The new public service campaign — built around a fake newspaper this time instead of a real one — uses the Subway Gazette, a creation of NYC Transit, to stress the point that service delays caused by litter are completely preventable. In the ad, a rider of the 42nd St. Shuttle is seen reading the ad, and we the viewer just so happened to be engaged in that age-old subway tradition: We’re reading the newspaper over that paper’s owner’s shoulder.
The text of the Subway Gazette article is fairly technical. Using much of the same information contained in NYC Transit’s press release, the article is designed to draw attention to the mounting problem of track litter. As per the MTA:
The initial run highlights all of the problems that can arise when careless customers discard of trash improperly. When riders fail to hit that easy lay-up into platform trash receptacles, trash often ends up on the platform and then gets blown onto the roadbed by passing trains. Once on the tracks, trash can help spark track fires or clog drains along the roadbed and that can lead to flooding. Smoke conditions and flooding can and do lead to delays in train service and, in the case of fires, they can be downright dangerous.
The poster itself says, “Litter causes track fires. That’s bad news. Please put newspapers and other refuse in trash cans.” Seemingly in conjunction with this poster, the automated announcements on the newer subway cars have ramped up their anti-trash messages as well.
But with this campaign, many are wondering just how effective NYC Transit’s “Your Litter” ad campaign has been. As Sewell Chan noted on City Room, the MTA has been pushing this message since January, and track fires caused by litter are on the rise yet again. In fact, these types of delays have skyrocketed by 73 percent since 2003.
If the MTA is very concerned with these track-fire problems — and they are a legitimate problem — I have a solution that goes beyond PSAs and touches down in the realm of the draconian. Down in Washington, D.C., the WMATA does not allow eating or drinking in the Metro. They were able to implement and effectively enforce these rules through a few high-profile and unpopular incidents, including one involving a teenage girl and a basket of French Fries. It was an unpleasant PR nightmare, but it worked. No longer do people eat or drink on the Metro.
If the MTA and the NYPD were to collaborate on a litter-based sting — not involving 12-year-old girls — people would start to get the message. The MTA would take its flack for a few days, but how is that any different from the rest of the week? If it meant less litter, cleaner subways and track beds safe from the threat of smoke and fire, it would be tough to turn that offer down.