How Clean Is My Station? (2017 Edition)

Recently, the Toronto Star ran an article with the headline “19 of Toronto’s 20 dirtiest subway stations are on the Bloor-Danforth line”. One could (mis)read that as implying that the BD line is some sort of cesspool of poorly maintained stations, while the YUS is a sparkling beacon. There is also an unfortunate echo of arguments made by some that the BD line gets second class treatment because of the people it serves.

Intrigued to learn what the details of station cleanliness scores actually looked like, I asked for a copy from the TTC, and this was provided by Stuart Green, a sidekick in TTC Communications of the better-known Brad Ross.

Green provided a few comments to flesh out the numbers:

You will see an obvious upward trend globally, notwithstanding a few peaks and valleys.

Andy [Byford] has made station cleanliness a priority and our customers have noticed. Our modernized station management model and the hard work of our frontline janitorial staff are making a tremendous difference.

In a subway environment, the TTC is one of the cleanest systems in the world (just visit NYC). Our customer satisfaction surveys also reflect customer appreciation for just how clean stations – and vehicles – are today over five years ago.

FYI, we are also in the process of procuring new equipment which can blast clean the terrazzo surfaces with much better results (see attached pic).

A few points…

The rating criteria is established by the TTC and provided to our external auditors.

The summary of it as follows:

  • The scoring for each component (glass, metal, platform edge markers, elevators etc) is rated on a low-high scale of 1-5.  The auditors assess the cleanliness of the components based on the criteria listed in the contract and scores it accordingly.
  • The audit report takes the score for each component and averages them together to come up with a station score.
  • Components of the stations are also averaged to see what specific items are problematic in a station.

The data are revealing when they are split apart in various ways. First, the system average scores including the maximum and minimum values attained in each survey by individual stations.

As Green notes, there is an upward trend, although it stalled for a considerable period  from 2012-14, and after an improvement in 2015-16, values fell again in 2017. Quite clearly there was a wide range of scores back in 2008 when this process started, but a lot of the improvement over early years was to pull up the bottom performers (thereby increasing both the minimum score and the average). The maximum score did not start to rise substantially until 2015.

There are two obvious points where there are changes in the data:

  • The gap for the first part of 2011 was caused by a change in the contractors doing the condition surveys. It is intriguing that the first results from the new contractor showed a dip in values although this was quickly reset. Whether this was due to a change in TTC practices, or a re-calibration of the survey is hard to know.
  • There is a marked improvement starting in 2015, although more so in the maximum values. Much of this improvement fell away by 2017.

When the data are split apart by route, here is what we see:

The biggest jump for 2015 came on the Sheppard line with Yonge a close second and then the SRT. What is quite striking is that the improvement had little effect on the Bloor-Danforth line.

Another factor that stands out here are dips in Q1 of recent years probably due to winter conditions. This could well be a function of when the surveys were done as past years show data explicitly for December and March, but not for January or February.

The TTC’s goal for these scores was to achieve 72 points until the end of 2012, and from 2013 onward the goal was reset at 75. All of the averages lie within 10% of the target – we are not looking at two major lines of which one is pristine and the other filthy. That said, it is worth delving further to individual station scores. To balance between clutter and the ability to compare many stations, I have broken the BD and YUS lines into three segments each.

For the western part of the BD line scores have remained fairly constant over many years, although the tight grouping of the 2011-13 period opens up a bit from 2014 onward. The perpetually dingy Dundas West Station often sits at the bottom of the pack while High Park is often at or near the top.


In the central part of the line, St. George pulled out in front in 2014 and has remained there, at least relative to this group of stations, and its score consistently has beaten the 75 point target. This begs an obvious question of “what happened at St. George?”

To the east, there is a notable drop at Woodbine in recent years, although this is almost certainly due to construction. Other stations with construction projects also show a dip, but with little sign of recovery. This begs the question of whether conditions during such projects become a “new normal” for station maintenance.

Across all of the BD line, the close grouping and consistency of most station scores from 2011 through 2014 at values in the low 70s is quite striking.

Meanwhile on the YUS line, there is a quite different pattern.

Starting in 2015, there is a jump in scores for downtown stations (the “U” south of Bloor) with many scores into the 80-90 range. Two notable exceptions are Dundas in 2014-15, although it has since recovered, and Union which has been under construction. It is worth noting that Union, even though it is nominally “completed” still ranks well below other stations in this group.

