alon Levy

      There are fake reasons. The driver’s cab sometimes isn’t set up for opening and closing doors, but it’s not hard to fix and on some trainsets there’s nothing to fix at all.

  7. Benjamin Turon

    As a long-time worker in the hotel industry (I also spent 5 years hauling garbage out of a 10-story SUNY dorm) for the biggest hotel company in the world (based in Washington DC) I can say that “cleanliness” is not a high corporate priority. Making as much money as possible is; thus having as few people as possible clean as fast as possible is the goal, often resulting in too few people spending too little time to do what I would consider a good job. This attitude also leads to a lot of deferred maintenance, with issues like leaky roofs and mold ignored or painted over. And the corporate bosses are great at choosing the worse materials — wallpaper, tiles, carpet, furniture — for interiors, surfaces that stain easily, are hard to clean, and don’t hold up from the heavy use and abuse that they see. It is the American Way of Business.

    Being a pig is also the American Way. A life as a hotel working is often like working at a hospice facility, with guests — middle class and upper class folk — frequently bleeding and pissing all over the beds. They grind food into the carpets, attract ants, and spill their drinks from coffee to wine all over the carpets. They are often drunk or high from illegal drugs. And of course bleach is banned, but by bosses turned a blind eye (figuratively) to my buying it at of my own pocket and using it on mattresses and the laundry. I took my Clorox bottle with me when they laid me off, due to the collapse of business during the ongoing pandemic.

    I’m actually really enjoying being at home and social distancing, if it wasn’t for the whole loss of healthcare benefits and fears of a economic depression, I’d be in paradise. But of some one gave me the right equipment, paid me $20 bucks an hour, and sent me to clean a airport or train station — I’d do it, in part for “the cause”, to fight the battle against the virus, to feel noble, important, and respected for the first time in my life.

    I remember hearing a FOX News host go off on how hotel workers in NYC didn’t deserve the wages and benefits their trade union won them. It would be divine justice if she got COVID from a the bathroom that the corporate overlords didn’t feel need to be cleaned often. Perhaps if America valued “low-pay low-wage” jobs like cleaning, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now in this filthy country.

    • john

      This, to the nth degree ^^^^^^^. Have had some ups and downs in my life, and worked my share of low-wage/low-status jobs and had my share of bad bosses who prioritized the $$$; actually glad of it, learned a lot I might not have learned otherwise, and learned to treat people who clean/fix/build/transport s-t and do services with respect, cuz I’ve either been there, or there but for the grace of God I might have gone, and might still in the future.

      As for the topic at hand, Baltimore’s subway and the White Snail have some homeless on board, fewer in absolute numbers than NYC, but in proportion to total ridership probably somewhat more than NYC. And while they are the source of the occasional piss stain (which does get cleaned up, as does vomit–apparently if someone vomits on a train it will be taken out of service as soon as it gets to the Rogers Ave station, where the railyard is, so that car can be seperated and cleaned; I once had to wait on a delayed train b/c of that), most of the grime is from ordinary passengers’ shoes (visibly worse on rainy/snowy days) and food, and the fact that the cleaning crew does not seem to clean the now nearly 40 yr old trains very well so the grime builds up. Old-timers who’ve been riding longer than I have tell me the trains used to be squeaky clean, and people would be routinely fined for littering, as recently as the 90’s, and I remember the trains being cleaner the first few times I rode back in college in the early 2000’s. And there were homeless on board then. And most of the few people I’ve encountered on transit who made me feel uncomfortable/unsafe, in Baltimore, NYC, and elsewhere, were not (at least not visibly) homeless. So yes, NYC and other American cities can do better, the current grime is a choice; and while homeless people *contribute* to grime/safety problems, and need to be taken care of outside the transit system, they are NOT the primary source of either filth or safety problems on transit.

      Whether NYC really needs 4 hours downtime per night to properly clean, I don’t really know. If they actually had their act together before this happened they probably would not; but since the MTA is really not well run, I don’t think they could change course and implement a more efficient and effective cleaning system in a short period of time. I wouldn’t trust them to do so without at least a few months of fumbling trial-and-error, heavy on the error. Assuming anyone with power to change things actually listens to any outside advice or notices, let alone values and decides to imitate, out-of-town examples of how to do better. So folks in NYC are probably stuck with nightly shutdowns for at least a few months.

      • Benjamin Turon

        How many people are there out and about on the subway in the wee hours of the morning? Cleaning public areas at my former work place was not an issue when there was few guests walking through. Even when super busy, you can still wipe surfaces. Restrooms are the hardest to clean when busy, especially if you man in the women’s restroom, or vice-versa. Having individual rooms for each stall solves that, a few places including some local theaters and hotels were I live. If you have large transit system, then having teams of each gender go about cleaning such facilities, addressed that issue. Having a team also allows for fast cleaning, so you can shut down the restroom and be done in 5 minutes. Given the super large unemployment of the coming year, having a CCC-like program of cleaning would be a great idea.

