There’s something inherently New York about walking in between subway cars. At one point or another, nearly every straphanger takes that plunge and moves between cars while the train is in motion. For some, the rush of the tunnel is excuse enough to stop outside of the cocoon of the enclosed subway car while for others, it’s a means to an end. The homeless guy is stinking up the joint. The air condition doesn’t work. Get me out of here.
What most people do not realize is that since 2005, it has been illegal to walk between subway cars. That year, the MTA Board approved a series of changes to the New York City Transit Rules of Conduct, and among those amendments was one targeting subway walkers. The penalty: A $75 fine.
Today, that rule is codified in Section 1050.9(4):
No person may ride on the roof, platform between subway cars or on any other area outside any subway car or bus or other conveyance operated by the Authority. No person may use the end doors of a subway car to pass from one subway car to another except in an emergency or when directed to do so by an Authority conductor or a New York City police officer.
When the Code of Conduct rules were changes, the language on the signs on subway doors grew more strident. It is prohibited to move or ride between cars, and now and then, the cops will hand out summonses to those who violate these rules. Every few weeks, I receive an email from a disgruntled straphanger who wants to know if he or she can contest their fine, and the Google search results for “walk between subway cars” shows a similarly pervasive number of hits on this topic. Yesterday, Metro New York ran the sob story of one woman who now owes $75 for violating the rule and $50 in late fees for failing to pay the fine.
In Carly Baldwin’s story, Lida Sharp got a ticket in late July when the 2 car she entered wasn’t air conditioned. She boarded at 34th St. and waited until the next stop to switch cars. Instead of doing so on the platform, she and another passenger got caught outside. “He didn’t care that I felt sick or that it was an emergency,” she said. “He didn’t care that the train wasn’t moving or that I didn’t even know it was illegal.”
My response to those who violate this rule is usually not one of sympathy. As I’ve learned throughout law school, ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse those who break it, and the MTA hangs a sign on the door that explicitly warns people not to cross between cars. I know most straphangers find reading MTA signs repulsive, but if they choose to ignore the warning, someone’s going to have to pay the consequences of breaking the rule.
The real question to ask though is one of common sense. Does the MTA’s ban on inter-car travel make sense? Five years ago, MTA Board member Barry Feinstein defended the rule. “It’s dangerous. It’s not smart, and you shouldn’t do it,” he said. The number of people who get a ticket though far outweigh the one or two a year who suffer injury while switching cars.
Riders, of course, have never liked the rule, and we still see various vagabonds, musicians and kids selling candy crossing at whim. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” a Queens rider said in 2005 “People need to walk through the doors all the time. If there are no seats, people want to go to another car to get a seat.”
Yet, the rules are the rules. It might rest on a flimsy justification, and we might not agree with the rationale behind it. That doesn’t mean, though, that the rule does not apply to us all. Perhaps we’re all guilty.