As with the downtown stations, those on the Yonge line north from Bloor show a marked improvement starting in 2015. The straggler, St. Clair, has moved back into the centre of the pack, although that is as much a case of downturn in scores for other stations as it was for recent improvements at St. Clair.

On the Spadina line, scores began to improve for some stations in 2014.

On the SRT, it is no surprise that the Town Centre station scores the lowest, although this is a particularly bad score. This is the most used station on the line (Kennedy is scored as part of the BD line) with a large bus terminal. For many years, STC station scored at or near the bottom of the pack system-wide. Finch was another poor-performer in early years, but this changed as scores for YUS stations generally rose.

On Sheppard, the stations are comparatively lightly used except for Don Mills, and yet it manages to attain scores comparable to the other stations. Indeed recent scores for this line converge to a remarkable degree.

The Scoring System and Perceptions of Cleanliness

All of this begs several questions both about TTC maintenance practices and about how the scoring is affected by basic station conditions.

As Stuart Green noted, the station scores have several components:

The scoring for each component (glass, metal, platform edge markers, elevators etc) is rated on a low-high scale of 1-5.

However, various parts of any station undergo deep cleaning (as opposed to routine dusting and washing) on different cycles with different crews at different times of the year. For example, lighting fixtures are disassembled and cleaned (roughly) annually, and there is a quite noticeable improvement to the look of a station when this happens. Major cleaning and polishing of floors, escalators and elevators also occurs infrequently, and probably by different crews cycling around the system. Centre platform station walls can only be cleaned by crews on a work train that can reach them as opposed to side platform stations where the walls are beside the platforms. Track level cleaning happens every few weeks (based on observations of the longevity of debris at busy locations), but even so accumulations of “subway fur” can be substantial notably at Yonge Station.

It is highly unlikely that every aspect of a station will be in “tip top” shape at any one time because of the cyclic nature of this work. Therefore a perfect score of 5 in each category will almost never occur (except when a station is brand new), and hence an overall score of 100 will be hard to attain. The real challenge is to keep any component from dipping badly below a “4” which would correspond to an 80% score.

Green mentioned a photo of a recently cleaned stairway showing the benefit of new machinery at the TTC.

Eglinton Station south stairway to mezzanine. June 14, 2017. Photo courtesy of TTC.

This is the stairway from platform level to the south end of the mezzanine at Eglinton Station (the second from the south end of the platform overall) with one half cleaned and the other not. I visited this station and made a few observations:

  • The two halves now look the same because the other half had been done after this photo was taken on June 14, 2017.
  • The stairs did not look as “warm” as of August 19 as they do in the photo. Their colour is more gray than brown because the ambient light here is dominated by the typical bluish tinge of most station lighting. My suspicion is that additional lighting used for this photo improved the look of the stairway. Even the gray tiles look better than normal.
  • Nearby stairs (the next one north) have clearly not been cleaned and offer a contrast to this test example.

Eglinton is going to be a mess for the next few years as it undergoes major changes for the Crosstown LRT connection, and it would be worthwhile for the TTC to make a special effort to counter the construction effects as much as possible.

This photo begs the question of how much a station’s “look and feel” are affected by lighting. There are several components to this:

  • There are two types of luminaires used in most stations – the original round ones with fluted surfaces, and plain triangular ones. In either case, they accumulate subway dirt and there is a striking change when they are cleaned.
  • The TTC has begun to use LED lighting (St. Andrew was the test station), but conversion is a large project and would likely occur only when a station needs major work. An issue worth exploring is the spectrum of light coming from the new LEDs and whether a warmer spectrum can improve the ambience of stations.
  • Stations with natural light could look better simply because they are in the open, although this could be offset by weather and dirt blowing in.
  • Visible at the top of the photo is a classic problem for stations – the “missing teeth” effect of ceiling slats that have been removed for construction work. This, together with the discolouration of slats and mismatched replacements, contributes to an unfinished look in stations. Keeping the ceilings intact is an ongoing battle that is not helped by the fact that the crews who remove and replace ceilings are not the ones who do the construction work.

The TTC faces a challenge with the opening of the new stations on the TYSSE to Vaughan. Although these are architecturally impressive, they are physically much larger than “typical” stations on the rest of the line, and they will consume a disproportionate amount of maintenance resources just to keep them clean. Whether this will actually be provided, or be “stolen” from other parts of the system, or if the TYSSE stations will live for a few years off of their gleaming new interiors before starting to look uncared-for, remains to be seen. Like Sheppard line stations, some of them will benefit from comparatively low traffic volumes.