        On a side note, my rail group as been pushing for onboard clean of Upstate Amtrak trains for sometime, perhaps the pandemic adds weight to our argument. Our idea was have cleaners based at Rensselaer, who ride and clean trains by getting on and off at Utica, Port Henry, Poughkeepsie. After 4 to 6 hours, a train should receive some attention.

        • john

          On the Baltimore subway, there is a small team of people from the ARC sweeping and picking up trash, both in the stations (mostly the underground stations) and, at the two terminals, on the trains themselves. And I’ve seen mopping done later in the evening in underground stations, here and there. Never seen that on the light rail or buses. The full cleaning is supposed to be done during the regular overnight shutdown (midnight-ish to ~5 am), but it’s clearly not being done well or consistently. Could be, reportedly used to be, but isn’t. Will be interesting to see if that changes, between Covid and the upcoming delivery (supposedly beginning next year and to be completed in 2022 or 23) of an entire new fleet of subway cars, ordered from the factory that is building and delivering Miami’s new cars.
          Also, there are no public restrooms anywhere on the Maryland MTA system, with the exception of Baltimore Penn Station and DC Union Station, which are both owned and operated by Amtrak but also used by MARC commuter rail, and maaaybe one or two other MARC stations (don’t know for sure).
          Very much seconding a CCC-style cleaning program for public spaces.

      • Herbert

        The snowy season leads to visible dirt in public transit in Germany, too…

        Maybe aided by all the stupid Jack Wolfskin “outdoor” stuff the Germans wear

    • adirondacker12800

      And if those nasty messy people stay home you don’t have anything to do, do you?

      • Richard Mlynarik

        Just SHUT THE FUCK UP. This is disgusting.
        You truly have nothing to contribute, on every subject. ESPECIALLY THIS ONE.
        STAY AT HOME, with your INTERNET OFF.

        • adirondacker12800

          That’s the way it works. Without customers giving him something to do there is no reason to pay him to come into work.

          • RossB

            What is your point, though. Capitalism sucks?

            Benjamin’s point is pretty clear. Customers shouldn’t be jerks. They shouldn’t feel entitled and mistreat others just because they were born with more money, or lucky enough to climb the corporate ladder. More than anything, his point is pretty clear: Don’t be mean. Have some empathy. There but for the grace of God go I, as my mom used to say.

            What is your point?

          • adirondacker12800

            Some of them are. That’s life. If you don’t have customers you don’t get paid. It’s up to management to decide which ones are assholes and which ones are idiots and which ones are both.

          • RossB

            Again, what is your point?

            Oh, and no, it isn’t up to “management” to decide anything. These things exist outside their understanding. I may bang your wife, but you have no idea. Your wife just wakes up with a smile on her face and you wonder why. That’s life.

          • adirondacker12800

            What’s his point or your point, if you don’t like your customers you can go find other ones. It’s a pity your mommy doesn’t work by your side but life is filled with assholes and idiots. Put up with it or find some other kind of work.

    • Herbert

      Cleaning is not a job I’d ever consider doing again…. Feeling like you are the cheap labor thrown at a problem which could be fixed with a bit of capital expenditure ain’t pretty…

  8. Jonathan Stone

    “…. pretty obvious origins in ordinary if antisocial riders: spilled drinks, gum stuck to the floor, overflowing trash cans, …”

    If trash cans on the subway are full, that’s the fault over the antisocial riders who put their trash into the cans, instead of … what? Taking their trash home with them? Yeah, right. Using public trash cans is obviously an Anglosphere problem 🙂

    • RossB

      Pack it in, pack it out. I would never put trash next to a garbage can — and I’m an American(!). I might complain that they should empty the garbage more often, but I don’t litter. Benjamin is right. There are a ton of lazy, entitled, people out there who lack common empathy. Oh wait, we got a president like that, right now!

    • Alon Levy

      That particular bit is the fault of NYCT for not clearing the bins often enough. It got to the point that the genius idea was to remove the trash cans entirely so that passengers would take the trash home, because doing more cleaning was impossible or something.

    • michaelrjames

      Using public trash cans is obviously an Anglosphere problem 🙂

      Err, yeah, it kinda is. It is similar to the mask wearing issue. A huge swathe of Americans simply refuse to contemplate them and consider it ridiculous freedom-crushing foreign practices. Both the president and notoriously the Vice President won’t wear them. Similar thing with littering or how your society deals with the downside to all the consumerism (mountains of waste) and how it doesn’t want “to pay good money” to clean up after itself. Americans are perpetual teenagers unwilling to clean their bedrooms let alone anyone elses.

      Many of the problems discussed on this thread trace to the form of exploitative capitalism married to the profoundly selfish versions of protestantism (taken to the extreme by the evangelicals) and catholicism. Many problems, perhaps none more so than homelessness would be greatly improved by simply paying a minimum wage that was an actual living wage. All Americans (and many in the Anglosphere) whine that that would overnight make stuff much more expensive, you know like Europe or Japan. Well, that is the cost of being human in a functional society that expects to survive beyond a current product cycle.

