Home View from Underground Photo: The remnants of free newspapers

Photo: The remnants of free newspapers

by Benjamin Kabak

The discarded newspapers from February 2 gathered at a Grand Central staircase. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

A few weeks ago, as I started my journey home from work at Grand Central, I happened upon a newspaper graveyard. Strewn about a staircase on Park Ave. between 42nd and 41st Sts. were the remains of the day’s free newspapers. These papers are generally left in stacks by this entrance, and that day, a gust of wind, an impish passer-by or the comings and goings of harried straphangers led to a mess.

Of course, these discarded newspapers are not a particularly rare sight in the subway system. The MTA has, for years, 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, I’m sure the issue of newspaper-related littler will bubble up again.

Over in London, the Underground is in fact engaging in a new campaign to combat litter as well. “Customers don’t always think of newspapers as rubbish when they are on a train or at a station. Leaving coffee cups, fast food packaging or newspapers on trains can lead to these items getting stuck in doors or falling on the track. By taking their litter with them or putting it in the bin passengers can help us run the Tube more smoothly and improve reliability,” Gareth Powell, Director of Strategy and Service Development for London Underground, said. “This new litter campaign is asking people to dispose of their rubbish in a bin so it can be recycled, minimising delays for the millions of people that use the Tube a day. This will also make the Tube cleaner and more pleasant for everybody.”

According to Transport for London statistics, newspapers were responsible for 97 delay-causing incidents over the past year, and the Underground is installing recycling bins for the papers throughout the system. Our MTA prefers to sort out recyclables during the post-collection process.

It doesn’t appear as though the free papers or the MTA’s litter will be going away any time soon. But I’ll keep reading my news via iPad apps in the morning. That is, at least, something I take with me when I leave my train station each day.

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Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 12:42 pm

I think all litter should have a redeemable deposit.

petey February 28, 2012 - 1:00 pm

i like it.

Christopher February 28, 2012 - 12:47 pm

WMATA has newspaper recycling bins in ever station. Sponsored by the Washington Post.

San Francisco has a tradition of leaving papers, folded, behind for other passengers or throwing them in large open air bins at the station. (I rarely paid for a newspaper there, I’d just rifle through picking out the sections i wanted. I wasn’t alone.)

One advantage of this is that paper is better recycled if it isn’t singled streamed. Also provides and easy spot for “your paper goes here.”

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 1:02 pm

I think we used to do that in NYC to some extent, but I wouldn’t say it was ever a tradition. These days, enough people read news online that there is probably a big surplus of unwanted papers by the time the people who are still actually buying papers are done reading them.

Hank February 28, 2012 - 2:27 pm

I remember when they did that in DC. While it didn’t stop the problem, it sure helped. Garbage spiked though about 8 years ago in DC with the advent of the free commuter papers. I think it’s gotten better (or so it appears everytime I visit) but they definitely still do clutter the trains by the end of the day.

I wonder if a tax on the commuter papers would work?

Bolwerk February 28, 2012 - 3:23 pm

A bounty on the papers might. It would probably need to be small and by the pound or something, but supposedly paper recycling is actually profitable (unlike cans, bottles, etc.), albeit more as downcycling than recycling.

Scott E February 28, 2012 - 3:42 pm

Not a bad idea, but this could further encourage the “entrepreneurs” who reassemble discarded newspapers and then sell them at cover price. I’ve seen it before.

Erik February 28, 2012 - 1:08 pm

Personally I think they city should stop both papers from loitering at many subway entrances. Not only does it create generous amounts of litter (which will be made worse with fewer trash cans), but many of the paper mongers actively block the stairs. I commuted for years from Union Square, and every day at the top of the stairs on the Northwest corner were one from each paper, shoving papers in my face and cutting the capacity of the staircase in half, which makes quite a difference during morning rush. Litter + track fires + reduced capacity should be enough of an argument in a day and age when most commuters are just logging onto their smart phones in any case.

pea-jay February 28, 2012 - 2:17 pm

hey while we are at it, how about those folks that hand out flyers and coupons. There’s a veritable cast of lady liberties and uncle sams handing out tax preparation coupons right about now in front of our subway entrances and those end up on the ground too

Matthias February 29, 2012 - 1:20 pm

My thoughts exactly. People slowing or stopping to take papers block the stairs and make things downright dangerous when it’s crowded. It’s a daily occurrence at 125th/Lex.

R. Graham February 28, 2012 - 1:19 pm

I use those staircases daily heading to and from my office and papers are always on the ground in this entrance. It never fails. They stack them in the opening from the street and someone always kicks them over because of the poor location.

