New Jersey

Mayor: Potential Food Ban on Subway Is ‘Unfair'

The MTA has been looking for ways to cut down on track fires, and Chairman Joe Lhota has floated the idea of discouraging certain kinds of food on the subway

As the MTA chief mulls ways to cut down on subway track fires, Mayor Bill de Blasio dismissed the idea of a potential ban on food on the subway, calling it "unfair." 

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota announced a plan Tuesday to reduce trash from subway tracks in order to prevent the sort of track fires that cause delays -- like the one on the 145th Street station tracks that crippled service and caused massive overcrowding during the morning rush Monday. 

The MTA is adding a dozen more portable vacuums to suck trash from the rails, and also considering discouraging certain foods and food containers from the subways and platforms, Lhota said.  

Though Lhota didn't explicitly float a food ban, De Blasio said Wednesday, "I don't think it's fair for people to say you can't eat on the subway."

Recalling his years riding the subway in the 1980s and '90s, "it would have in those years been inconceivable not to be able to eat on the subway, just because of life, because we're all incredibly busy in the city. Because the time on the subway is often the only time you have to eat."

The mayor says he's spoken to Lhota about the pesky trash fires and understands it's a "real concern." 

"I think we have to encourage people to not be sloppy when they're on the subway, but I can't imagine personally the idea of people not being allowed to eat on the subway in a place as busy as this," de Blasio said, adding that it may take some education and a different kind of enforcement to get people to stop throwing trash on the tracks.

Lhota said Tuesday, "I want to get to the point where we have no fires in the system," and said it may entail an "education program about what kinds of foods really shouldn't be brought on."

Track fires have been reduced from nearly 6,000 in 1981 to around 680 last year, but waste such as food, wrappers, bottles, and even diapers are contributing to New Yorkers' own "summer of hell" on the subway. On Wednesday, a small trash fire broke out at the 125th Street station on Lenox Avenue, though it was put out almost immediately and didn't affect service, according to the MTA. 

Lhota is still in the middle of a 30-day top-to-bottom review of the MTA that Gov. Cuomo ordered last month, when he declared a state of emergency for the MTA. The MTA would need a majority vote from the board to institute any kind of food ban, according to The New York Post. 

One MTA board member told the Post he supports a food ban, considering the rodents, overflowing trash cans and track fires, but admitted it would be difficult to ban specific types of foods. A law enforcement source also told the Post it would be difficult to enforce.

Eating and drinking is banned on PATH trains in New Jersey, as well as on the subways in Washington DC, San Francisco and Chicago. A Manhattan state senator introduced similar legislation in 2012, but it was never brought to the floor. Lhota opposed the bill at the time. 

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