      In the rich world I’m not sure how much better some Asians are, for example the Japanese (despite their “clean” environment) or Koreans etc, but it seems almost unthinkable to get Americans to recycle their crap. Instead they will say that the homeless can perform that function (recycling cans for pennies) or they can pay non-living wages to others (often illegals, sshh) to at least make a superficial effort (streets, pavements, subways, buses etc). Oh, and the totally toxic and self-justifying habit of tipping service workers, again in lieu of proper wages or giving some basic respect to such workers. This lies at the heart of American great offence at how they are treated in France. Benjamin’s tales on this thread about hotel clients is just one aspect of this: I genuinely believe it draws from the attitude that “I’m paying for it so let someone else clean up”; it ends with a throwaway society that doesn’t show respect for anyone else if you’re paying them, and where billionaires can build their own bubble world, in their bunkers or mega-yachts, private jets or guarded estates.

      The nature of globalisation means this behaviour is slowly but steadily taking root everywhere, but especially in the rest of the Anglosphere. In the state of Western Australia they had a mandatory 14-day quarantine covid-19 law for new out-of-state arrivals but it was leaked last week that one of our media-mining barons (Kerry Stokes, a mini-Murdoch and one of Oz’s richest men) flew into Perth from Aspen on his private jet and was excused this inconvenient. And then a chief editor of Murdoch’s national rag wrote a ludicrous OpEd in October (link below but probably pay-walled) which is when he returned from his habitual summer break in Tuscany and warned Australia against adopting what even the Italians have these days: 5 colour-coded waste bins for recycling trash. Sounds American, right down to the contempt shown to those wimpy Europeans, never mind that the Germans and others do it. I understand that the Germans have enforced uniform types of glass bottles, which even Coca Cola has adopted, so that they can be recycled (as bottles not just glass) as we all used to do with all drink bottles (milk, beer, pop etc). I believe the Swiss (of course) are the world champions with a global >60% recycling rate of all waste. France is trying to do the same.

      Of course the entire world has been guilty of just shipping all this unwanted end result of our consumerism to somewhere else out of sight, latterly China and more recently places like Vietnam, Philippines, Bangladesh. And we only truly became aware of it when China stopped taking it. As for that invisible odourless gas those nutty environmentalists and scientists tell us we’ve got to stop putting into the atmosphere, get outta here …

      https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/recycling-plan-a-load-of-rubbish/news-story/9c75613fab27b6163a62baca4fb2d9de
      Recycling plan a load of rubbish
      They should bin this idea—it’s endlessly complex and a torment for households
      Dennis Shanahan, 25 Oct 2019.

      Shanahan is up in arms because Victoria–the most progressive state–has introduced such a scheme and he and his other Rightwing dinosaurs know it’s coming to them soon (well, in usual fashion, it isn’t coming to Victoria anytime soon: it is an aspiration by 2030!)
      https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Flookaside.fbsbx.com%2Flookaside%2Fcrawler%2Fmedia%2F%3Fmedia_id%3D2895483923849458&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FDanielAndrewsMP%2Fposts%2F2895485113849339&tbnid=rY59V0mbSCjQaM&vet=10CAMQxiAoAGoXChMIsIKcu-qW6QIVAAAAAB0AAAAAEAY..i&docid=lpLS7TVJ3N6s6M&w=775&h=960&itg=1&q=victorian%20coloured%20bins&ved=0CAMQxiAoAGoXChMIsIKcu-qW6QIVAAAAAB0AAAAAEAY

      • Alon Levy

        For what it’s worth, mask usage is up in Germany. Last time I took the U-Bahn it was about 50%. There’s a real problem with one-time masks costing 3 euros, but with some stores (like Aldi) mandating mask wearing among customers, usage is a lot better than it was a month ago.

        • michaelrjames

          Yes, I’ve seen. I think it was the Czechs and Austrians who got the ball rolling, and it appears to be being adopted over much of Europe (not sure about UK, even though they are on the verge of overtaking Italy in the covid-19 casualty stakes).

          Re cost and disposability of masks, that’s why I was interested in that large-scale gas-phase hydrogen peroxide sterilisation of masks and other fragile so-called single-use disposables. PBS-Newshour have done a follow-up piece on that Batelle system and they also showed what some medical staff are doing to cope with the continuing shortage of these things in hospitals. One senior registrar (ie. an older bloke, not some young renegade) showed his system in which he arranged seven N95 masks on a small round table (on his verandah I think); he uses a mask for a day then replaces it in the gap on the table while taking the next “fresh” one clockwise. He explained that 7 days was two to three times the likely persistence of virus, and he got N uses of the masks (I am recalling 20 but not sure that can be right).

          Any mask does get a bit grotty though that is more aesthetics than a real hygiene issue. However I have thought one could make more durable mask structure, out of lyrca or stretch polyester fabric etc, in which the paper filter is replaceable. The mask could be bleached or just washed in detergent and should last for years … I’ve not seen such a system but one wonders the Asians haven’t created the like. I should add that I wouldn’t necessarily expect this would replace N95s which have a complex FDA certification status. But they could be better engineered such as the way the N95 keeps the filter off the nostrils and mouth (I think this is the main reason the cheapo paper masks are uncomfortable).

