Home View from Underground Subway anti-litter PSAs, now starring The New York Times

Subway anti-litter PSAs, now starring The New York Times

by Benjamin Kabak

At long last, the MTA is embarking on a much overdue public service campaign aimed as those beacons of journalistic integrity. After years of dealing with piles and piles of free newspapers littering the stairways (see right), platforms and subway tracks, the MTA is now urging riders to throw out their papers when they finished with them.

This new public service campaign — with the tagline “Your city. Your subway. Your station. Your LITTER.” — is spurred on by both customer relations and safety concerns. The MTA wants the subways looking clean, and they want to avoid track fires.

“Newspapers and subway tracks are not a good combination,”Steven Feil, senior vice president at New York City Transit’s department of subways, said. “The papers can cause fires when ignited by electrical equipment and, if it rains, can lead to flooding when they block drainage areas.”

These PSA’s however has created something of a mini-scandal. The new posters, shown here, feature none other than the Grey Lady herself, and the writers at The New York Times are none too happy about it. In a late-afternoon post on Cityroom on Friday, The Times’ transit writer William Neuman uncovered this scandal:

You’d think that when New York City Transit launched a new anti-litter campaign trying they might have shown someone tossing away one of the freebies…

A sharp-eyed producer magnified the image on the poster and discovered that it indeed shows Page A8 of the Oct. 24 edition of The Times, featuring an article and photograph from Baghdad.

For their part, the MTA was a bit red-faced. Despite earlier denials that the paper in question was not The Times, New York City Transit Spokesman Paul Fleuranges was apologetic. “I was told it was not The Times,” he said in a statement to Cityroom. “If you are correct, it was in no way meant to imply that The Times or its readers are responsible for an increase in litter within the system. We attempted to obscure the paper in the shot so as to represent newspapers in general. We obviously didn’t do a good enough job. Going forward we’ll have to redouble our efforts to make sure no paper or any other entity is depicted — no matter how blurry the photo. Be that as it may, it doesn’t diminish the message to readers of all papers — throw them in the trash.”

While we can get a good chuckle over this story, Fleuranges’ last point, and the overall message of the campaign, is a valid one. Too often, people treat the subway like one giant garbage can. I hope that most riders don’t treat their apartments or houses the same way. If someone is done with amNew York or Metro, that someone should dispose of those papers in the appropriate fashion.

A few weeks ago, I took a look at how the MTA deals with its garbage, and I think the problem is institutional. The MTA doesn’t provide recycling bins — as they do in Boston and Washington, DC — and the garbage cans in the stations are not right next to an exit as they are in Washington’s Metro. Furthermore, in Washington, police are fairly aggressive about ticketing passengers who litter, and a few high-profile tickets act as a deterrent for everyone else.

Now I’m not advocating criminalizing subway litter; in fact, I think it’s already criminalized. However, if the MTA were to make a concerted effort to draw attention to potential recycling bins or the current trash cans, people would be more inclined to throw out their newspapers, and staircases wouldn’t look as the one at the top of this post does. This PSA campaign is a start, but as most riders just ignore the posters in the subways, the MTA will have to overcome public resistance to the campaign’s presence first.

Photo Credit: The stairs at 16th St. and 8th Ave. are often covered with newspapers in the morning. (Photo by flickr user Second Ave. Sagas)

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Tania Katherine January 7, 2008 - 12:17 am

What always amazes me is that, of course people leave their garbage on train cars and subway platforms: when you’re on a crowded train late like no other to work, you don’t want to hold your garbage until you get off of the train to inevitably walk all the way across the platform before seeing a garbage can.

Photo: The remnants of free newspapers :: Second Ave. Sagas February 28, 2012 - 12:35 pm

[…] railed against the litter amNew York and Metro supposedly create, and the authority has implemented various PSA campaigns designed to combat the trash. Now that the presence of even garbage cans are being debated, […]


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