There is less trash and fewer rats lurking at subway stations where garbage cans have been nixed, the MTA said Thursday.

The agency began experimenting with taking out the cans as part of a pilot program in 2011 to decrease the number of garbage bags in stations -- as well as the rats that munch on litter.

"This pilot appears counterintuitive but when we placed notices at the pilot stations indicating that the cans had been removed and asked the customers for their cooperation, it looks like they listened," said Carmen Bianco, president of New York City Transit.

Almost 40 stations are now can-free and the MTA has seen drops in garbage and rats at the stops. These stations also have lower rates of track fires than stations that do have garbage cans.

The stops range from Queens Flushing-Main Street stop on the No. 7 line to 8th Street on the R in Manhattan.

"This station is pretty clean, especially the tracks," said Elizabeth van Meder, 23, about the 8th Street station. "It seems counterintuitive to have less trash cans, but if you think about it in terms of less rodents going through the trash and making people take it out with them, this station at least seems like it's working."

Riders at the can-free stops have to carry their trash out with them. The MTA takes out 40 tons of garbage daily from the subway from the 3,500 remaining cans and about half of it is recycled.

Much of that garbage is removed by work trains, which  compete for track space with trains carrying passengers, the MTA said.

Joseph Leader, senior vice president of the department of subways, said the pilot has freed up workers who were picking up garbage bags from those stops. "The significant reduction in trash reduced the need for trash pickups in the pilot stations, which freed up personnel for deployment to other stations," he said.

Marc Augustine, 43, said at the 57th Street station, which is part of the pilot, that he was glad the MTA was trying to cut down on litter and rats.

"I'm impressed that they're trying this in the first place," he said. "I didn't know this was implemented, but it's cool nonetheless. It looks like it isn't as dirty as usual, or as dirty as you usually think it would be, so it seems this program is doing its job."

But rider Hayley Saylor, 22, of Harlem said litter is the least of her worries about subway cleanliness.

"The amount of people relieving themselves on platforms combined with the mystery liquids and stains will forever prevent me from feeling clean after taking the train," she said.

The MTA said it will continue the pilot program for another six months to a year to analyze the results from it.

Board member Charles Moerdler said earlier this year that removing cans from stations is not a wise idea.

"The report sounds promising," he said Thursday. "However, the concept is counter-intuitive and I would therefor want to see documented results from a longer term and greater geographically distributed program before I am convinced."

The Department of Sanitation said they constantly monitor garbage baskets citywide and have not noticed any litter build-up above subway stations.

(With Carla Sinclair)