Nobody loves rats, especially if they’re crawling on your face! So, New Yorkers were justifiably creeped out by a YouTube video that showed a rat on a N.Y.C. subway car fearlessly climbing onto a sleeping passenger and staring him in the face before the man woke up and swatted him. The rat then ran down the middle of the car while other passengers looked on.
Some commentators and news reporters, such as the ones in the above ABC broadcast, question whether the video was authentic or a hoax, because the rat appeared too friendly and too clean and was probably somebody’s pet or lab experiment. New York subway rats are supposed to look grimy, mangy, and tough.
One thing is for real, though: the rat-infested subway stations and the garbage that attracts Rickey, Rizzo and Ben. Who can blame them for seeking warmth on subway cars during the harsh winter and partaking of the lavish feast that some 5 million passengers leave behind each weekday?
Washington D.C. smugly compares its relatively clean Metro to the festering garbage heap that is the N.Y.C. subway, most notoriously in an ad campaign three years ago. But New Yorkers, alone, aren’t responsible for the mess. Tourists are just as careless. And budget cuts to the Metropolitan Transit Authority in the past two years haven’t helped. Subways are getting dirtier, according to a survey released in June by the Straphangers Campaign, a watchdog group. There are fewer workers and cuts in cars and service. In many subway stations, garbage sits for days in “trash rooms” after it is collected from waste cans on the platforms, providing virtual Ritz Hotels for rats.
It is clear that these four-legged critters are more resourceful and resilient than we are. Setting poison traps is not going to get rid of them—they will survive! But if we don’t want them to become a health hazard to us, we have to stop encouraging their propagation with free food. And if NYC doesn’t want to get dissed by DC, it shouldn’t give short shrift to the people it hires to clean up its subway—a dangerous and dirty job.