Save your commute – don’t pollute.
That’s the message Gov. Cuomo wants to send to the riding public – through a public service announcement and a new, stiffer $100 fine for littering in the subway.
Cuomo went on a tirade against trash in the Union Square station on a rainy Wednesday night, before walking the tracks of the downtown No. 6 line to see MTA crews clearing litter that can spark track fires and clogs drains causing water to corrode critical track equipment.
“It was designed to handle water,” Cuomo said from the fan room of Union Square. “It was not designed to handle trash.”
Trash can keep drains from sending water away from critical track equipment. It can also spark track fires that can grind service to a halt – commuters in north Manhattan had a hellish commute in July when smoke from a track fire set in a 30-foot stretch of trash filling a subway tunnel in Harlem.
“We’ve increased resources and we’ve increased the amount of people that we’re putting on,” said Phillip Eng, the MTA’s chief operating officer. “In the past, while we weren’t able to continue to keep up with all the 440-miles of underground track, in this pro-active method… that is helping us to be more productive.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority under its new chief, Joe Lhota, has made trash removal and water-proofing the subway a key part of its effort to rescue the struggling transit system. Keeping the subway dry, along with getting Con Edison and the MTA to tamp down on power equipment malfunctions, would deal with the problems that cause nearly two-thirds of major incidents, Cuomo said.
He also criticized how few littering tickets the NYPD have issued, charting a rise in the number track fires as the number of $50 tickets dropped since 2012, according to stats Cuomo presented. NYPD Transit Bureau Assistant Chief Vince Coogan in July got a rebuke from MTA board members for only issuing 79 littering summonses for the year. Coogan told the MTA board that NYPD officers have to see the perp in action to write a ticket.
Cuomo said that the NYPD would get some help from MTA police and officers with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to issue littering tickets.
“It’s not just a candy wrapper,” said the governor. “This is an issue of public safety. It’s not just a nuisance. Track fires are dangerous.”
On the tracks, MTA crews let Cuomo handle the giant hose connected to a portable vacuum truck and see in action the Vactron – a contraption that sucks the gunk and trash out of clogged drains.
“Pounds of trash that you would never expect to be in a subway track,” Cuomo said after inspecting a trash pile beneath the platform of the No. 6 line at Union Square. “You see why there are fires – it’s all combustible material.”