In recent weeks, riding the subway has become New Yorkers’ second-biggest nightmare (the first: being consumed whole by a pack of enraged rats). Desperate to improve rider morale, if not the actual tracks, MTA chief Joe Lhota yesterday suggested banning messy foods, but surely Bill de Blasio doesn’t want to return to this kind of Bloombergian nanny state–ism. This is a mayor who admits to having “a certain admiration” for Pizza Rat, after all.
The MTA argues that food causes platform litter that creates track fires that, in turn, make New Yorkers angry. Which is a fair point further emphasized by Monday’s garbage track fire that snarled rush-hour service for thousands of commuters, stranded cars in a tunnel full of smoke, and hospitalized nine people. Apparently, it’s made Lhota ready to abandon his previous opposition to a food ban. “I want to get to the point where we have no fires in the system,” he explained at yesterday’s press conference. “These fires all start with trash being thrown down there. We need to stop throwing trash on the tracks.”
But as Lhota himself has admitted, not everybody has the luxury of boarding trains without food. For instance, what about kids on their way to school with a morning protein bar? Or someone with low blood sugar? Or the infamous pad-Thai guy, who actually, as you’ll recall, wanted to get his noodles off the subway, not onto them:
Lhota also just sounds hacked off that people prone to eating messy food on the subway tend to be slobs: He fumed at his press conference about a passenger he recently saw board a 2 train carrying a Styrofoam container of Chinese takeout. “Inevitably, the rice fell,” he said. “It was all over the place. I want to avoid things like that.” Lhota told reporters to expect more details in the coming weeks, but added maybe it won’t be an outright ban: “It may be an education program about what types of foods really shouldn’t be brought on.”
Look, nobody likes riding next to a giant wok of pad Thai, or seeing a rider casually eat a full wheel of brie. But as critics already point out, banning food would also be all but unenforceable on a transit system that’s struggled to even keep clowns with knives from boarding. The MTA says it’d make the subway smell less horrible and fight the out-of-control rat population. But what kind of place would New York City be if it turned its unofficial mascot Pizza Rat into public enemy No. 1 and 2?