NPR

Crumbs May Soon Dry Up For New York Subway Rats

A man commutes to work on the New York City subway while enjoying breakfast in 2005. A New York state senator has proposed a law that would ban eating on the subway, in hopes of driving away rats. (AP)

A New York lawmaker wants to put the brakes on eating doughnuts — and anything else, for that matter — in the city's subway system.

State Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem says an eating ban would help combat rats and litter. But the issue is stirring somewhat of a food fight among subway riders.

We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But in today's fast-paced society, a lot of us simply don't have the time to sit down for a morning meal, at least not in the traditional sense. So we do what Norisel Salcedo does — eat on the run. This morning she's munching on a granola bar on her way to work on a southbound D train.

1. New York, N.Y.

2. Houston

3. Boston, Mass.

4. Louisville, Ky.

5. Philadelphia

6. Baltimore

7. Washington, D.C.

8. Chicago

9. El Paso, Texas

10. Milwaukee

Source: 2007 Rodent Risk Assessment, by Dale E. Kaukeinen and Bruce A. Colvin

"I'm very hungry, and it's breakfast," Salcedo laughs.

Jakaira Caycho, 15, knows what that's like. She says she often wolfs down a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich as she rides the rails to school. "I think that people should eat in the subway, because kids get hungry and they don't even have time to eat in the house or anything," she says.

Caycho says she has seen a lot of rats in the subway, so she gets what all the fuss is about. But she also doesn't think an eating ban will solve the problem. Bronx resident Lucy Sailsman disagrees. She says she's tired of seeing people in the subway stuff their faces and leave a smorgasbord of crumbs behind for rodents.

"Eat at home, or wait till you get to work or wherever you're going to eat," Sailsman says.

But what if you work more than one job to make ends meet? Those are the people subway rider Troy Davis says he worries about.

"If this is your chance to eat, then this is your chance to eat," Davis says. "You gotta figure, if you gotta go from one job and you already had lunch there, but you're trying to make it to the other job and you haven't had dinner yet, you're going to try to put a little something in your system before you get to your other job. You don't want to be late, so you do it on the subway. "

Under the proposed eating ban, subway riders caught noshing could be slapped with a fine of up to $250.

"That's not cool. No way," says rider Bernadette Joseph, upon hearing about the fine.

Joseph says her subway ride to work takes an hour — a commute she calls "breakfast time." This morning she had a granola bar and yogurt.

Harlem resident Randall Iserman says he's seen his fellow subway riders eat just about everything, and he would simply prefer if they refined their habits.

"I'm a little old-fashioned, and I think it's better if you can sit and eat at a table, preferably either at home or a restaurant or places designed for eating; but I'm not really the person to tell anyone else how they can fit their lives together or fulfill their time," Iserman says.

Schoolteacher Monique Abrams says for her, changing her morning routine would be the hardest part of a ban on eating in the subway.

"Every morning, bagel, butter, iced coffee to get me going in the morning to get up to the Bronx and deal with these kids," Abrams says. "And I don't know, if I didn't have my iced coffee in the morning, what I would do. I would probably start to smoke cigarettes. That wouldn't be good."

It wouldn't be legal, either. If the eating ban is approved, Abrams could look to Washington, D.C., or San Francisco commuters for advice on how to cope. Those cities already outlaw eating in the subway.

Copyright 2014 WFUV-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wfuv.org.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A New York lawmaker wants to put the brakes on eating in the city's subway. State Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem says an eating ban would help cut down on litter and rats. But, the issue is stirring something of a food fight among subway riders.

From member station WFUV, George Bodarky has our story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBWAY TRAIN)

GEORGE BODARKY, BYLINE: We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, in today's fast-paced society, a lot of us simply don't have the time to sit down for a morning meal, at least not in the traditional sense. So we do what Norisel Salcedo does – eat on the run.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBWAY CHIME)

BODARKY: This morning she's munching on a granola bar on her way to work on a southbound D train.

NORISEL SALCEDO: I'm very hungry and it's breakfast.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BODARKY: Fifteen-year-old Jakaira Caycho knows what that's like. She says she often wolfs down a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich as she rides the rails to school.

JAKAIRA CAYCHO: I think that people should eat in the subway because, kids get hungry and they don't even have time to eat in the house or anything.

BODARKY: Caycho says she's seen a lot of rats in the subway, so she gets what all the fuss is about. But she also doesn't think an eating ban will solve the problem. Bronx resident Lucy Sailsman disagrees. She says she's tired of seeing people in the subway stuff their faces and leave a smorgasbord of crumbs behind for rodents.

LUCY SAILSMAN: Eat at home or wait till you get to work or wherever you're going to eat.

BODARKY: But what if you work more than one job to make ends meet? Those are the people subway rider Troy Davis says he worries about.

TROY DAVIS: If this is your chance to eat, then it's your chance to eat. But you got to figure if you got to go from one job, and you already had lunch there. But you're trying to make it to the other job and you haven't had dinner yet, you're going to try to put a little something in your system before you get to your other job. You don't want to be late, so you do it on the subway.

BODARKY: Under the proposed eating ban, subway riders caught noshing could be slapped with a fine of up to $250.

BERNADETTE JOSEPH: That's not cool. No way.

BODARKY: Bernadette Joseph says her subway ride to work takes an hour, a commute she calls quote, "breakfast time." This morning, she had a granola bar and yogurt.

Harlem resident Randall Iserman says he's seen his fellow subway riders eat just about everything and he would simply prefer if they refined their habits.

RANDALL ISERMAN: I'm a little old fashioned and I think it's better if you can sit and eat at a table. Preferably either at home, or a restaurant, or a place designed for eating. But I'm not really the person to tell anyone else how they can fit their lives together or fulfill their time.

BODARKY: Or change their morning routines. School teacher Monique Abrams says for her that would be the hardest part of a ban on eating in the subway.

MONIQUE ABRAMS: Every morning, bagel, butter, iced coffee to get me going in the morning, to get up to the Bronx and deal with these kids. And I don't know - if I didn't have my iced coffee in the morning what I would do. I'd probably start smoking cigarettes. That wouldn't be good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BODARKY: If the eating ban is approved, Abrams could look to Washington, D.C. or San Francisco commuters for advice on how to cope. Those cities already outlaw eating in the subway.

For NPR News, I'm George Bodarky in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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