Anyone who uses the subway in New York City has his or her own horror stories involving rats. For me, two stick out in my mind. Once, while waiting for the Brooklyn-bound F on the 14th St. platform with my family, a rat darted over our shoe tops and scurried into a supply closet. Never again have I stood by that closet. The other involves a post-Yankee game rat sighting on the 2 platform at 149th St./Grand Concourse, and as my sister will attest, the rats were the size of squirrels. I cringe just thinking about those creatures scurrying about the platform in search of food.
For straphangers, rats are just a fact of life underground. Usually, we treat these rodents with a mix of contempt, disgust and curiosity. We’re happy to watch them scurry about on the tracks, a good six feet below our feet, but when they make their ways onto the platforms, we are less accepting of our fellow furried travelers. We don’t know how many rats live in New York City, but estimates range from 250,000 to 100 million. Controlling the population is nearly impossible.
In mid-2010, amidst the uproar over bed bug infestations, the Department of Health highlighted the rat problem. The DOH inspected 18 subway stations in Lower Manhattan and found signs of mild-to-serious infestation problems in half of those stops. Rats lived in the tunnels and the walls. They thrived near garbage and would eat anything. They just are.
Earlier this week, State Senator Bill Perkins issued a follow-up of sorts. In late July, he announced a survey entitled Have You Seen a Rat Today?, and this week, the results are out. Not surprisingly, New Yorkers think the city and its subways has a “severe” rat problem. Over 57 percent of respondents claim to see rats on a daily basis while another 29 report weekly sightings. Just 1 percent of those who answered say they never see rats, a number deflated by the very nature of the survey but not far from the truth.
The result get even more, um, appetizing. Three percent of the 5000 who responded said they saw rats inside of their subway cars while 51 say the rats are confined to the train tracks. The station within Perkins’ 30th District with the highest incidence of rats was the 125th St. stop on the Lexington Ave. line (4/5/6) with 1320 sightings. My parents’ 96th St. stop on the West Side IRT (1/2/3) had 1158 reports of rodents, and while 80 percent of respondents say the rat problem is either “severe” or in a “state of emergency,” 60 percent say the subways can be rat-free.
But the interesting part of this survey comes in the sections leveling blame. Respondents believed the MTA did not do enough to combat the rat infestations with station cleanliness coming under fire. Many said that the MTA needs more garbage cans, a defect I’ve highlighted in the past, and some called the MTA’s pest-control efforts “inept.” One person even suggested the MTA “shut the trains down for two days and do a major extermination job” to fight the rodents.
At the same time, though, many fingered those who eat and litter as the culprits. Those who eat underground and are “carelessly discarding refuse on the tracks or platforms play an important role in compounding the problem,” the report says.
The comments offered at the end of the report show how New Yorkers may be willing to suffer through a ban on eating on subways. “Food and beverages should not be consumed in subways – with the exception of young children,” one respondent said. “Discarded food & drink containers invite rodents. A strong campaign against eating and drinking in subways needs to be conducted. First we need to enforce regulations around littering. The behavior of our citizens is contributing to the problem.”
“What we know for sure is the rats are not growing the food they are eating, nor are they shopping at Whole Foods or McDonald’s,” Senator Perksin said to The Times. “If you feed ’em, you breed ’em.”
So perhaps we should stop feeding them. Now there’s a thought.
After the jump, find an embedded copy of Senator Bill Perkins’ report on rodents.