          • adirondacker12800

            I’ve asked them to stop sending me the paper catalog but they keep on doing it. It does have the advantage that the prices are frozen at the time it was printed. 900 pages of commercial/industrial supply including things like masks. Pages and pages of masks. Fall 2019/winter2020 prices, in small case quantities, the molded paper masks that are good for nuisance risks like sawdust getting up you nose, those are 18 cents a piece. The pleated fabric masks that hook over your ears are 20 cents. “Cleanroom” masks, which are much bigger and multiple layers are $1.42. There are N95s with and without exhalation valves. The unbranded ones without a valve are 65 cents. With a valve they are $1.50. You can’t send something to the laundry and put it back into inventory for 65 cents. Or assure that it has been cleaned properly.

        • michaelrjames

          One minute after posting the last comment, tonight’s news reports that Spain is making masks mandatory to use the subway from tomorrow.

        • Herbert

          To my knowledge there are overlapping statewide rules that in essence mean a requirement to cover mouth and nose in virtually all stores and public transit.

          There’s conflicting information regarding “homebrew” masks but some evidence that they protect others better than rather flimsy surgical masks…

          • Alon Levy

            There’s no citywide requirement to wear masks, I think it’s just Aldi that mandates it? Biomarkt notably doesn’t.

          • Herbert

            Well then it may be Söder being the less unreasonable one once again in this pandemic (I’d have rather shot myself than laud Söder in February, yet here we are). The phrase “as mandated by the Bavarian government” is quite prominently displayed alongside the “wear masks” instructions…

            As for Biomarkts not following eminently sensible rules, that is to be expected of the license-plate B-IO set…

        • RossB

          Mask usage is way, way up in the West Coast. My guess is much of it will be permanent, in that folks who leave the house with the sniffles will don one, even after the pandemic.

          • Herbert

            We’ll see. There were masks (or cloths put in front of the face) during the 1918/19 influenza pandemic, but they seem to have died out with the generation of first adopters…

      • Herbert

        Unfortunately the uniform glass bottle design has been abandoned due to stupid market fundamentalism.

        I worked for a rather short time cleaning camping caravans and tents… You could almost always tell who the English and who the German clients were. The Dutch clients were somewhere in the middle…

      • Henry Miller

        Actually he is right about not having 5 different recycling bins. The logistics of collecting all five bins and keeping them separate are a big problem with the idea. And since people are not perfect you still need to check everything anyway. Better to invest in machines that can sort automatically. My city has done that and as a result we can separate more than 5 different items. And if something else becomes worth recycling it isn’t hard to buy another separating machine. The 5 bins to 6 bins is a lot more infrastructure needed.

        The idea of standard bottles doesn’t make sense, if the purpose is reuse – which it should be – then distinct bottles and the ability to get them back to the original packaging line again is all you need and not too difficult (Iowa has laws going back to the 1800s about reusable glass bottles forever belonging to the dairy) surely modern life can do better than them.

        • michaelrjames

          Better to invest in machines that can sort automatically. My city has done that and as a result we can separate more than 5 different items.

          That is exactly what has been claimed by the recycling industry and politicians for many decades, but it turns out–and as anyone with a tiny bit of thought realises–it doesn’t work, and was a scam. Contamination is the problem. Glass is a big problem because it breaks and you get shards with everything. Then there is bio-waste (food scraps etc) that seriously contaminates. These are the reasons why China stopped accepting waste for recycling–because western waste is next to useless and involves too much work to extract anything of value. So, as in the west, most ends up going to incineration or, worse, landfill.

          Visy, an Australian company run by the Pratt family (one of the few billionaire class not in property or mining or financials) is one of the biggest cardboard producers in the world. They makes boxes for everything. You may remember Anthony Pratt opening a giant factory somewhere in the midwest with Trump in attendance lauding how his policies have brought such industry back to America (of course it was being constructed years before Trump was elected). But I don’t believe Visy get any of their recycled input from domestic refuse, but only from commercial sources where it is kept clean and pure (like supermarkets that flatten all that cardboard they receive and put it into special bins that Visy come around and collect).

          Your fantasy that some magical machine ‘out back’ (out of mind and view) deals with all your crap, is just that: a fantasy. And a self-serving bit of extreme laziness. In my youth in the 60s & 70s we had a bin for glass, a bin for cans and a giant bin for paper (newspapers mostly & cardboard) which were collected only once every few weeks or whatever. These three items are perfect for recycling but apparently it is just all too much for you to take the ten seconds to choose to throw your shit in a choice of three or five bins!
          BTW, the real rate of recycling of these products from domestic waste is a mere 8%. Barely worth the bother, except that the waste needs to be removed and councils and politicians play along with the fantasy that it is recycled, and of course the collection companies make a lot of money.

