Stats Show NY Subway More Hospitable to Criminals, Perhaps Less So To Rats

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The MTA has 10 trash trains like this one to collect garbage overnight from subway stations. (Photo by NotoriousJEN/flickr)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) Crime is increasing in the subway, according to NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority figures. Compared to last year, major felonies are up 17 percent and robberies are up 8.6 percent.

MTA board member Charles Moerdler, speaking to reporters today in a hallway at the MTA's Midtown headquarters, said the steady upward trend in underground crime is troubling.

"These numbers are starting to show there's a terrible concern as to whether there's a parallelism between the downturn in the economy and the upturn in the crime rate," he said.

Subway felonies steadily dropped for over a decade, before beginning to climb in 2009.

But even as crime rises, arrests in the subway are going down: there were 12 percent fewer arrests this year compared to last. Pressed by board members for an explanation, Transit president Tom Prendergast said, "I can't answer that. We'll have to get an answer for you."

Moerdler said that sends a troubling message to straphangers. "My worry is we need to demonstrate that we're on the job. We need to demonstrate a sense of protection."

The discussion came at a meeting of the MTA transit committee, where MTA chief of station operations John Gaito unveiled a program meant to starve rats in the subway by more quickly removing trash from stations--especially discarded food. He said the authority has added two "trash trains" to the eight it already has in service to shorten the amount of time that garbage bags are left for pick-up on platforms.

Workers remove trash from a station overnight by taking thick plastic bags from large metal bins and either stashing them in a storage room or lining them up on a platform for removal by trash train. With more frequent pick-ups, the goal is to have no more smelly or leaking trash bags on platforms awaiting pick-up--and serving as snack food for rodents--each day by 6 a.m. The NY MTA says about 75 bags now await pick-up from platforms each morning. That's down from 107 bags.

The authority removes about 40 tons of garbage a day from the subway. The NY MTA will also test removing trash cans entirely from platforms at two subway stations. The authority hopes the move encourages riders to dispose of their garbage elsewhere.

The initiatives come as 84 percent of subway customers surveyed by the MTA reported being satisfied with the overall comfort and convenience of the subway, up six percentage points from last year.