London Underground describes the fragrance as a "rich, rosy, jasmine bouquet with a touch of herbs" -- though one passenger likened it to a cross between perfume and insect repellent. "We are constantly looking at ways to make our stations more pleasant," said Mike Brown, the Underground's director of station services. "With over 3 million passengers a day, we admit that the Underground can become an interesting collection of odors -- some nice, some not so nice."
London Underground describes the smell inside stations as a "mix of musty air and detergent." Grease, dust and body odor add to the miasma in the Tube's dank tunnels, many of which are more than 100 years old. "You have a greasy note from the wheels and rails, as well as the odor of people and of food. Because it is an enclosed space, the odor is enhanced," said Pierre Nuyens, the French perfumer who created the new fragrance.
A coat of the slow-release freshener will be sprayed onto station floors each day after their early-morning cleaning. It dries into a film of microscopic bubbles, which release their scent when walked on.
The fragrance is modeled on Madeleine, a floral freshener introduced two years ago on the Paris Metro. British commuters, however, are thought to prefer a fruitier, less flowery bouquet.
"We've added marine and citrus notes," said Linda Harman, spokeswoman for Quest International, the fragrance company that developed the scent.
For Nuyens, the bouquet has the complexity of a fine wine. "It's a body of floral notes -- lily-of-the-valley with touches of rose and jasmine -- freshened with lemon, orange and bergamot and with woody notes at the base," he said.
On Monday, most commuters at St. James's Park station in central London welcomed the new smell. "It smells pleasant, I suppose. Halfway between perfume and insect repellent," said Jeremy Hiltner, a 20-year-old Coloradan studying in London.
"I think the Underground needs nice perfumes," said Nicci Johnson, a 19-year-old student from Alton, 45 miles southwest of London. Michelle Mackett, an American based in Germany, was doubtful. "Some people are allergic to perfume," she pointed out.
London Underground says all the scent's ingredients have been safety tested. Madeleine has been used in Paris for two years without complaint, an Underground spokeswoman noted.
London Underground says if the scent proves popular, it will consider introducing it across the system. But the Tube -- plagued by dingy stations, frequent delays and ferocious rush-hour overcrowding -- needs more than cosmetic changes.
London Transport estimates it needs $575 million a year simply to arrest the decline. Prime Minister Tony Blair's government proposes raising the funds through a part-privatization of the Underground, but Mayor Ken Livingstone wants to keep the subway in public hands. Their dispute is headed to the courts.
"I can't smell anything," said Rachael Goodwin, 36, who was waiting on the platform at St. James's Park. "There are better things they could spend the money on, I should think.'