          Henry Miller needs to grow up. You’re not a teenager anymore and you need to take personal responsibility for all the crap you consume. And adirondacker too: it doesn’t cost 65c to wash a recyclable face mask, and even if it did, we cannot go on using this gigantic mountain of single-use disposables that then just go to landfill. There’s a reason the Swiss and Germans–and now the Italians (!), and Japanese, Koreans etc have all those coloured bins. To dismiss them is just to be a typical American vandal and polluter.

          The idea of standard bottles doesn’t make sense, if the purpose is reuse – which it should be – then distinct bottles and the ability to get them back to the original packaging line again is all you need and not too difficult (

          I don’t think that is true. The cost of sorting and transporting back to each different bottler etc is too high. And many suppliers will be too small so this becomes a charter to the huge companies. However I will agree that I was surprised at the policy and Herbert tells us it has been abandoned (part of the problem surely was all the product coming into Germany from the EU or around the world; and don’t get me started on bottled water!). But glass is a perfectly reusable material and perfect feedstock into making new glass products, and it never should have been abandoned like we did in the [1980s?]. Because, you know, it costs 5c to recycle and we can buy new for 4.5c … or some such econocrat b.s. where the value of a clean and sustainable environment is rated at … exactly zero.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s going to have wings and artificial intelligence built in and fly itself to the washing machines and back out to the supply cabinet? after running itself through a sealing machine?

          • Herbert

            In Germany glass is still being collected in three different colors, green, brown and transparent. Turns out “when in doubt throw in green” is the right approach as glass with impurities tends towards green (as can be seen by lower grade Migration Period glass as opposed to squeaky transparent Roman Era glass…)

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert, are you saying that the German public sort their glass into three different recycling bins (green, brown, clear)? That does seem a tad extreme and a job that automation could easily handle. (Any broken bits go in the brown … )

          • Herbert

            There are big containers (which are an obvious noise and smell nuisance so they get put where their stench and noise is not near houses) which are used to collect the glass. So people collect the glass until they have enough to throw it away and then they sort it into the containers. There are even special trucks with separate chambers on their inside to carry the glass. There is also usually a fourth container for cans…

            Speaking of which, I’ll have to throw out the glass today…

          • michaelrjames

            Actually I think that makes some sense, ie. to have bigger containers at central collection points. The trouble is that that really is one (or another) step too far for us lazy sods in the Anglosphere. In fact we used to have that but … wait for it … they used to get vandalised! And no one wanted to have these collection points in their community.
            It’s not something that concerns me so much because I’ve lived in apartments for so long, and our building has a big bin room with industrial sized colour-coded bins. But people are very unobservant of common sense with pizzaboxes in the recycling bin still with lumps of pizza etc.

            I’ve just remembered a grizzly incident in our bin room a few years back. Our bin room had its 15 minutes (or 15 seconds) of fame/infamy on national tv news. The police were called to a ground-floor apartment in another building a block over, due to a smell from it. They discovered a man dismembering a “woman’s” body (he’d been doing it over almost a week!). He ran out the back wielding a knife and a while later they found him in one of our bins, rapidly dying from self-inflicted knife wounds. The woman turned out to be a man who had not fully transitioned yet and this was some kind of domestic argument between the pair.
            As they say, fact is stranger than fiction. There’s even a newspaper photo of our bin room (link below). Seems like he put himself in the correct coloured bin! But then he might have been German (Marcus Volke). Sorry, covid black humour …

            http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/chef-behind-grisly-brisbane-murdersuicide-police-20141006-10qs17.html
            Chef behind grisly Brisbane murder-suicide: police
            Kim Stephens, October 6, 2014

          • Herbert

            I recall that it was one of the more common chores given to me as the youngest sibling to take the handcart we had and throw out the glass. Back then to me it seemed like “forever away” (it was probably not even a km) and there was like 2 meters of height difference, but it still beat having to clean the bathroom 😉

          • fjod

            michaelrjames – this isn’t an Anglosphere problem: the UK has tens of thousands of ‘bottle banks’ for glass recycling, and has separate domestic glass recycling too in some areas iirc.

          • michaelrjames

            OK, it’s better than I might have imagined. Approx. 50-60% of glass is collected with ≈40% of that going back to recycling (ie. “remelt”), about 24% going to make aggregate (eg. used in road surfaces) and the remainder ≈36% being exported (generally that means to China … not clear). It’s a lower collection than the EU average (and the Swiss, Swedes, Finns & Dutch are at >90%) and it has a lower remelt fraction which is the only genuine recycling. 40% of 60% is only 24% of total glass recycled.

            “FEVE [European Container Glass Federation] estimates that approximately 25 billion glass bottles and jars were collected throughout the EU during 2010. Of these 80% of glass bottles and jars collected are sent for remelt, which in 2010 saved more than 12 million tonnes of raw materials including soda ash, sand and limestone.”

