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Can L.A. De-Stink Its Metro?

The city is installing lavender-smelling deodorizers in train cars to address rider complaints.

L.A. Metro

Public transit doesn’t have to reek, says L.A.’s Metro. As part of its ongoing fleet improvement, the transit authority is installing a bunch of hefty, in-train deodorizers, which it hopes will tamper offensive odors like rancid sweat, clinging cigarette funk, and worse.

“The idea is to try and neutralize any strong smell, bad or good,” says Rick Jager, a Metro communications manager. “There have been complaints [about] odor issues on trains, from individual body odor, smokers, people with very strong perfume, strong-smelling food brought on board the trains, etc. Facilities maintenance decided to see if it was possible to place deodorizers on the trains, and found there was space to place them near the HVAC air filters.”

Anna Chen/The Source/L.A. Metro

The deodorizers (brand name: “Odor Genie”) are going in four-to-a-car on the Red and Purple lines. If they work out well, the Metro might install them on more lines, where they’ll passively absorb scents into charcoal sponges until needing to be changed in about two months. Chances are that riders might not even notice.

“From personal experience, the lavender-vanilla scent is very light and you need to be pretty up-close to smell it,” says Jager. “That said, I observed anecdotally that the scent might be more noticeable in a place that doesn’t see much movement, like a bathroom or bedroom, but on a moving train it’s not that noticeable at all.”

Jager says he hasn’t heard of any other U.S. transit agency currently using deodorizers, so it’s possible L.A. is a modern-day pioneer of nose-pleasing commuting. But globally, a Singapore bus operator is attempting to boost ridership by rolling out vehicles that pump out a “signature scent,” as my colleague Linda Poon recently reported. If we were to go way back, New York City did roll out an experimental subway car in the 1950s that included not just deodorizers but germ filters and soft, piped-in music, though it’s uncertain if those scent-killing devices ever saw widespread adoption.

H/t L.A. Magazine

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.