Overall, the scores for station cleanliness do show that the Bloor-Danforth stations are not at the same level as those on the Yonge-University-Spadina line. That said, the differences are not huge, and the BD stations are hardly a mess demanding major improvements. Even the “worst” stations are not pigsties.

However, there is clearly some difference in practices for the two lines, and this set in about three years ago when YUS scores improved and BD scores did not. The TTC needs to understand just what is happening here.

The TTC should also make a special effort to keep stations with construction projects clean to the degree this is possible under the circumstances. Construction should not be used as an excuse to defer work and to let conditions run down to be dealt with “when the project completes”.

Station maintenance is an area that is labour intensive, and where past years have seen cutbacks to make do with available budgets and headcounts. The effect is a gradual, subtle decline as the effect of longer major cleaning cycles builds up across the system. By the time this is an acknowledged problem, the leaner staffing and work model is already entrenched and climbing back to a better state becomes a fight for resources that should not have been cut in the first place. This is a microcosm for system maintenance overall, but one of the more visible faces of what can happen in a large organization seeking “efficiencies”.


The full set of charts is available in this PDF: Station Audit Scores

The raw scores for all stations as supplied by the TTC are available in this spreadsheet: Station Audit Scores Raw

See also How Clean Is My Station? from May 2010.

23 thoughts on “How Clean Is My Station? (2017 Edition)

  1. I remember how filthy the Sheppard platform on the Yonge line looked during construction of the Sheppard line and thought that it’ll be cleaned up by opening day of the new line. I was wrong…


  2. I can speak to a couple of these stations.

    Yonge: When the TTC cleaned Yonge up a couple of years back, replacing over-track ceiling slats that had ‘icicles’ of some kind (even in the summer) the mismatch in colour of the new/cleaned slats to the old ones was very striking and drew attention to the discolouration on the remaining original ones.

    Main: Bus Terminal ceiling is supposed to be TTC White. Its barely charcoal grey. It hasn’t had a paint job in at least a decade. I asked Chris Upfold if he get it power washed. (this was maybe 4-5 years ago). It was. However, they didn’t do the area over the collector’s booth.

    This resulted in the dirt being even more glaring than it was before.

    Victoria Park: Nice overall, post-reno. But what appears to be leak damage on new ceilings detracts

    General: When platform floors are cleaned to a nice gleaming standard, they always seem to miss the lip that climbs the edge of the wall. Again contrast being a terrible enemy of good perception.

    Also a problem is the move to paint the over-track areas black. Not that this is such a bad idea, but in my experience it takes inordinate time with 1/2 done paint jobs for the longest time. This is mainly a B/D issue as the ceilings on Y/U/S have to my knowledge all been converted to the black scheme.


  3. The amont of people using a station is a huge factor. Stations with fast food outlets are likely to have more debris.


  4. Long gone are the days where they would wash the platform walls with heavy machinery.

    Just my two cents here but perhaps the drive to cut costs and go eco-friendly are having an effect on station appearance.

    I can safely say eco-friendly products are great but they are no match for heavy duty cleaning products. I would rather be blinded by the smell of cleaning cleaning products than see a dirty station.

    Also, Woodbine may have been a lost cause. No matter how much you try to keep it clean construction sites will always be dirty and coated in crap. It would have been a waste of resources unless they were abating something.

    All in all.. I would love to see the tunnel washers back.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the reasons why they no longer wash the tunnels and platform walls is because the drains in the subway connect to the storm sewer and not to the ones for waste collection from homes etc. They are working on getting some new equipment for cleaning the tunnels though.


  6. I had to jump to the end of the article to comment – SUBWAY FUR – dying with laughter!!

    Steve: That’s what the TTC calls the mixture of brake shoe dust, grease, general tunnel dirt and animal droppings that accumulates throughout the tunnels.


  7. Honestly if they were to wash the tunnels the levels of dirt and grime would go down substantially.

    All that brake dust and diesel exhaust accumulates in the tunnels and tracks into the stations. I hope this new equipment helps.

    Steve: The new equipment is for cleaning the station floors and stairs, not the tunnels. A big problem there is that the Ministry of Environment won’t let them flush that “fur” down the sewers.


  8. Dumb question, couldn’t you just have a liner cut correctly to fit over the track (say for a 1km length), and run a washer car over that; followed by one that suctioned up the run off?

