Governor Cuomo introduced a more expensive fine for littering with a press conference in a subway station last night, in which he demonstrated his hatred for trackbed garbage by climbing down there and vacuuming some of it up himself.
An increased focus on littering enforcement was part of MTA Chairman Joe Lhota's plan to improve subway performance, since litter on the tracks is a cause of track fires, which lead to delays which then lead to snide headlines on your favorite websites. Cuomo, on a tour of the subway tracks in Union Square, picked up the trash ball from Lhota and announced that the fine for littering in New York would go from $50 to $100.
Introduced as the "Keep it Clean" initiative, a press release from the governor's office said that in addition to the 700 fire-related issues that subway litter causes, it also clogs track drains that are supposed to remove water from the track beds. As that water collects on the tracks, it can damage railroad ties, touch signals and cause them to turn red, and also touch the third rail, potentially causing electric problems and even track fires.
"Littering is not only illegal but dangerous and directly causes hundreds of thousands of delays, inconveniencing millions of New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement introducing the initiative.
The littering fine will apply statewide and is being done through the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, which the governor said is part of an effort to involve as many state agencies as possible in the subway turnaround effort, according to the Post.
In addition to the increase in littering fines, Cuomo announced that the MTA will be sealing up over 4,000 leaks and clearing out street grates, which when clogged wind up pouring water into stations.
When it comes to littering enforcement, public defenders continued to sound the alarm that any crackdown could become another enforcement mechanism that comes down on poor and non-white New Yorkers.
"We're all for clean public places and effective mass transit but these initiatives cause concern because they usually end up targeting poor black and brown New Yorkers," Legal Aid spokesperson Redmond Haskins told Gothamist. "Everyone is well familiar with the state of our subway system and the massive investment it needs—this is not the right place to start."
A spokesperson for the NYPD told Gothamist that the department had given 83 tickets for littering in the subway so far this year, and that officers have to actually witness the littering in order to write a ticket for it. An MTA spokesperson couldn't confirm to Gothamist whether the Keeping It Clean initiative would involve an increased amount of NYPD officers in the subway. According to the Daily News, the governor said that MTA police and officers with the DEC will assist in the littering enforcement effort (when not discovering basement pools filled with sharks that is).
John Raskin, executive director of commuter advocacy group Riders Alliance, argues that the littering initiative is no substitute for a long-term plan to fix the MTA.
"Governor Cuomo is right that we should be taking every step possible to reduce delays and improve transit service in the immediate term," Raskin said in a statement. "But that has to be a prelude to a long-term plan, rather than a substitute. We can solve some of the problems with a short-term infusion of money and attention, but it will take billions of dollars and a long-term vision to truly rescue the transit system from its dire position."
That plan is in the works, according to Lhota, but won't come until the MTA has awarded winners for the governor's Genius grant competition. At the end of August, the MTA chairman said that he was going through 400 entries in the contest.
Sadly, it looks like the horrible deep blue and gold color scheme that's been polluting the eyes of New York City residents on our new MTA buses will not be getting tossed in the trash as part of the cleanup effort.
Reporting by Emma Whitford.