NYC Subway More Disgusting than Muni?

New York City’s D-train has just been declared the dirtiest train in the city, and Gawker is challenging their readers:

“Everyone who has ridden the subway has sat next to a pile of abandoned newspapers, been hit in the foot by an empty bottle, or accidentally walked into the “stinky car” with a homeless person at one end. These are the things that we need to overlook everyday in order to survive riding the most convenient form of public transportation in the Big Apple. But every so often something so horrendously disgusting happens that it shatters our ability to descend into the hot, steaming underground several times a day. A few weeks ago while waiting for a 6 train from Grand Central Station, I saw a pile of puke next to a garbage can. Sadly, that’s not too uncommon, but what made it grosser than gross was there was a rat eating the puke. Ew, ew, ew, ew!

We know you have some nasty stories to share about MTA-related gross outs. You might even be able to top my puke-eating vermin tale. Please, take to the comments section and let us know your worst. The one that turns our stomach the most wins a $10 Metrocard and the admiration of all our readers for surviving the worst underground atrocity. Good luck, and happy riding.”

The stories in the comment section of this Gawker post are pretty gnarly, but hey, New York isn’t the center of the universe! Here in San Francisco, Muni’s got loogies, fish guts, scary unexplained red puddles

Dubious honor, for sure. I’ve only been on the New York City subway a handful of times and can’t attest to its grossness myself. East Coast transplants, what do you think?


  • JC

    Just a generic non-gross observation from a current MUNI rider on an extended stay in NYC and riding the subway daily. Key difference right now is temperature. Trains have A/C (reliability OK) but the platforms can be hot as hades and all of the usual sweat and scent scenarios are . The underground MUNI platforms of our railway are temples compared to most of the comparable platforms in NYC. Especially in summer.

    • JimmyD

      The MUNI platforms are more comfortable. Since we, in SF, spend more time standing on them… waiting… waiting… waiting for the train to come, it’s a good thing.
      (two minutes later)

  • JimmyD

    10 years living in NYC (most of the 90’s) I rarely had any issues with the subway. In SF? Daily!

    • JC

      Just to be clear, I’m just talking cleanliness. In terms of reliability and options from getting from A to B, yeah, MTA rocks. Although it’s apparently about to make some pretty big service cutbacks starting this weekend.

      • JimmyD

        True, true. MUNI is cleaner, for the most part.
        The NY system has gotten MUCH cleaner in the past 15 or so years.
        It’s one of the things Rudy G did right.

        • Shmuly J

          As a SF native who worked in NYC govt. I just have to correct you – while the subways are certainly cleaner, Giuliani had absolutely nothing to do with it. The subways and buses are controlled by the MTA, which is a state agency where the mayor only has a few appointments.

  • If all NYC subway lines were the G, it would be a competition. And even then, only in the infrequency category. Muni’s got the subway beat in almost every negative measure. Not even close. A race to the bottom, won by our beloved/despised Muni!

    CAPTCHA: snooty held

  • After smelling sewage and seeing dead rats all over NYC’s subway, MUNI felt like the future I always dreamed of as a child.

    Great map!

  • Cereal

    There’s nothing disgusting about a subway that runs 24 hours.

  • matt

    Forget the NYC Subway and Muni — BART is effin disgusting. There are decades of built-up unmentionables soaked into those pillows. Even the air on BART smells heavy. So gross. Whoever decided to put carpet and fabric on BART should be pilloried.

  • Gary

    I have to agree with Matt. I lived in NYC for about 8 years, and about a year ago moved to SF. Bart is absolutely rancid. The smell in those cushions is one that is hard for me to shake. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why they decided to use fabric seats and carpeting in public transportation!

  • Chris

    Native to SF, I’ve loathed the Muni all my life. But I’ll choose the always late, broke ass Muni over NY’s MTA anyday!

    I just came back from NYC on a recent trip and was appalled to have the funk of human feces punch me right in the face. It wasn’t a fart for sure, because as I was trying to shove my way out of the subway I saw physical evidence of it smeared on a soggy NY Times. Also saw a very cracked out homeless woman sprawled out on the cold floor, drooling near the MTA exit. Madly twitching with pennies scattered around her. A cold street vendor food platter was placed in front of her. I would have rathered seen that rat eating vomit than that depressing site.

    And I’ve heard that on the hot summer nights, moisture drips down from the low hanging subway ceiling… likely from the collective heat and sweat emitting from NYers. SF doesn’t get hot days, but even if we were to get such a heatwave, the underground is at least well ventilated and AC’d.

