It has been a banner week for the mundane in the subways. Mired in the morass of a slow April with the MTA’s ambitiously expensive capital plan on tap, the openings of the Fulton St. Transit Center in two months and the 7 line extension…eventually…, and still no idea how the Governor is going to pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the stories of the week have focused around a rat and some cleavage. These are, apparently, the things that count.
The rat story is your garden variety “rat on subway car, passengers freak out” type. Like many New Yorkers, the rat was trying to get somewhere on Monday morning when it ended up on an A train at Fulton St. The doors closed, and the passengers freaked out at something approximately 1/100th their size. It’s an impressive display of New York cowardice as grown adults stood on subway seats, screamed and, if you listen to the audio track on the video above, sobbed for two minutes while this rat tried to run away from the nutty human giants surrounding it.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I wasn’t on that subway car. And, yes, rats do carry rabies. But something about this reaction just strikes me as incredibly pathetic. It’s New York gone soft, and it’s generated, according to a Google News search, over 170 articles throughout the country. Who knew a rat on the subway was so newsworthy? In response, an MTA spokesman told Metro that the agency is continuing to fight rats as best they can.
While the rats scamper free, what of the breasts? That’s the other big story this week. In a classic “think of the children” moment, Pete Donohue of the Daily News turned a subway ad on breast augmentation into a giant controversy. In an piece filled with concerned parents, Donohue focused his column on the ad’s display. “Whoa! That’s too much exposure,” Connie Johnson said of the ads. “Her breast is out. It’s exposed. As a female, I don’t like it. I think it’s terrible. Kids can see that.” (Kids can also see the cover of the Daily News, but sex and hypocrisy sell newspapers.)
This brouhaha probably would have died down had Governor Cuomo not gotten involved, but seemingly having solved every other transit problem he pretends doesn’t exist, the Governor opted to take the MTA to task for their ad policy. The ad policy recently come under judicial scrutiny, and in order to comply with the pesky First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the agency had to re-write its policy to be more encompassing. Now, the Governor via a letter to the MTA has requested the agency review its ad policy.
Please, think of the children, he said. “Tens of thousands of children ride the transit system every day to go to school,” the letter, signed by Howard Glaser, reads. “The MTA is a public conveyance, subsidized by $190 million annually in the state budget, plus over $5 billion in dedicated taxes. The public has a right to expect that the MTA will strive for a family-friendly environment.”
Of course, because the MTA is a government agency, “family-friendly environment” can also be interpreted as a content-based restriction on free speech. Is there a compelling state interest to avoid ample, but still covered, cleavage on an ad in the subway? If the state hasn’t dubbed it obscene, one agency board member said, the MTA would lose the lawsuit if it rejected the ad.
So now, with real issues facing the region, the MTA will spend time on its ad policy to appease a governor that the cynic in me believes is trying to appeal to more conservative voters in order to ring up some crushing reelection poll numbers in November. This is transit policy in 2014. I think I’ll stick with the rats instead.