State Senate bill would outlaw food in the subway


Over the past few months, the MTA’s rat problem has drawn headlines as the authority has struggled to clean up its stations and rodents have become comfortable in the confines of the subway. A few State Senators are fighting back now with what promises to be a controversial proposal to ban all food from the subway. Sponsored by Senator Perkins and relying on a constituent survey that laid the blame for subway litter on the shoulders of sloppy straphangers, the bill would carry a fine of up to $250 for those caught eating underground.

The bill, available here, was referred to the Senate Transportation Committee earlier this week. It has the support of Senators Espaillat, Huntley and Oppenheimer as well and would ban the consumption of food on any subway, station or platform under the control of New York City Transit. Any fine collected under the measure would accrue to Transit for use under a New York Subway Littering Prevention Fund which would include the costs of publicizing the measure, among other things.

It’s unclear exactly what the future holds for this bill right now. Banning food would go a long way toward improving cleanliness under ground, but enforcement, of course, would be problematic. Furthermore, the MTA draws some real estate revenue from newsstands and other businesses that sell food in the subway system. As the authority continues to assess its anti-trash can pilot, I’ll keep an eye on this measure as it winds its way through the legislative process. It is definitely not the worst idea to emerge from Albany.

Categories : Asides, MTA Politics

48 Responses to “State Senate bill would outlaw food in the subway”

  1. BrooklynBus says:

    Are there still businesses in the subway that sell food other than newsstands selling candy bars or cans of soda, perhaps? Seems to me if you will not be able to eat in the subway, this bill should also make it illegal to sell food in the subway? I guess beverages or water are not included in the bill?

    • Jeff says:

      I think its already illegal to drink/have open containers in the subway, no? But they are still selling drinks in those newsstands.

      • Bolwerk says:

        No, “open container” rules refer to alcoholic beverages. Those are illegal, but soda, coffee, water, etc. are not.

        • Scott E says:

          I don’t think it’s that limited. I believe an open container is anything that can’t be capped. So a water bottle (with a cap) is allowed, but I think a coffee cup (even with a lid, that doesn’t close all the way) is not.

          • Scott’s correct. It is currently a violation of NYC Transit rules to carry “any liquid in an open container” onto a train or bus. That is supposed to include coffee cups. Riders are supposed to drink up on the platform. It’s probably the least enforced rule on the books.

            • Jason B. says:

              Great. I can’t wait for the NYPD to start enforcing this one have another avenue to locate people with arrest warrants via their coffee cups.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I never heard that. Interesting, if true, because it means I flout the law nearly every time I go on the train in the morning. Usually I have a coffee with me, and often I request no lid to make it cool a bit faster.

            Either way, the cops never seemed to care.

  2. Peter says:

    Not the worst idea, but there would need to be some exceptions. For example, what about diabetics? Or babies and toddlers?

    • Scott E says:

      I’m glad you brought it up, and I was going to say the same thing. I generally do not eat on the subway, but I have diabetes and have found myself in situations where my blood sugar was getting low and I have to. But in those cases, it’s something like a granola bar from my pocket, not a macaroni-and-cheese dinner.

  3. Billy G says:

    This is a money grab by a cash-strapped state government, pure and simple.

    Let’s see some studies.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I don’t think subway cleanliness is something the NYS state senate should be paying attention to. It’s a city problem; they should cede to us the ability to decide for ourselves how this is managed.

      • As long as the State has oversight over the MTA, they’ll pay attention to it. I don’t see how you can make the argument that, given the current political structure of the MTA, the state shouldn’t be paying attention to this.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Really, should pols from Buffalo be thinking about litter in the NYC subway? The idea is absurd from an administrative standpoint alone, let alone the standpoint of home rule. I think an unavoidable implication of what I’m saying is the “current political structure of the MTA” needs to change for everybody’s sanity.

          NYC has a perfectly good city council that is free to fall flat on its face if it wants.

          • al says:

            There are State Senators that represent the 5 boroughs and downstate areas. The 5 Senators sponsoring or co-sponsoring the bill (PERKINS, ESPAILLAT, HUNTLEY, KLEIN, and OPPENHEIMER) all represent districts with MTA service. This shows that they’re at least paying attention to the issues affecting their constituents.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Yeah, I’m not saying they’re being malicious in this case, as they often are when it comes to transit and New York City (e.g., not allowing congestion pricing or stealing MTA funds). But there is still a fundamental absurdity for a body that is supposed to represent the entire land mass that is New York State focusing its energy on a problem that is so local.

  4. Lex A says:

    Hey heads up: “Any fine collected under the measure would to Transit for use under a New York Subway Littering Prevention Fund and would cover the costs of publicizing the measure, among other uses.” That’s reading a little wonky, to Transit for?

