How much filth is too much filth for the MTA?
By Claire Nunez
As you round the corner of Fordham Road onto Grand Concourse and you begin to descend the dimly lit D line subway stairwell, you are overcome by the incredible stench of urine, alcohol, and as always, a hidden mystery scent. The overwhelmingly hot corridor, questionable liquid beneath your feet, and the exciting joy of seeing someone vomit up last night’s party is always a part of a grand journey through the boroughs. No subway ride is complete without someone either dancing or singing with the hopes of someone handing over a few dollars. On September 21, a new subway star was recognized and brought to fame: the Pizza Rat—this is not one of your average subway performers, but a fuzzy, disease carrying little vermin of the underworld.
A comedic yet disturbing video of a brave-hearted and determined rat scampering with an entire pizza slice down the stairs has earned nearly 2 million views in 24 hours. The Pizza Rat is the pinnacle example of subway station cleanliness or the lack thereof. There’s garbage everywhere you look. Trash, trash, nothing but trash, big pieces, little pieces, all of this trash. Now, New York’s state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, is seeking to add more trash cans to our stations. Okay, so more garbage cans would maybe help, but only to a certain extent. This plan is slightly ironic considering he is the one that piloted a program to remove waste bins from subway platforms. This initiative also reduced the amount of full bags removed from stations. Removing the bins was meant to encourage subway riders to bring their trash with them, instead of tossing it into overflowing cans which would encourage unsightly vermin to snack, now it’s a casual event to see cockroaches, rats, and mice eating a half-empty bag of chips just two feet away.
DiNapoli’s grand idea only encouraged people to toss their leftover food on the train tracks or to just puke all over the concrete. Our closest subway station is also particularly disgusting at times, especially on a Sunday morning. There is definitely a difference between the cleanliness of the 4 and D lines at least. Maybe the City of New York should consider standardizing the cleanliness of all stations before just propping up a few garbage cans. The 4 Line is kept much cleaner, possibly because it is a highly trafficked line as it leads to Yankee Stadium and it connects multiple lines to each other, but every line should be kept to the same standard of neatness. Is that too much to ask? Why can’t every station be equally sanitary?
Apparently yes, DiNapoli’s campaign has been proven ineffective by his own reports. This 2015 report states that 97% of stations do not receive the recommended amount of cleanings and 88% get fewer than half of the suggested cleanings. 12% of the vacuums used to clean the subway tracks are broken and have not been used in the past year. This would explain the empty soda cups and various food-covered wrappers that forever pollute the lines and attract not-so-friendly little buddies. The actual subway trains are much cleaner than the stations themselves, but the platforms are new riders’ first impression of the system. When I first rode the subway, I stepped into the mysterious river of liquid as I walked down the stairs and thought to myself, “I should really put these shoes in a vat of Purell.” It’s discouraging to tourists to use a mode of transportation that is so unsanitary when there is the allure of a taxi right outside. Unfortunately for us germaphobes on a budget, we just have to swallow our fears and take the subway anyway, but that doesn’t stop us from cringing about it.
If this is how one of the most populated American cities presents its most used mode of transportation, what does this say about our city as a whole? New Yorkers aren’t dirty, but the way we present some of our establishments suggests we are. As citizens of New York, it is our duty to try and keep our city pristine, but then again, it is our city’s job to do that as well. The MTA should attempt to keep these areas clean to promote mass transit, which would boost New York’s economy and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from cars or buses. DiNapoli’s seemingly sudden interest in the cleanliness of our stations is also extraordinarily frightening. It shouldn’t take the immense bravery of one tiny little plague-carrying creature to open anyone’s eyes to the grime of these stations. The MTA needs to take some kind of action to fix this incredibly huge and underplayed problem. Yes, the layers of dirt and chewed gum gives stations a bit of “character,” but is this something we need during our daily commutes? Of course not, we do need to be protected from rats though. Getting bit by one would be a serious problem for both parties.
Thanks to the Pizza Rat, we may finally see some change, even if it starts with just trash bins, it is a step towards cleaner subway stations. It will definitely take an immense amount of time because that’s just how everything subway-related goes. Until then, everyone should be sure to hold their pizza slices carefully to prevent another viral video of a rat scurrying away with a grandiose prize.