            The problem in Australia is that it is not clear we have any glass manufacturing left. All manufacturing has dropped precipitously to 6% of employment, because governments, especially conservatives, and the powers that determine these things (miners, finance, property) are happy to let it die and import everything from China. When China stopped taking our waste it has simply accumulated in warehouses. Glass is crushed and strapped in one tonne bales and currently storage is bursting with the stuff, and one suspects a lot of it is going to landfill. Our public broadcaster (ABC) did an exposé on this and showed that while the two big states, Victoria & NSW, charge too much for landfill burial to make it feasible for these rubbish collectors to simply bury the stuff, but they turned to dodgy operators who will truck it 1,000 km north to Queensland where they manage to dump it in quasi-legal landfill.

            There is much talk that things might change post-covid-19 because this state of affairs has become starkly apparent as dangerous and vulnerable. However one has to remain pessimistic because we really are lazy (and too much under the influence of Murdoch, see my earlier citation of Denis Shanahan’s OpEd) and there will be a mighty gnashing of teeth when consumer items go up in price by 5c.

        • Herbert

          There are branded bottles which are explicitly not reusable because it is cheaper to break them down and make new ones than reuse them. So no, betting on supplier internal circulation won’t work.

          It’s far easier to have a standard bottle for each common size (brown 0.33 l beer, brown 0.5 l beer, transparent 0.7 l water, brown 1.0 l milk) and maybe a prohibitive tax for every deviant bottle (which some breweries would probably take the hit on, because it makes it easier to place “five € beer” on the market) with the individualisation of beer bottles provided by the cap and the label. It was a system that worked for decades with numerous small and tiny breweries and intensely brand loyal customers and then some market ideologue decided to scrap it for stupid ideological reasons…

          • michaelrjames

            and then some market ideologue decided to scrap it for stupid ideological reasons…

            I thought it was a recent thing but you imply the bottle standardisation was ages ago and only scrapped recently?
            And was that by Schäuble by any chance, and backed by your dear leader?

          • michaelrjames

            Except it’s not true.
            There’s lots of Rightwing propaganda that tries to make that kind of case for almost any environmental action, but when examined it always invokes absurd and unrealistic assumptions, or is flat out deception. Certainly if you ship the glass 5,000 or 10,000 km across the world to China or wherever. Our shipping all our waste back to China was always dubious and partly based on the fact that a lot of those massive container ships have to return to China with mostly empty containers, thus making shipment in that direction “cheap”. It had to be a very marginal operation.

            On first principles we simply need to create a circular ecosystem instead of this utterly unsustainable one we have. Not only does recycling reduce the contamination of the ecosystem but it saves us mining or burning more stuff etc. Or shipping heavy glass bottles long distances, like the absurd popularity of San Pellegrino bottled water (in glass only) that is apparently shipped 15,000 km from Italy (though it being Italian I have my doubts; it is probably subcontracted to China so cutting its food miles by about half! And swapped over at a transhipment point like Singapore.). I am all for banning import of stuff like that but the same loons (often Murdoch flunkies) will screech “nanny state” and interference with the free market blah, blah.

          • Herbert

            I distinctly recall San Pellegrino being a popular ice-tea and water brand back in Italy. For us as kids (my siblings and I) it tasted like holidays and so of course we’d love to get it in Germany, but once it was available there, the “magic” was lost. I very rarely drink Ice Tea these days and virtually never San Pellegrino. In terms of water it’s the 19 cent 1.5 liter bottles or Soda Stream as well as the occasional bare tap water (I don’t like water without CO2, pretty “European”, I know)

          • adirondacker12800

            Apparently a five cent deposit on beverage containers results in a 75 percent return rate in New York State. It goes into a “reverse” vending machine that checks the UPC bar code on it. They get higher prices for the material because it’s definitely sorted well. I’m frugal, the bag I used to carry the returnables to the supermarket is then used to line the garbage can. Many people don’t, there is a bag disposal bin at the returnables center. They’ve stopped taking them back. I have ten dollars worth of returnables and growing. Sigh.

          • Alon Levy

            Here the deposit on plastic bottles is 25 cents, which means the deposit is often more than the cost of the bottle, which ranges between 20 and 50 cents at the supermarket depending on brand. (Yes, I was shocked too; in Sweden, bottled water costs like in America, and after moving to France I couldn’t believe it was 20 cents for a 1.5 liter bottle at Casino.)

          • Herbert

            I’m still not sure whether the 19 cent 1.5 liter bottle of water at Aldi, Lidl and other discounters is a loss leader… It might be, especially since Aldi has tried to establish more “premium” water brands (still under their “fake brand” fantasy names)…

          • Herbert

            I’ve heard there are people seriously considering the deposit to fifty cents as a “social policy” measure…

            That said, the eight cent deposit for reusable glass bottles is far too low…

      • Jonathan Stone

        michaelrjames; I lived in the UK for a year in the 1970s. They used rubbish bins then. They still did when I’ve made short visits. But I have no idea what it’s like after 10 years of Tory austerity. In New Zealand, the social contract is (or was) to leave public spaces cleaner than you found them (or at least as clean).

        if you mean “American’, say “American”, don’t demean the entire so-called “Anglosphere”.