    Steve: Easier said that done when you think about the geometry.

    The TTC will be acquiring two new tunnel washing cars in 2020-21 according to their capital budget.


  9. Amusing side note to my earlier post, happened to be in Main Stn yesterday, and noticed a skyjack at the bus terminal level. My first thought “The power of Steve’s blog at work!”

    Steve: Don’t forget that this started with an article in the Star.


  10. To recap: BD has dirtier stations, dirtier trains, and broken AC. A perfect trifecta!

    An issue worth exploring is the spectrum of light coming from the new LEDs and whether a warmer spectrum can improve the ambience of stations.

    Dupont is a prime example! The new cool LED fixtures don’t mesh with the station colours at all. Warmer LED fixtures more closely matching the originals would look a thousand times better.

    Steve: The “dirtier trains” is a combination of two factors. One is that the bodies are brushed aluminum rather than stainless steel, and the other is that a few years back the washer at Greenwood was out of service for an extended period and trains got really dirty. I have to wonder if they ever got back to the frequency of thorough cleaning needed by those cars.

    The AC problem has been much less this year thanks to a big overhaul program last winter and the cooler weather. I have only encountered a few cars without working AC.

    That was a case where the AC overhauls were scheduled for the next round of major repairs in a few years, but the installed units did not make it to their expected lives. Such are the problems with equipment that has a long and not necessarily predictable service life.

    In a decade, we will see what starts to go wrong with the TRs everyone loves on Yonge so much.


  11. James said: Amusing side note to my earlier post, happened to be in Main Stn yesterday, and noticed a skyjack at the bus terminal level. My first thought “The power of Steve’s blog at work!”

    I would like to mention that the Skyjack has been there since the Jazz Festival if not longer. I think whatever work they were doing kinda got stalled. It is that or the Skyjack is parked there awaiting pickup.

    This is going to sound stupid but you are of the right vintage to recall such things Steve. Do you know if the Davisville car washing equipment still works? If I recall correctly they have devices mounted on towers I believe they are the red towers scattered amongst the track in the yard.

    Steve: Those are fire towers. The car wash is inside the carhouse.


  12. One of the surprising things I found out in my life is that electric engines – such as in the subway – have consumables. This consists of carbon black blocks that rest on the rotors and wear down over time – also spreading black carbon dust all over the system. (About 15 or 16 years ago I visited a fabricator where these were cut from larger blocks.) Keeping the subway clean – and avoiding black residue – will always be a challenge.

    Steve: I believe this was more of a problem with DC motors than with the AC motors now used, but I will leave that discussion to others who comment here regularly.


  13. About the sky jack in main street station, I’ve seen it moved around a few times so I believe they must be doing something with the roof structure of the station. It’s kept up when not in use so people doesn’t play around with it.


  14. Most DC motors including those that you used to find in the subway have brushes that are made out of a carbon and grease compound that make the electrical connections to the commutator on the motor’s armature. So yes, they’d wear over time and contribute to dust production in their operating environments. This used to be a problem in other places too; elevator machine rooms come to mind in particular. DC motors aren’t maintenance free. The brushes need to be replaced periodically and the holders adjusted and commutators need to be kept clean so it doesn’t get pitted and cause sparking that wears brushes out quicker or carbon gunk doesn’t build up and cause the thing to flash over and short out.

    This is generally not a problem with AC motors since most of those are induction type machines that have no physical electrical connection to the rotor. Not having a commutator and brushes is where the big savings in terms of labour intensive maintenance reduction comes from. Reduced dust production’s incidental to that. The major exception of course are wound rotor AC motors like synchronous motors or universal motors (think PRR low frequency AC type electrification back in the day), but what you’d find in the subway are three phase squirrel cage induction motors so no brushes which is good, but on the downside require drive circuits involving those dastardly electronics that everyone loves so much.


  15. If I recall correctly the aluminum body cars need an acidic based wash to clean them. The original GO transit single levels which were made out of the same aluminum had a coat of a clear shellac put on them to keep the aluminum from oxidizing and absorbing dirt. This meant that they could be washed with regular soap and water so CN would not need to modify its washing equipment.

    DC traction motors use graphite (carbon) brushes to provide a low friction electrical connection to the rotating commutator which is a series of metal bands, each connected to a different part of the rotating windings in the motor. These brushes are a wear item that need to be replaced at regular intervals. Also the commutators need to have the carbon dust cleaned from them. Failure to clean them can result in a commutator flash over which can pop the circuit breakers or fuses. It can result in a spectacular blue flash under the car.