Alex February 28, 2012 - 1:28 pm

I think the MTA should install recycling bins for newspapers inside the trains. Whether New Yorkers or its visitors will use it – that’s another issue, but I would find it very useful.

Christopher A. February 28, 2012 - 1:36 pm

I’d be more than happy if the MTA would ban the distribution of the “free” newspapers near the high volume subway/rail stations. Less potential garbage permitted into the subway system will result in less litter inside the station….

Nyland8 February 28, 2012 - 6:00 pm

The distribution of free newspapers is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. There’s nothing the MTA can do about it. New York City can make it illegal to block a subway entrance – but if it ever does, don’t hold your breathe waiting for that law to be enforced.

The “solution” is having a convenient place to deposit them – and a certain amount of education. Every morning I see free papers placed on the wooden benches on the subway platforms. I don’t know whether well-intentioned riders left them there thinking, “I’m done reading what I want from this, so I’ll leave it here for someone else who might want it” – but the result is, as soon as a high-speed train makes an appearance, the paper has the potential to fly around the station. I’ve often wondered if some riders take a fresh paper every day just to sit on, rather than planting their butts on the “dirty” wooden benches that bums have pissed on.

Todd February 28, 2012 - 1:55 pm

I’m surprised the MTA still lets them do this. They have to be aware that the papers blow everywhere, including the stairs, and cause safety hazards. Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Anon February 28, 2012 - 4:13 pm

How can the MTA control where Newspaper boxes or Free Newspaper Boys are located above ground?

I have never seen them distributed within the system… have you?

R. Graham February 29, 2012 - 1:08 am

Oh absolutely on rainy days. As a matter of fact that very stairwell you see in the picture. The papers are stacked on the ground right above the first step heading down from the street.

Kai B February 29, 2012 - 1:41 pm

I see distribution within stations all the time. There’s a guy at 14th St (1,2,3) who stands right inside the in-system tunnel to 6th Ave in the morning.

Also, I used Fulton St on Monday and somewhere in the in-system maze were distributors of both free papers.

Todd March 9, 2012 - 1:37 pm

They’re inside the Lex/86th uptown station every weekday morning.

Anon February 28, 2012 - 4:10 pm

OT: Lowline got about 65% funding for it’s demo on kickstarter in just a couple of days

Ray February 28, 2012 - 8:11 pm

Seems MTA rules prohibit distribution of newspapers which are full of advertising (commercial materials) see below. I ride to Herald Square (NRQ) most days. The distribution often occurs INSIDE the station just beyond the fare gates underground (Greeley Square side) especially on foul weather days. At times this activity occurs in clear sight of transit police tabling set up to search passenger bags. I think we’re all for honest commerce and jobs. I don’t know what these guys are paid and frankly I see no reason to impede an honest days work. Moreover, the public seems to find these so called ‘newspapers’ useful. I would endorse the MTA issuing distribution permits for these well traveled stations. These publishers are obviously trading off MTA traffic and not sharing the wealth. Use the proceeds to increase the activities of station janitors.

Section 1050.6 (3)
The following nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules: public speaking; campaigning; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials

R. Graham February 29, 2012 - 11:10 pm

But the distributors should be responsible for the upkeep when a station entrance looks like the picture above.

UESider March 3, 2012 - 2:05 pm

The publisher should be responsible for the clean-up or collection/ recycling costs – it’s their trash

Second, they shouldn’t be allowed to have inserts in those papers – so often, it’s the inserts that slip out or people just immediately discard since it’s a cheap ad

Third, they should permit people to hand them out if they have a permit and follow some basic parameters, e.g. not blocking entrances. There is far less waste when they are handed to people.

But the 86th/Lex entrances are narrowed by competing stacks and paper boys from AM New York and Metro – and there’s just no room for these guys – move them out of the way!

Finally, they should ban the wireframe racks that get dumped, blown around, rained on and papers ruined – those appear to be the most problematic and frequent cause of major littering scenes

Joseph Dodge March 6, 2013 - 11:19 am

Every morning on my way to work I find at least ten of these free newspapers on stairwells, benches, platforms, subway cars and even in the wastebaskets at the Brooklyn Bridge City Hall station. On my way home I’ll find about 50 of them in the public space recycling container container. I always hated the idea of discarding a newspaper that has been read once, especially if it is perfectly reusable.

I have been making it a point to collect them and deposit them back them in the containers on the sidewalk. (I used to put them back in the pile for the hawkers to hand out again but they become ghetto)

Perhaps I can start a movement of volunteers or even employees to be paid a small stipend to do this. It would save the MTA on cleanup costs and also the free newspapers, amNY and Metro lots of money because by reusing papers they can lower their print volume.


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