Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Return The Trash Cans

Civilization
There are times that city officials make decisions that initially seem right, but are done with insufficient thought as to long-term consequences. This is the case in New York City when the Metropolitan Transit Authority, or M.T.A, decided to remove trash bins from some of its subway stations. Prof. George Jochnowitz writes: “In 2011, for reasons unknown, the M.T.A. removed all garbage cans from the N and R station at Eighth St. and Broadway. It did so from a second station, as well: Main St. in Queens. The M.T.A. apparently trusted subway riders to keep their litter until they reached a station with trash cans, or until they got out of the subway.”

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by George Jochnowitz

Garbage cans are a wonderful invention. They have existed since time immemorial. They make it easier for people to dispose of trash, and thus, they contribute to cleanliness and health.

In 2011, for reasons unknown, the M.T.A. removed all garbage cans from the N and R station at Eighth St. and Broadway. It did so from a second station, as well: Main St. in Queens. The M.T.A. apparently trusted subway riders to keep their litter until they reached a station with trash cans, or until they got out of the subway.

Mysteriously, the plan worked for a while. It is hard to imagine why it should have been effective, but on Jan. 27, 2014, the M.TA. announced that it would expand the program. Joe Leader, senior vice president of the M.T.A.’s Department of Subways, said, “The results have been for the most part very positive and we have seen some behavioral changes by riders.”

Subway riders are responsible and try to be clean and helpful. Most of them held on to their litter. It was an inconvenience. It is so very much easier to dump your garbage into a convenient trash can. Nevertheless, many people put up with the inconvenience.

Consequently, the M.T.A. increased the inconvenience. They removed trash bins from 29 additional stations, mainly on the J and M lines. It was too much for subway riders. Littering increased. It increased even where there were convenient garbage cans. Once people get into the habit of dropping their garbage on the platform, they do so even if there is a convenient alternative.

When I get off the N or R train at the Eighth St. station, I often see litter or even uneaten food on the benches. This is more common on the Downtown side in the evening. There are also lots of loose scraps of paper on the floor after one passes the turnstiles but before one starts climbing up the steps. Riders who have been carrying their trash with them just give up when they see no relief when they finally arrive at their destination.

The M.T.A. should be happy to make life easier for its riders. It should take advantage of the wonderful, historic invention that our remote ancestors gave us. Please, M.T.A., bring back the trash bins.

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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2015. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This originally appeared as a letter to the editor, The Villager (August 20, 2015). It is republished here with the author’s permission.

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