  • Brandon

    Honestly, the differences in functionality and efficiency of the two are so great that I cant even think of cleanliness. 10 car trains vs 2 car trains. Underground and elevated for speed vs trolling down the street. As for what Chris said, complaining about the homeless on another system in a comparison to Muni is insane. As for the heat, the system is quite old, and all the new stations from here on out (yes, they are building new ones, and they are all underground) will be set up for platform edge doors and air conditioning.

    Agreed with the people talking about BART seats…. they got rid of the carpets in the new cars, but kept the cloth seats. That said, forget the seats. The godawful noise the trains make is the more pressing issue. Try out Caltrain sometime, its very quiet, even with the massive diesel engine (admittedly, i was in the bike car, which is the furthest from the engine) and has proper faux-leather seats.

    • Cereal

      Oh god, the noise. I worry about hearing damage every time I ride BART through SF.

      BART uses the same train motors as the L line in NYC, and it doesn’t seem too different aerodynamically, but somehow it ends up with deafeningly loud wind noise. Badly designed tunnels? I don’t know. Nothing in NYC is that loud, not even the old-ass R32s that were recently replaced.

      • corntrollio

        I think it’s the tunnels. BART doesn’t sound nearly as loud in the newer tunnel between Colma and SFO. At San Bruno station, the train sounds much more muffled than the screeching you hear at downtown SF stations.

  • I live in SF but spend a few weeks each year in NYC and ride the subway often enough to have my own MTA Senior Citizen Easy Pay Card. Two salient points: (1) I wear shoes and almost never get a seat, so all I’m concerned about is the cleanliness of the pole I’m hanging on to, and (2) The New York Metro runs much more often and gets you to your destination much faster than Muni, so there’s less time spent mulling over your environment.

    My gripes are less with the cleanliness than with the behavior of even the most well-groomed subway riders: (1) They have developed the knack of starddling two seats (uncomfortable as it is) so that noone can sit too close to them, and (2) Never, ever will you see a New York subway rider offer his seat to an elderly or infirm person. Muni riders (millennials aside) are much more civilized in that regard.

  • Ok- here’s one for you. About a decade ago I was on my way downtown to a date on the subway in New York. Can’t remember the which line it was, but there was a seemingly mentally unstable man rubbing his hands all over the poles. He was doing it in a very deliberate, strange way. I watched him for a few minutes and realized her was sticking his hands in his ass crack, and rubbing them along the poles… that we all touch. I was shocked speechless, and was too young to stand up to a guy like that anyway. Not sure what exactly to do, I just stared, jaw dropped. After a couple of long minutes, the conductor came out of her little booth and yelled at the guy. He hopped off the train quickly, and she (the conductor) looked at me. I guess I looked as shocked as I was, cause she said something like, “Don’t eva touch the poles, honey. They’re nasty.” Um, yeah.
    *I’ve been in SF for 5 year, and I ride MUNI daily. It sucks compared to the subway in NY. NY may be hot, and dirty, but it gets you there on time.

  • This NYC native says yes, New York’s subways are disgusting in ways that only a 100+ year old system can be. Generations of rat families (I completely believe the rat eating vomit story). Homeless living in disused tunnels. Stalagcites, as mentioned above. That persistent urine smell. On the other hand, 24 hour service covering four out of five boroughs (that’d be counties to you Bay Area natives) beats MUNI every day of the week. and while I do have to concur that New Yorkers will hardly ever give up a seat to anyone once they’ve claimed it, we will happily answer tourists’ questions when they’re puzzling over the subway map, unlike here.

  • JC

    Already an epic smell day on the subway and it’s not even 9:30. Can’t wait to get back to the fog and hobos!

  • March Hare

    I just moved to SF after living in NYC for 10 years, and though there are always exceptions, in general I have found BART & MUNI to be less clean and reliable than the NYC subway (and buses, I think, though I rarely needed to ride the bus in NY because the subway has such good coverage and is much faster). MUNI has much more graffiti, trash and sticky floors than the subway, and I agree with the sentiment that it was a bad idea to use carpet and fabric upholstery on BART.

    That said, the NYC subway platforms are pretty bad. They’re incredibly hot and humid in the summer, generally dirty and rat-infested, and you don’t get intelligible notifications of when the next train will come. Fortunately most of the time the trains come every 5-15 minutes so it’s not much of an issue.

