New Yorkers like to brag everything about their city is better, especially their storied subway system, which runs all day and night and takes riders anywhere they want to go.
So you’ll be shocked to hear what Bill Perkins, an actual New York state senator, has to say: “Washington is our role model.”
He’s talking about rodent control, an issue he’s devoted to much energy so that he’s earned the nickname The Rat Man. As a mass transit commuter himself, Perkins has seen the pests take over dozens of stations — including all 20 in his Harlem district. He’s watched them crawling not just among the tracks, but also on platforms, trains and even inside the Metrocard vending machines.
To prove his point, Perkins’ office conducted a “Have You Seen a Rat Today?” survey this summer. And indeed, only 1 percent of the 5,000 respondents reported “never” spying the creatures. It probably hasn’t helped matters that the Metropolitan Transit Authority recently laid off station cleaners who provided the last line of defense in the subterranean system.
That’s why Perkins is now on a crusade to ban food from the subway. “The rats do not buy or grow the food they’re eating,” he reasons. “If you feed ‘em, you breed ‘em.”
And as anyone who’s spent time in Washington knows, a food ban can be an effective method for minimizing rat populations. As Perkins puts it, “D.C. is the nation’s capital of rat-free commuter transportation.”
Getting New York’s MTA to agree to the prohibition won’t be easy, considering one source of the system’s income is station vendors who sell snacks. But Perkins insists that disgust among riders has reached such a high level that “without a doubt, it will happen.”
If it does, New York will then have to face the enforcement problems D.C. has experienced. Even the fear of a fine hasn’t been enough to keep many folks from nibbling, sipping and chewing during their daily commutes, which is why WMATA has constantly reminded riders with those “You gonna eat that?” rat ads (which poke fun at the Big Apple’s woes) and a new series of posters depicting a diner (as in, you’re not at one).
According to WMATA spokesperson Cathy Asato, Metro Transit Police issued 54 citations, ranging from $10 to $50, to violators last year. Even that number is pretty remarkable, though, when you consider that most eaters and drinkers get only a reminder about the law. Typically, it’s only people who keep on munching after the warning who get fined.
But maybe the specter of a New York subway food ban is just what Washingtonians need to follow the rules. After all, what’s more satisfying than knowing we’re superior?
Photo courtesy WMATA.