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"Hot Town Summer In The City...

By Jocelyn Geboy in News on May 24, 2006 8:38PM

..big news flash, the CTA is so gritty."

We've all been there: Getting on a late night train and being greeted by the sour smell of urine in a fetid wave. Squeezing on a packed train after a long day to find an empty seat beckoning in the distance -- only to find when you approach it that it is empty for a reason -- something unnameable and horrifying is on its ratty surface. Embarking on a mid-afternoon weekend jaunt and finding that the car looks like a wild band of teenaged wolves has attacked, leaving juice boxes, sunflower seeds and candy wrappers everywhere.
Being the investigative reporting powerhouse that they are (and one of the main contributors to garbage on the CTA), the Red Eye hired some peeps to go around to a couple of cars, buses and stations and do a little science to see how nast things really are. With a swab and a light device (doesn't it remind you of this show just a little?), Slade Smith of Northland Laboratories went looking for ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a molecule found in all living cells, including bodily fluids. They went to two cars on the Red Line, two on the Brown line, two buses and surfaces at two stations.

The more ATP found, the dirtier the surface. The dirtiest surfaces were the hand cords on the buses and the upholstered seats on the el and buses. The upholstered seats were introduced in 1991 to deter graffiti and to be "more comfortable for riders." We're not sure what the CTA thinks comfortable is, but that thin layer of 1970's twill isn't really helping our asses any.

The el cars are spot cleaned every four hours and cleaned thoroughly once a day. For those of you who are as curious about spot cleaning as we are, "Spot cleaning means clearing out trash, checking for and removing spills or dealing with "biohazard" issues such as bodily fluids," CTA spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said. The buses are 'intensely cleaned' every 15 days. The intense cleaning involves a process whereby the cars are sanitized to kill any bacteria that may be lingering including things like staph and hepatitis. In the past year, they invested in new water vacuum cleaning machines to clean the inserts better, but Smith said that was somewhat futile as it doesn't kill microscopic creatures -- ostensibly the ones that get us sick.

smussyolayNow, it's obvious you wouldn't want to have a medical procedure done on the CTA, but we're wondering just how bad it really is. Is it any worse than dealing with a public bathroom or flying on an airplane? Coming to work when others are hacking and coughing around your desk? We admit we're not germophobes. We play by the five second rule and we aren't ashamed of it. And if you think that's crazy, don't ever ask anyone who's worked in a restaurant what goes on behind closed doors. You'll never eat out again.

So tell us. What's the nastiest thing you've ever seen on a bus or el car? That is, filth or dirt wise? Tell your stories in the comments.

Images via smussyolay and fueledbycoffee.