    AC motors have neither commutators nor brushes and the rotating part looks like a cage that mice or squirrels use to run in; thus it is a squirrel cage induction motor. AC motors can only run at the frequency of the electricity that is fed into them. It took the advent of large power solid state switching transistors to make AC motors practical on rail service. AC motors have less than 1/2 the mass of comparable powered DC motors and require less maintenance.

    AC motors have another advantage because if the wheels start to spin (loose traction), the current in the squirrel cage drops and the motor slows down. In DC motors if they start to spin, the back EMF drops and they spin out of control. It is possible for the wheels to burn deep grooves into the rail, burn the tread off the wheels or have the rotating part of the motor disintegrate because of centripetal forces. Because of this DC motors can only exert a tractive effort (accelerating force) between 20 to 25% of the weight on the axle whereas AC motors can exert a tractive effort of 40% or more. This is why most AC motored EMUs only have 1/2 of the axles powered.

    I also believe that AC motors can be used in regenerative mode to lower speed than DC motors. This will also reduce the amount of brake shoe dust.


  16. I think McCowan station is missing in the charts.

    Steve: McCowan Station disappears once the SRT is replaced by the subway extension. So do Ellesmere and Midland. Lawrence East becomes a SmartTrack station.


  17. Steve: McCowan Station disappears once the SRT is replaced by the subway extension. So do Ellesmere and Midland. Lawrence East becomes a SmartTrack station.

    I’ll believe that when it actually happens.

    Steve: Maybe so, but those are the plans.


  18. Steve: Embarrassing as it is to be so out of date that I was unaware that subways now use AC Motors – it is also an opportunity to enjoy the great value of this Blog. The explanations from TTC Passenger and Robert Wightman are much appreciated and now I am much better informed. Thank you to both.


  19. Islington station’s far walls, on both sides of the island platform, look as if the station has been used to store dirt. Maybe the spaces actually used by riders are reasonably clean (when the pigeons aren’t wandering around), but anyone standing on the platform, staring at the grimy walls would be hard-pressed to call the station anything other than filthy. The off-white and pale blue colour scheme really help to show grime.

    So, the audits may be nice and everything, but they don’t accurately catch the subjective impression that stations can give. So while they may be tools when the TTC is managing its maintenance staff and contractors, please don’t tell riders that a station is clean (or filthy) based on a limited set of criteria.


  20. Andy brings up a good point.

    I am surprised they do not use laser cleaning on the walls and in the tunnels. They used it at Union Station in the Great Hall so it can be done. I wonder if a high temp laser though would lead to a Plan A, B or C instead of cleaning via heating up the fur.

    In any case it would be environmentally friendly albeit by burning off the fur.

    Steve: The last thing you want to do is to set alight the crap that is on the tunnel walls. It has a lot of grease in it, and a fire would be hard to control. There would also be fumes that would be dangerous for workers in the tunnel.


  21. TTC Passenger said: “but on the downside require drive circuits involving those dastardly electronics that everyone loves so much.”

    If a DC motor was to be used for a traction drive in something like a modern train nowadays, it too would be driven by a power electronic circuit (or several of them in series) just for the controllability and interoperability this allows.

    Steve: Solid state control of subway motors began with the H-5 series of cars. It has been around for a long time even before the move to AC motors.


  22. Andre S. | August 30, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    TTC Passenger said: “but on the downside require drive circuits involving those dastardly electronics that everyone loves so much.”

    “If a DC motor was to be used for a traction drive in something like a modern train nowadays, it too would be driven by a power electronic circuit (or several of them in series) just for the controllability and interoperability this allows.”

    The modern electronics are a lot better and lighter than the old chopper circuits on the 70s. They used Silicon Controlled Rectifiers (SCRs) which could be turned on easily to conduct very large currents. The problem with them was they could not be turned off unless the current through them was dropped to zero. This required a much larger and complicated circuit to turn it off than was required to turn it on. Modern electronics such as Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors can be turned on AND off very easily. This has made electronic controls, especially inverters for AC motors, much cheaper to build and maintain. I doubt you will see any new installation of DC traction motors in public transit vehicles. Transport for London just issued a contract I believe to replace the DC motors its last set of trains with AC motors and solid state controllers.


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