2006-11-01 / Editorials

Newspapers Don't Account For All MTA Track Problems

Last week the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a report that blamed floods that crippled the subways in September 2004 on the free newspapers that are handed out in some subway stations. According to the report, riders and distributors alike litter the tracks with their discarded reading material. The papers block outlet grates and the trapped water eventually covers the tracks, halting train traffic.

In February of this year, the MTA released another report. This one blamed free newspapers for a rise in subway track fires. That particular report flies in the face of the MTA's own statistics, which indicate that incidents of track fires have actually decreased in number.

The MTA's willingness to tailor the facts to fit its attitude on a particular problem is disturbing-especially so when a report by the MTA inspector general concluded that the flooding was due to poor maintenance on the part of the MTA itself. A nonprofit riders' advocate group concurred, saying that the MTA's failure to augment its cleaning staff at a time when ridership has reached the highest levels in the system's history was the true cause of the flooding problem.

We tend to side with the MTA inspector general and the advocacy group. That the subway cars and the tracks they roll on are dirtier now than they have been in several years past is not due entirely to the fact that more people are riding the trains. However, there is some truth to the MTA's assertions. Yes, there is more litter on the tracks-and on the platforms and the stairways and the underground passageways that the traveling public uses every day. But MTA officials use faulty logic when they attribute floods and fires to the free newspapers alone.

In our neighborhood, free dailies in several languages are put in distribution boxes, rather than handed out to passersby. And as far as we can see, readers of the Gazette-and, indeed, of other weeklies that are published in the borough-behave responsibly and with consideration for their neighbors throughout the city. We have never seen a discarded copy of this newspaper littering a platform or blocking a grate in a subway track bed. Our readers pick up after themselves, and for this we applaud them and thank them for their opinion that this newspaper warrants proper disposal.

It should be apparent to everyone, including MTA upper echelons, that the subway fire and flooding problems do not lie with the newspapers, but with the people who read them and then can't be bothered to walk five feet to a subway garbage receptacle. Do these people act that way in their own homes? If they don't, why don't they feel that the city's public spaces deserve the same consideration they give their living rooms (or wherever they read the paper)? If there are no trash baskets on a subway platform, what's the problem in taking the paper along to one's destination, whatever it is, and discarding the paper in that area?

The discarded free newspapers in the subways may not have been the cause of the flooding problem, but they certainly don't make the system any more aesthetically pleasing. We urge all those who supplement the information they get from this newspaper with a free daily to dispose of said daily in a responsible and considerate manner. The subways of New York City can't be rendered surgically sterile, but that's no reason to carpet them with free daily papers, gum wrappers, empty cigarette wrappers and other assorted impedimenta. We all know better. Let's act that way.

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