        • michaelrjames

          No. I mean the Anglosphere. Sadly. Certainly three of the five, US, UK & Australia. I am guessing Canada is better and New Zealand is generally a bit better than Oz but at any one time 10% of Kiwis live in Australia so there is a lot of traffic between the two and it mostly seems–in the Anglosphere–that the worst habit wins.

          I lived in the UK for half the 80s and then half the 90s and no it was not good. Today I see they have a system similar to Oz, with a general recyclable bin for everything which inevitably means low rates of actual recycling. Just like here, it is pretend recycling.

          Alon may be shocked by the deposit cost on bottles but humans being what we are (and in the Anglosphere even worse:-) it needs to be as much as necessary to force recycling. Afterall it is a cost you get back unless you are a total lazy slob. In Australia, the state of South Australia is the leader in this kind of thing and they have had a bottle deposit for decades. Only recently has it spread to the other states because the industry (mostly Coca Cola, but also supermarkets) hates it.

          I like the sound of the New York system that adirondacker describes, and have thought that is necessary for plastic which is the most difficult thing to recycle (and the one we are most deceived over: most of it is not recycled no matter what we are told or how much one uses recycle bins etc; the vast majority goes to landfill or incinerators). But we are often our own worst enemies because some misguided “environmentalists” want to try to ban plastic but that is silly. We simply must recycle 90+% of it (or the type that can be recycled, not all types can be).

          Oh, Australia does have one innovation in keeping junk out of waterways: in CBDs and busy places the gutter grilles (into the drains below) are covered with cloth to act as a filter to collect it. Hmm, maybe this is a Queensland thing–because we also have the mostly novel system of stormwater drains separate from sewers (any place that gets tropical rain needs this or their sewer system gets overwhelmed) which means it goes direct to the river and bay.

          • Herbert

            They should export that innovation to Managua, which has a perennial flooding problem during the rainy season as the canals are often clogged with debris of all kinds during the dry season…

          • michaelrjames

            I’ve never been to Managua but I imagine it has that certain whiff one gets in tropical cities. Due to inadequate sewage system that is regularly overloaded with stormwater in the afternoon thunderstorm. That smell brings back my youth when I first set foot on Asia, in fact Singapore had it back then when it had giant rainwater ditches along the main roads which is the poor man’s version of a separate drainage system. That smell, food stalls and blaring Canto-pop. When Bugis street still existed.

          • Herbert

            Managua has a pronounced dry season. From about October to about May there is virtually no rain at all.

            Which leads to the canals falling dry and being overloaded with all kinds of rubbish…

            Oh and the city is built on an active fault line which hit twice in the 20th century (1931 & 1972). The second time indirectly leading to the death of a Baseball great…

        • Mike

          The rubbish bins were removed when I was there in the mid 90s because of IRA bombs. I asked my British friend what to do with trash then. He said to put it in a corner. When I returned home I left a bunch of newspapers I had accumulated on a table.

      • Mike

        “Many of the problems discussed on this thread trace to the form of exploitative capitalism married to the profoundly selfish versions of protestantism (taken to the extreme by the evangelicals) and catholicism.”

        Slavery is the main thing that distorted Americans’ values. That’s what led to stubborn defects in democracy. The areas that most throw away the poor, have the lowest minimum wage, are hostile to unions, and have the most stingy unemployment and healthcare systems largely overlap with the former Confederacy and with cities where white flight was the strongest. Business tycoons take advantage of this anti-government, anti-regulatory mindset to get structural advantages for themselves and prop the doors of corruption open.

        As for this being the beginning of the US unravelling (as suggested below), these aspects have been unravelling for a century or two. Who’s to say when it might unravel or which direction it might go in.

        The most straightforward way to deal with homelessness is to give people housing they can afford. That would eliminate the enormous costs of dealing with the secondary problems, both financial costs and in the toxic effects to society.

        • Herbert

          But capitalism will collapse if it can no longer force people into utterly undesirable jobs with the threat of homelessness, joblessness and a generally miserable existence…

  9. michaelrjames

    It’s a reflection of a kind of (beginning of?) unravelling of the US. To be fair, there are signs all over the world but the US is expected to be the rock. Potentially dangerous times with a malignant narcissist clown in the White House, and frankly weak leadership all over including the two old-time party thumpers running NY and NYC. The “fish rots from the head down” couldn’t get much truer.
    The frothing Right are on the streets carrying their semi-automatic rifles demanding the lockdown be reopened but the exact same people are frothing crazy against wearing face masks, let alone it being made mandatory (and that, not cleaning, is the real and perhaps only solution to the mass transit issue, or more generally the proximity issue). Some of them are probably anti-vaxxers though as pure reactionary ignorance rather than any serious beliefs.