  • Nate

    I saw a guy shit himself on an NYC subway car and then sit back down

    • Perhaps we should be more specific with this post: What’s the grossest thing you’ve seen on Muni or NYCMTA?

      I once saw a guy of already questionable hygiene on the 14-Mission cough crap all into his hands, then rub it all over the bars in the accordion seats like it ain’t no thang.

      I just gagged writing that, three years later.

      CAPTCHA: here spate

  • kat craw

    There is no competition here. I would take dirty subways that run 24-hours a day to all parts of the city carrying all types of people over the laissez faire Muni that runs once an hour, maybe, during business hours, only carries those that cannot afford a car after 6 pm, allows pit bulls and crack dealers to “do their business” on the bus in plain sight of the driver, and has routes that cover about 1/4 of the city. NYC has public transportation. SF has a bus or two.

  • muni_lover

    Couple of years ago coming down the stairs in the middle of a busy day down to the platform at Civic Center where you turn the corner on the stairs, I ran into a homeless man sitting there masturbating while watching the people walking around him or waiting for the outbound trains, sitting right there as if he had a front row seat. That didnt faze me as much as the gargantuan sized jar of vaseline open sitting next to him on the stairs. I didnt even know they made that size. It looked like half a gallon. Why would a homeless man with absolutely no other possessions have such a large container of vaseline??…shit.. scratch that question.

  • Nate, my friend Keith was on the last 29 of the night one time, heading home. He was the only passenger on the bus–besides a guy who was “mentally off.” The “mentally off” guy was in the back of the bus, while my friend Keith had taken a seat in the front. During the ride, Keith noticed an awful smell, looked at the man, and saw that the man was taking a crap. Keith alerted the driver that, “that man is defecating in the back of the bus.” The driver didn’t do anything about it. Part of me thinks, “Well, what *could* he do?”, but it seems like the drivers should at least have something they can use to cover bodily functions. (I’ve been on the bus before when a little kid threw up, and lots of people I know have been on buses with puke. Puke, crap…these are health hazards, people.)

    Also, a few years back, I was headed from SF State to meet people at Lovejoy’s. I waited close to 40 minutes for an M train. It came, and naturally had a breakdown as we approached the West Portal tunnel. We all got off and were shepherded onto a Muni KLM bus (something was wrong in the tunnel, so no trains would be going in or out). As I climbed onto this bus, I was practically knocked over by the smell of urine. It was so strong I felt like I was in a bathroom that hadn’t been cleaned in five years. I then noticed a yellow puddle near the back doors. I thought, “How could there be a *puddle* of urine?” I mean, if someone wet themselves, there might be a few drops on the floor, but for their to be a puddle means that someone actually peed on the floor. As I was puzzling this through in my mind, the bus was growing ever more crowded, and a woman who was standing and holding on put her bag down on the ground…right in the puddle of what I’m pretty sure was urine. I about puked.

    It was at this point that I realized I could have taken the 48, instead of ending up on this godawful Muni train replacement bus.

    Still, I feel I should say that I spent last summer in NYC and never got used to the rats. I have the creep-crawlies just thinking of them now…

    Oh–but also…MTA monthly pass was $93/month, and I would so, so, soooooo pay that for a Muni fast pass (or Clipper card) if our system could then also become as efficient as the subway in NYC. A girl can dream

    Captcha is “bidders overall”…make of that what you will.

  • Andrew

    Transplanted SF – > NYC

    NY Subway: Get’s you where you want to go, has smellier people and far more disgusting messes in the trains, may not come ever but you can generally hop out of the subway and go take a different train, convenient payment method, super old and looks like the whole system is about to collapse, mostly good temperature control. Full of crazy people

    MUNI: Underground goes nowhere slowly, busses are generally slow and may or may not show up, is impossible to take if you don’t have the right change, no alternative (try to get a cab…), if a door doesn’t close on the K train on Market Street the whole system shuts down. Full of crazy people.

  • Eric Wayne

    I’ll never forget the 19.. coming through the civic center, a rare SF day of heat with the temps in the 80s. I was on my way home from using the public computers at the Library. A homeless guy gets on an already sardine-packed bus and stand at the back. Smell-o-rama, but that’s not it. 2 stops later he’s grinning from ear to ear… and then the smell hits us – he’d pooped his pants!!! The bus was immediately 75% less full. I guess that’s why San Francisco is frequently called a “walking city.”

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