  5. John-2 says:

    Emulating WMATA is a noble idea, but it’s a bit different when you do things from Day 1, as Washington did from 1976 on, and trying to change a collective mindset formed and passed down for the past 108 years by New Yorkers, aided (as note)d by the fact that the IRT, BMT and the city over that time made vendors and vending machines that produce trashable items approved part of the system.

    If the bill does pass, as with the garbage can removal strategy, the MTA probably should start some sort of pilot program for enforcement — pick a section of the system and see how easy it is to keep clean and change people’s mindsets about eating on the trains via notices and fines. Find out what works and what doesn’t, and then expand the successful tactics to other parts of the system.

  6. The Cobalt Devil says:

    About time. In 35+ years of riding the subway, I’ve NEVER found the need to eat, drink and/or spit on trains or platforms. Hungry? East breakfast at home. Thirsty? Chug some water before you go downstairs. It ain’t that hard.

    • Ben says:

      I’m really not sure where “spit” makes it into that sentence. I mean, I’ve never found the need to spit on the subway, or litter on the subway, or pee on the subway—all of which are things that are both gross and potentially hazardous to the general public, and also civil infractions. Eating itself, however, appears to be hazardous only to the desire of a certain number of New Yorkers to have a subway system that nobody eats in.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I think reasonable people can agree with most of what you’re saying, but I don’t think you can reasonably ban drinking at least water on the subway. It just gets too hot sometimes, and rides are long.

      • Andrew says:

        I agree regarding water – on hot days, and when I have a sore throat, I need to drink water frequently. It’s not like water-related litter attracts rats anyway.

        I rarely eat on the subway, and when I do it’s a small packaged snack (and, of course, I dispose of the packaging properly – I usually stuff it in a pocket and dispose of it when I remember). I very much dislike finding myself in the same car as someone eating hot, smelly food, but I don’t see how the law can allow one but not the other.

        If we’re worried about rats, the real problem is litter, and I think we can all agree that littering is wrong. Step up litter enforcement. Don’t impose a new law that will be sporadically enforced and will catch well-intending people by surprise on the rare occasion that it is enforced.

    • Christopher says:

      Only a brief fear years in DC did I ever stop eating on the subway. — and wasn’t a daily rider.

      But in Chicago where I grew up, and San Francisco (where it was supposedly not allowed but everyone did it anyway … BART eventually handed out cups to at least try to get people to use reusable containers) I’ve always found the need to drink and eat while commuting. It saves a ton of time, I regularly take hot tea with me. Or drink a smoothie after the gym on the train. It’s one of those things, like alcohol on suburban trains, that make the experience more personal and familiar.

      (And frankly, it’s one of those things I regularly hear from car commuters about why they still drive, sure it’s expensive and it takes a long time but they can eat and smoke and blast their radio.)

  7. Jerrold says:

    Removing garbage cans would only make the littering problem (and therefore the rodent problem) a lot worse.

    • Bolwerk says:

      There are some anecdotal reasons to think it wouldn’t:

      • other cities, at least European, don’t necessarily have trash cans everywhere and are a lot cleaner. It doesn’t mean eating/drinking is banned either, but people are expected to dispose of their own trash on their own time. And fines usually are high.

      • trash cans overflow, so if they’re not there, there would be less litter

      • diffusion of responsibility with regard to litter probably occurs

      Of course, other cities around the world don’t have the sheer amount of wrapping and cheapo plastic bags that New York seems to have.

      • Jerrold says:

        Trash cans overflow? But in the absence of trash cans, there is going to be a hell of a lot more litter. Many of the people who are angry about the trash cans not being there will just drop their litter on the floor.

        • That is pretty much guaranteed not to happen. The same people who litter today might continue to do so, but the overwhelmingly vast majority of people will carry their trash until they find a garbage cans. That’s how a society functions.

          • BrooklynBus says:

            But what should you do if the can is overflowing and hasn’t been emptied in a while? Most will drop their litter alongside the can hoping it will be picked up when the can is eventually emptied. Several years ago I saw a can on the mezzanine of an IND station in Queens that was so overfilled, there was as much trash around the can as there was inside it.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Most will drop their litter alongside the can hoping it will be picked up when the can is eventually emptied.

              Which means that there is reason to think garbage cans might actually be adding to the litter problem, rather than abating it.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Concur with Ben. Also, there is zero evidence for any of what you’re talking about in other cities.

          And, if that does happen, why not just fine the living crap out of the people who do it? I admit I am not a big fan of banning eating, but unlike fare beating you can’t even make the case that even a few people who consciously litter are doing so out of desperation. It is pure selfishness.

  8. Clint Guyon says:

    There were hot food counters in the grand central shuttle passage, at Times Square by the R line and at 14th Street on the 1 train. Anyone recall the others?

