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Straphangers' Habits Feeding Subway Rat Population, Officials Say

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MTA cuts mean dirtier subways. And will that lead to even more rats on the tracks? That's the fear of one local legislator. Both he and the MTA think there are ways to keep the rodent population from growing. NY1's John Mancini filed the following report.

Subway rats are big and bold. And they'll fight for their turf. But you could help make the neighborhood less inviting.

"Rats don't grow the food that they eat on the subway, and they don't buy it, either," said State Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan. "We as customers, unfortunately, are the ones that are feeding, and thereby breeding the rodent infestation problem we have."

Rats have been a subway staple. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's tight budget has trimmed the ranks of cleaners to fewer than 1,500, a four percent cut from last year. So fears about dirtier stations grow.

"I want the riders to understand, that sometimes you see a cleaner trying to catch his breath or taking a break, it's because he or she is truly overworked," said Transport Workers Union Local 100 Member Marvin Holland.

The MTA says it expects things might get messier. And it's asking for your help to prevent that. A new set of ads aims to get you to do your part.

"There's a lot of difficult jobs in New York City Transit, and the cleaner's job is one of the most difficult ones. Customers don't like to hear that they're, quote-unquote, the cause of the problem," said New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast.

Contractors and in-house teams bait track areas. Cleaners remove more than 90 tons of garbage a day. And riders leave tons where it belongs. But a lot ends up on the tracks as a feast.

"Do they see the problem getting better worse or better? They'll tell you it's getting worse," Perkins said.

One ongoing problem is that garbage bound for the trash train waits on platforms or in transfer rooms. The MTA has sealed openings to block rats. But Perkins would like the rooms to be baited routinely. The agency is studying it. He also thinks he has a broader answer.

"We recommend to them what we know is taking place in other places, like Washington, DC, other countries, where food is outlawed on the public transportation system," Perkins said.

It's a tough call where food vendors supply rental income. But Perkins is taking his case to the platform.

"Should we stop eating on the subways and the buses?" asked Perkins.

"That's a given. That's an easy one. It's enforcing that rule. Just saying it is not enough," responded one straphanger.

"We have a law that nobody enforces in New York yet called jaywalking," said another. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP