Five years ago, the MTA launched a pilot program aimed at reducing littering on subway stations. Instead of staffing more custodians or stepping up the enforcement of littering laws, the authority announced that it would be removing trash cans from subway stations, which it said would encourage more riders to carry their garbage with them and throw it out above ground.
But it didn’t really work, and now trash cans are returning to the 39 stations from which they were removed.
The plan to remove trash cans as a means of reducing littering might seem counterintuitive, but it isn’t without precedent. In Taiwan, for example, there are no public trash cans—everyone throws away their garbage at home. The country is incredibly efficient when it comes to managing its trash and recycling, but New York is no Taiwan, and we’re a bunch of dirty, disgusting people.
For years, the MTA hailed the program as a positive, claiming that it led to less trash being collected systemwide and a reduction in rodent activity on the rails. But the littering failed to slow down in a substantial way, and so the cans are coming back as the authority looks to other solutions to keep it stations clean.
The MTA has now turned its cleaning efforts to a new fleet of vacuum train cars, which straight up suck garbage (and probably some rats) right off the tracks. It’s a little bit less subtle of a solution than removing trash cans, but when it comes to giving social engineering a go in New York, the trash probably isn’t the best hill to die on.