  9. Tsuyoshi says:

    I eat on the train occasionally, but I would be happy to stop doing so in the interest of cleanliness. However, that’s just me. The problem with this proposed law is that it goes against the nature of people here. If there’s anything that seems to define New Yorkers, it’s that courtesy or laws will rarely win against saving a few seconds of time. I don’t think an eating ban can be enforced.

    • Bolwerk says:

      My main problem with banning eating is I’m guessing many people don’t have the most, uh, expedient commutes and probably eat because it’s the most convenient time to do so. I think the sensible/fair thing to do, given those circumstances, is consider the alternatives like fining people who litter or attacking problems with how foods are packaged or maybe spreading the word that the MTA will only provide trash service in key stations.

      Once those options are exhausted, then consider banning eating.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    I’m all for it, just like on WMATA. Moreover, the city should follow the practice of the Chief Justice of the US and cuff every teenager who eats a French fry on the subway. (Why not? Don’t call it a civil rights violation – some people find handcuffs kinky; the cops would be doing a favor to criminals instead of beating the living crap out of them as they should.)

    • Bolwerk says:

      Eh, we’re pretty past the point where the police have reasonable limits on what they can do, but at least that was a concrete, constitutionally defensible rule. I actually find things like NYPD’s ability to completely ignore the Fourth Amendment for people who use the subway much more disturbing. The rule that allows that is even rotten, never you mind the enforcement.

      Of course, we’re probably one “conservative” (without irony, that’s what they call themselves…) appointment to SCOTUS from making that amendment entirely vestigial.

  11. UESider says:

    I think what we need are courtesy announcements asking people to carry out their trash – it will round out the series and make Track #14 for a complete album

    the subways are very dirty but seeing people eating is so rare, I cant believe it is the root of the problem

    this will only target people on the go and people with Long rides – neither of which strike me as careless populations who either contribute to the filth or will be greatly impacted

    this, like the $500 fare jumping fine, are likely to hurt the straight-laced while the discourteous flaunt the laws anyway

    • Bolwerk says:

      Why would anyone “straight-laced” jump a turnstile? :-\

      • Bolwerk says:

        Or litter, for that matter.

        I agree about not punishing the people who need to get around, but don’t tolerate antisocial behavior either. $500 fines for turnstile jumping or littering both seem fair to me, and might even dent the problems.

  12. Duke says:

    The very idea that we’re going to be able to get the rats out of the subway through any measure is laughable. New York has been home to rats and various other creatures which feed off of human slop for centuries. They’re not going anywhere. Surrendering to the fact that we have them as neighbors is a condition of living here.

    • Bolwerk says:

      That’s not true. They go where food is, and the fact of the matter is they have food on the subway thanks to our littering. Again, I’m not a fan of banning eating on subways, but better management of litter could at least reduce the rat problem, if not entirely eliminate it.

  13. EB says:

    I assume when you talk about banning food in the subway, you’re really talking about banning eating in the subway? I wouldn’t mind banning eating on the subway, but it would be really inconvenient if things like bringing groceries home on the subway were banned.

  14. yea, and they will sell you a BEER that you can drink on the LIRR.

  15. Josh says:

    This is stupid. The problem isn’t eating on the subway, the problem is littering on the subway. The people who follow the existing rules (i.e. throw your garbage in a garbage can) will follow the new one too, but why should we believe the people who litter now will refrain from eating and littering if this new bill is passed? The problem is that there’s no enforcement of the law we already have.

  16. Walker says:

    What about in a little King too, and don’t even try that at McDonald’s they got you beat, wouldn’t even call it real food…

  17. Rafael says:

    I think many people are not understanding that this is LOYS rule – Law on your side. I’ve been on subways all my life in Europe and its the same. The point is don’t be messy – its usually a cultural norm. Since its impossible to legalize “mess”, rules are written to prohibit food. Thus if 20 people are quietly sipping their drinks then no problem. If someone comes in drunk with a kebab and drops half of it on the floor then transit security have “Law on your side” and can write a violation or worse for eating. Can you imagine if they had to argue with the drunk person if he was being messy? One piece of lettuce – two pieces of meat? etc, etc.

    The point is the rule is not supposed to be enforced – its supposed to act as a tool for transit police to act against gross offenders – same as jaywalking or speeding up on the streets.


  1. […] hair all over their face. So a day of reckoning may now be upon us: a group of State Senators have proposed a new bill to outright ban eating food on the subway. And you can blame this one on the […]

  2. […] wants to head off that behavior by cutting off the source of food. There shall be, he has proposed, no eating in the subway. His bill has cleared the State Senate’s Transportation Committee, although 9 of the 16 yea […]

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