    This morning on radio there was an interview with Mark O’Connell the author of Notes from an Apocalypse in which he describes a slice of American society called preppers who have disengaged from society and essentially given up on government and are prepping for an apocalypse. It is a genuine bunker mentality as some buy up old nuclear warhead bunkers in the Iowa cornfields etc that are surplus since the end of the cold war and sold off by government. He toured one that had been converted by its rich owner into a 15 storey deep luxury condo that could be entirely independent for up to 5 years! I think some of the same mentality is behind the likes of Musk who wants to go, not just off-grid but off-world! He’s also ranting that the lockdown must end. Oh, let’s not forget Peter Thiel who has chosen to build his bunker in New Zealand hoping the apocalypse can’t reach there! (He should watch On the Beach.) The irony is that covid-19 did reach there and was only conquered by imposing arguably the strongest toughest lockdown in the western world, something the pseudo-libertarian would surely froth about even more than Musk. NZ needs to be careful because the most insidious destructive virus of all is represented by the likes of Thiel and his billionaire fellow travellers.

    • Herbert

      Preppers are angry that the “apocalypse” has come and being a selfish gun hoarding nutcase ain’t helping…

  10. RichardB

    I concur with Alon that cleaning is possible and desirable but I keep coming across comments elsewhere which suggest New Yorkers take a pride in the gritty experience and that changing that would be to New York’s detriment. I find that difficult to believe but is there a perverse view that Americans and specifically New Yorkers would find such improvements involve a cultural loss to the city? In contrast as a Londoner I would say that travelling the London Underground can be a positive experience and especially out of the peak periods. We do have anti social behaviour but anyone who understands the language of public announcements will know that a call for Inspector Sands to go to platform 2 is actually an instruction for staff to immediately go and clean the detritus. I can confirm from my own experience that this is done very promptly and competently

    • Herbert

      I think this “I like it dirty” is a bit like the elders telling about walking to the school uphill both ways in twenty yards of snow and liking it…

  11. Throwaway

    This is deliberately obtuse. The *stated* reason for closing the subways is to clean them, but the *actual* reason is to remove the homeless once per day.

    The homeless situation on the subways has gotten out of control. I have several friends who are healthcare workers, who were commuting to their hospitals every day on the subway. They’ve completely stopped riding, because they’ve each had multiple bad experiences that made them feel unsafe. They’re now Ubering to and from the hospital every day. It’s blowing a hole in their budget, but they feel that they need to.

    Should we be providing better assistance to the homeless? Absolutely yes. Is it the NYCT’s job to do so? Absolutely no. NYCT is under the MTA, not the Department of Homeless Assistance. NYCT’s just is to provide people with a safe way to travel within the city, particularly for healthcare workers and other essential workers who depend on the subways and buses for their daily commutes.

    Everyone knows what this policy change was for. It’s only being pitched as being for “cleaning” because admitting the reality would generate nasty headlines, even though a clear majority of New Yorkers would agree with the policy.

    None of the people writing about how the homeless should be allowed to stay in the subway are actually riding the subway regularly right now.

    • Alon Levy

      [Comment rescued from spamfilter.]

      A public agency whose best defense for a policy is “it’s okay, we’re lying” should cease to exist and so should the government that ran it. Pick one of a handful of well-run countries (none of which speaks English) and become its colony or something.

          • michaelrjames

            Hah, that reminds me of the version of that joke applied to Queensland, the “Deep North” of Australia. The state, or the SEQ (South-East corner where most live in the “200km city” strung along the coasts), gets half its growth from immigration and half from internal migration from the southern states–it’s the Florida of Oz.
            The joke is that those snowflakes who can’t hack it in Sydney sell up and move to Qld, and in so doing improve the IQ of both states.

  12. Lee Ratner

    Four hours seems like an extremely short period of time to clean the entire New York City subway.

    • Herbert

      If you assume “take the state it is now and turn it into something East Asian countries would accept as ‘clean'” then yes. But if you mean “daily cleaning to return it to the state it started the day, then four hours is far too much for well trained well paid cleaners who know their job

      • Lee Ratner

        The New York City subway famously operated 24/7 and was one of the dirtiest in the world with heavy usage. I’m not sure that four hour of non-use is enough even for the later.

    • michaelrjames

      The problem is that that kind of thing is now a part of the problem. Of course we want public transit to be kept clean but all this focus on obsessively disinfecting every surface every 10 minutes is seriously distracting from what is more relevant in spreading the infection. Possibly even more futile is the once-a-day cleaning which should be done on all intensively used public transit, but which is even less relevant for this disease than more frequent cleaning. It is treating this aerosol-transmitted disease as if it is like Ebola or cholera etc which are only spread by fluids and touch. These coronaviruses are the inverse, overwhelmingly spread by aerosols and hardly every by touch not least because it doesn’t survive well on surfaces. On transit in normal use, it wouldn’t matter if you cleaned it continuously, it would make almost zero impact on transmission rates. The only thing to make a significant impact is to have mandatory mask wearing and behaviour changes (no talking, shouting, sneezing or coughing openly–indeed no using public transit if you are sneezing or coughing; not to ignore the fact that superspreaders don’t have to be showing any symptoms at all).
      The trouble now is that the authorities have caught themselves in this futile loop of obsessive cleaning, hand washing etc while simultaneously ignoring the more important things.

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